31. Joaquín Correa
Sevilla splurged on a number of attacking midfielders last summer, which led to the question of who would end up being the sacrificial lamb in the squad. But the answer to that question was never likely to be Joaquín Correa, the jewel plucked from Sampdoria after a stellar 2015-16 season that saw him rack up three goals and an assist from 25 appearances. It was that promise he displayed through the year at I Blucerchiati that convinced then-Sevilla manager Jorge Sampaoli to spend 11.8 million euros (as per Transfermarkt), making him their second-most expensive outlay of the summer after Franco Vázquez.
Correa was enrolled in the children’s divisions of River Plate when he was 11, but chose to return to his native Tucumán due to homesickness. He then spent time at the ‘Renato Cesarini’ school in Rosario a year later, before joining the Estudiantes youth academy, where he would make his debut. Estudiantes directly translates to ‘students’ in English, and indeed it was at La Plata where Correa learned the tricks of the trade. But like with some students, he was quickly pin-pointed as the jewel of the academy (symbolically too given his ‘Jewel’ nickname). He was chosen as the “jugador revelación” (revelation player) in 2011 and quickly made his debut the following year on May 19th 2012 against Banfield, replacing Duvan Zapata at the tender age of 17. It was the start of a career that will take him to then-unimagined heights.
With just 13 appearances in the two seasons from 2011 to 2013, it was the 2013/14 season that landed him on the notebooks of European scouts. With two goals in 26 appearances in all competitions, the vultures from the big European clubs circled in on the prodigal talent, but Juan Sebastian Verón, club president and former star himself, chose to stay true to the club project and retain Correa for another season. With three goals in 22 appearances, several clubs such as PSG and Chelsea were credited with an interest, as was Benfica. But it was Sampdoria who won the battle for Correa, and it was the best choice for his career. Italy has been known to be a solid launching pad for Argentinians and so it would prove with Sampdoria, a club committed to its youth-centric project. The jewel had arrived, and while still raw, had the perfect platform to launch his career.
His nicknames remain ‘Tucu’ and ‘Tucumano’, a nod to his roots back in Argentina, showing his humble and grounded personality, traits that will help him through his career. Sampdoria was a good time for Correa- just 188 minutes in his first half-season, but 1308 minutes, three goals and a sole assist in his only full season in Italy. He showed extended glimpses of why the club spent money on him, but when Sampaoli came calling, the club and player couldn’t say no. Correa packed his bags for Seville, a bigger platform for his talent to shine. Even with his lack of regular minutes, Sevilla spent €11.80 million on him, a nod to his world-class potential. He found himself a substitute for most parts last season, but was impressive in the Champions League Round of 16 ties versus Leicester, scoring a goal in the first leg. He also plundered fourth-tier Formentera in the Copa del Rey, with three goals and two assists that showcased his versatility in play. Through patience and hard work, Correa learned the ins and outs of Sampaoli’s system, and established himself as a key player for Los Nervionenses’ present and future.
It is no wonder why his style of play is drawing fans towards his potential. Correa’s wide repertoire of skills and his tricky dribbling makes him a menace for opposing defenders. His quick movement and awareness allow him to move into spaces or drop deep to enable his teammates to move forward. He can be the creative outlet of the side, creating chances for his teammates. It is because of his movement that he is able to draw defenders away, then using his dribbling to get past them and either provide a key pass or go for goal himself. Highly versatile, he can play on both wings or in the centre, with his wide array of assets allowing him to flourish in either position.
He is also slowly becoming a viable option at striker, even though he is not the archetypal forward. Sampaoli trialled him up front in Argentina’s friendly versus Singapore, a game yours truly was at the stadium to watch. Correa ran rings around the Singaporean defense, one that was albeit weak in quality and that allowed Argentina to impose their strength. But even accounting for the gap in quality, Correa was impressive in the way he created space. Jorge Sampaoli was the man who brought Tucu to Sevilla and truly launched his career, and gave Correa his national team debut just months after leaving Andalusia. Correa at striker for Argentina remains at best a Plan B or C given their wealth of options; he is no focal point, but the fluid role that Correa was granted up front could be a sign of his role at Argentina. He is Sampaoli’s jewel through and through. He is slowly adding goals to his game, even discounting his tap-in versus Singapore, which is why he could become a viable option up front for Sevilla this season. Moreover, he is slowly becoming a Jack-of-all-trades, master-of-most, and this Swiss army knife player remains the favourite of most managers.
Tall, quick, tricky and good on the ball- if there is any drawback to his game, it is his relative lack of stamina, a weakness that Sampaoli saw and thus chose to use him mainly as a substitute. He was no Sampaoli high-engine player, but the Argentine mastermind still found a way to use the jewel, something that bodes well for his career. With a pre-season under his belt, the fitness issue will hopefully be ironed out. New manager Berizzo should be able to take Correa to newer heights. Eduardo Berizzo will be wise to give Correa regular minutes this season (no guarantee, given the club’s business this summer), but with the exits of Vitolo and Stevan Jovetić this summer, he can become Sevilla’s new attacking leader.
At 23, Tucu Correa is all set to be the next big-money departure from Sevilla next summer, and there’s no doubt that a strong World Cup could turn the attention of Europe’s titans. Estudiantes was the first chapter of his career and Sevilla are far from the last- it is time to enjoy the player that Tucu is quickly becoming.
By: Rahul Warrier/@rahulw_