Zenit Saint Petersburg began the Roberto Mancini era in style, signing five Argentine players this past summer, all under the age of 25, three of which were schooled in River Plate’s famed academy. Among them is a striker who endeared himself to Los Millonarios before leaving for Russia in the summer: Sebastián Driussi.
Born in Buenos Aires, the 21-year-old striker is trying his luck outside Argentina for the first time in his career, in none other than the Palmyra of the North, in frigid Russia. For a player who, up until a few weeks ago, had only worn the millonaria kit for his entire career, the Russian Premier League is a good choice for him to get regular playing time, take the step up overseas, and impress the footballing world in the Europa League.
Driussi stood out at River’s academy from a very young age, prompting first team manager Ramón Díaz to give him his debut at 17. His vision and mobility opened up his entry into the first team, but his goalscoring instinct wasn’t good enough yet. For this reason, Díaz tried him at #10, or as they say in Argentina, “volante de enlace.” Far from the goalscoring area, he could not demonstrate his potential and his level dropped, but it would be the current coach of River, Marcelo Gallardo, who returned him to his natural habitat: the penalty box.
His performances improved in front of the penalty box, and his best moments for River Plate came while playing next to Lucas Alario, two goalscorers who worked perfectly in tandem. Driussi reads the game well, he knows how to give the final pass, and when to give it. Among his best qualities, he knows how to receive between the lines, organizing the attack from just ahead the midfield. As I mentioned before, River’s striking duo became one of the most feared attacks in Argentina. With Lucas Alario, Bayer Leverkusen’s star signing to replace Chicharito Hernández, they understood each other to perfection.
Sebastián Driussi confirmed himself as one of the biggest prospects in South American football during the biggest game in the continent, if not the world: the Superclásico. Argentina’s two biggest teams, Boca Juniors and River Plate, battling it out for the pride of not only Buenos Aires, but the entire country. In the legendary Bombonera stadium, River needed a win against the league leaders to keep their title hopes alive. It wasn’t an easy undertaking, but River won 3-1 with beautiful football and above all, a beautiful performance by Driussi. In the 15th minute, Driussi hit a quick, first-time cross to Gonzalo ‘Pity’ Martínez, who opened the scoring with a smashing volley past Agustín Rossi’s near post. Then, as Boca dominated the second half in search of an equalizer, Driussi made the killer blow in the 91st minute. After being put through on goal near the center circle, Driussi immediately corrected a poor first touch with a purposefully heavy second one, one that allowed him to accelerate towards the edge of the box, where he placed a tidy left-footed finish into bottom corner, before tearing off his shirt and pumping his firsts in ecstasy.
This goal placed him top of the Primera’s Golden Boot race, but above all, it left everyone with a greater sensation: Driussi has a long ways to go before he reaches his ceiling. It isn’t easy to find a kid who can pull off that corrective second touch, but it’s often one of the most telling signs of a proven goalscorer. Moreover, it isn’t easy to find a 21-year-old who can put on a man of the match performance in the most intimidating stadium of the continent, in the most important game of the season. The performance wasn’t enough for River, who finished seven points behind Boca Juniors, but it was enough for Driussi. After that game, his destination was already known: Europe.
Today, in Mancini’s team, he has several objectives: winning the league–given Zenit’s spending, this is practically obligatory–and the Europa League, where he will fight the likes of Milan and Villarreal for the title. With a rapid counter-attacking system like Mancini’s, and a front three of Kokorin, Shatov and Driussi, Zenit should be one of the most exciting teams in Europa this season. Can “Pitufo” answer this call and meet this challenge? It depends on how long Driussi’s adaption takes; so far, he has provided three goals and three assists in eight domestic matches. Sebastián Driussi’s ability to attack the space, as well as his ability in 1v1 duels, give him the tools to dominate in Russia, and to impress in Europe. With experienced players, a weathered coach, and several compatriots on the roster, everything is ready for his explosion; his time is now.
We know that young players, after leaving their home country too soon, often struggle with pressure, but Driussi is different. At 21, he is experienced in international competitions; he won the Copa Libertadores in 2015, coming off the bench in the second leg off the final. Domestically, he has set El Monumental and other Argentine stadiums alight, and I expect him to carry this form over in Russia.
How close is Jorge Sampaoli from calling him up to the national team? At the moment, not very, but Driussi might appear as an alternative for the Argentina bench–including Leandro Paredes, Santiago Ascacibar, Emanuel Mammana, Ezequiel Rigoni, Joaquín “Tucu” Correa, and more. With Sergio Agüero, Gonzalo Higuaín, and Mauro Icardi, it won’t be easy for him to make the squad, but unlike the others, Driussi is a fresh face unstained by controversy or traumatic losses, something Albiceleste fans desperately yearn for. It will be difficult, maybe impossible, for him to make the World Cup squad for Russia, but he can certainly make the squad for Copa América 2020 or Qatar 2022. Los Millonarios will miss Driussi, but moving forward as time goes on is not only healthy for a player’s development, but necessary.
For now, we must wait to see how “El León” does in Russia, if this Zenit project fulfills its potential, and if he can finally reach Argentina’s first team. Will Sebastián Driussi be the next Zenit player to enter Jorge Sampaoli’s good graces?
By: Sebastian Aravena/@saas01
Translated by: Zach Lowy/@ZCalcio