Leonardo Balerdi: The Argentine Defender Emerging as Marseille’s Man Mountain

Leonardo Balerdi is someone who has learnt to smile in the face of the uncertainty.


At just 14 years old, he made the decision to move 700km away from his hometown, Villa Mercedes, and go to play for the academy of his dream club, Boca Juniors. At 19, he was on the move again, this time to Europe and German giants, Borussia Dortmund.


Despite only making five first team appearances in Argentina, Borussia Dortmund were set on signing him and spent a hefty €15.50m on the young centre back making him Boca’s sixth all-time record export. However, things didn’t quite go to plan for Leonardo in Germany, he spent a lot of time playing with the reserves and made only eight first team appearances before being sent on a yearlong loan to Marseille. Again, he had to learn to live with the uncertainty of change.



During his loan spell in France’s second city, he found regular first team football and a chance to showcase why he was so highly rated at such a young age. By the end of the 2020/21 season, Marseille decided to take a chance on Balerdi and they signed him on a permanent basis for €11 million. Although his move to Marseille seemed like a match made in heaven, with Balerdi even calling the French club ‘the Boca Juniors of France’, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.


In the four years he has been at the club, Balerdi has played under seven different managers, all with their different ideas on what his role at the centre back should be, he’s played as a left, right, and central centre back, having to learn on the job as he goes. Although he has put in some very good performances for a young defender playing week in week out, he hasn’t been short of criticism.


The 11 games he has missed out on for Marseille due to suspension have been a primary example of his lack of discipline, as well as a very poor performance in a 3-0 defeat against PSG last season. Many fans of Les Olympiens have voiced their displeasure about him, with one fan taking it as far as conducting a ‘hunger strike’ until Balerdi left the club. However, this season, he’s shown a hunger of his own to silence the critics.



Balerdi epitomises what it means to be a modern-day centre back, his pace and ball playing capabilities are two features of his game that put him head and shoulders about the rest. His knack of making last-ditch tackles makes him really hard to beat in a one-on-one situation, players think they’re free of him only to have the ball swept from under their feet, it’s clear that he’s not afraid to stick his long legs where others may be afraid to commit a foul.


This season, Balerdi’s been averaging 2.8 tackles and 3.3 clearances per game at the time of writing, these two statistics are a marked improvement on his 1.6 tackles and 2.5 clearances per game last season. He has even admitted himself that when he arrived in Marseille, he was a ‘much weaker’ and ‘skinnier’ player, but now he looks more like a man mountain at the back.


With Balerdi in the absolute form of his life, where does that leave him with the upcoming Copa America Having only made two senior appearances for Argentina, with both being over four years ago, it’s very unlikely that Balerdi will feature much in the USA this summer, however, if picked to travel with the squad, you never know.



Beyond this summer Balerdi will have his options wide open, a move to Atlético Madrid is looking most likely, but there is also said interest from Italy and even England. Marseille will be looking to keep him in France, and maybe even lure him into renewing his contract which ends in 2026, but if a big offer comes in for him, it’ll be very hard for Les Olympiens to turn it down. Before that, though, he’ll be looking to lead Marseille to their first trophy in 12 years as Gasset’s side prepare to travel to Atalanta for the second leg of the UEFA Europa League semifinals, having drawn 1-1 in the first leg.


At 25 years of age, Leonardo Balerdi has proven that he isn’t just a physically strong player but also a mentally strong person, making those fans that once criticised him eat their words, so there’ll be no more hunger strikes in Marseille, that’s for sure. 


By: Albert Hilton / @alberthltn

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Quality Sport Images – Getty Images