Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Young Albicelestes Potential Manchester United Stars?

Recently, I caught sight of news that Manchester United was interested in approaching Juan Manuel Iturbe. "Iturbo" as he is sometimes labelled, is touted as the new "Messi". The successful signing of Javier Hernandez meant that any potential transfer target of Sir Alex Ferguson's will bring about a good amount of scrutiny.

The other prodigious Albiceleste who could be a potential star is Erik Lamela who was coveted by Barcelona when he was only 12. This is his first full season as a River Plate first teamer, starting 12 matches and scoring three goals in the Apertura 2010. Lamela's first goal against Colon capped a fine move by River.

I caught a brief glimpse of  Juan Iturbe in the South American U-20 World Cup Qualifiers and although I could not make up my mind about his potential, I decided to ask Sam Kelly who specializes in Argentinian football at the excellent Hasta Gol El Siempre. Here are Sam's take on Erik Lamela and Juan Iturbe.

Bob (TFB4): Do you think Juan Iturbe and Erik Lamela can do well in England, skill, mentality and physical-wise?

Sam Kelly (HEGS): I can see both doing well. It's worth noting that no one in Argentina has really seen very much of Juan Manuel Iturbe at all prior to the current Sudamericano Sub 20.

Iturbe is the son of Paraguayan immigrants and though born in Buenos Aires, grew up in Asunción from an early age and has hitherto only played professional football for Paraguay's Cerro Porteno. He's currently training with Quilmes and his registration is expected to go through to allow him to play for them during the Clausura, but until then we've only seen snatches of him here so far - albeit what he's done in the Sudamericano Sub 20 to date is as impressive as any of Argentina's hitherto uninspiring campaign.

From what I've seen of him, Iturbe is a little more direct than Lamela.

Lamela is a very tricky player, more given to a quick burst of acceleration than sustained pace and whilst very tall (for an Argentine), he's still a bit lanky at the moment - which isn't surprising given that he's only 18 years old. What Lamela does have is very good technique indeed, and given that it's a long time since River Plate actually looked any good, that really stands out for the crowd at the Monumental.

Lamela sees himself (and played through all the youth divisions) as a proper Argentine number 10, playing as a central creative fulcrum. However since coming into the River side during the 2010 Torneo Apertura, he's practically always played down the left of midfield. During the summer friendlies he's being experimented with in the middle, especially as Ariel Ortega has been moved on and Diego Buonanotte's deal to go to Málaga in six months' time is sealed. As such we'll find out what he's like in his preferred position once the Torneo Clausura starts in mid-February.

Bob (TFB4): Which Premier League club would fit Lamela's or Iturbe's playing style?

Sam (HEGS):
As noted above, having not seen much of either player in their preferred position, it's very hard to say. I'm going to ignore the clubs the players may or may not have been linked with, and stick merely to playing styles. In Paraguay, the press see Iturbe as a very quick player who can play right across the attacking line, and as such, I could see him coming in initially as a backup at Manchester United or Spurs. If he wanted the chance to force himself into first team contention a little earlier, then Bolton or Blackpool are both playing the kind of football this season that he could fit into whilst perhaps adding something to the mix.

Lamela, if he's as good and as audacious at attempting things in the centre of the park as he is down the flanks, would seem a good fit at Arsenal or perhaps to add a bit of a spark to a side like Fulham, where he's less hard-running and physical, but perhaps slightly more purely creative, than a player like Clint Dempsey (both Lamela and Dempsey could dovetail nicely behind an out-and-out centreforward).

His style is a little more elaborate than I'd normally expect from a central creator for Manchester United (and I say this as a Manchester United supporter). But if he moved to Old Trafford, I could see Sir Alex either moving him to the wing permanently - where I'm not entirely sure he's got the pace to regularly star in England - or push him further up the pitch, closer to the forwards, where if his development continues as it has so far he could be very dangerous.

Both players, though, in my opinion need at least another 12 months in Argentina getting playing time before they should look at a move to Europe. At 17 (Iturbe) and 18, both are certainly young enough, and what's more both appear to believe the same thing themselves, in particular Lamela.

Bob (TFB4): Which Argentine player (current or retired) would Lamela or Iturbe closely resemble? What could be their future potential - as good as Ardiles? or Ortega? or Messi?

Sam (HEGS): Iturbe, from the little I've seen of him, brings to mind Javier Saviola - a direct, technical attacker who can play across the forward line and will, in the fullness of time, score goals wherever he goes - if he gets the right advice on career moves from agents and others around him.

Lamela reminds me a little of a young Pablo Aimar; he's not the quickest over long distances, but his range of passing is wide and he likes entertaining the crowd by occasionally embarrassing his marker. I'd like to liken him to Andrés D'Alessandro as well, but he's not big-headed enough for that, I don't think.

So potentially two of the best talents from Argentina that could succeed in England and in particular for Manchester United. Midfield is definitely an area that the Red Devils need reinforcements.

Iturbe, in particular, looks primed for a move, rumoured to be signing for Porto as a stepping stone to United. His performances in the Sub 20 has been fantastic. Iturbe even upstaged Brazil's best young player, Neymar in the 2-1.

"Iturbe is a game-breaking player, very explosive," said Argentina under-20 coach Walter Perazzo. He inspired Argentina past Chile and scored Argentina's winning goal against Brazil.

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