June 26, 2016, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Chile and Argentina are playing each other in the Copa América final, in which neither can take advantage neither in the 90 minutes of regular time, nor during the 30 minutes of extra time. Lucas Biglia has just missed his penalty, and if Francisco Silva converts the next, Chile will be kings of America. He makes no mistake and Argentina is, for the third straight year, runner-up. The cameras focus on a demoralized Messi, sobbing. But they also focus on a player who has not shed a single tear, but seems to be even sadder than Lionel. Javier Mascherano. Many, including myself, identify him as the “true captain” of the Argentine team, the man who takes charge of the midfield, who makes his teammates better, and who never lets his guard down.
This player, although it hurts to say, will not be around for much longer: well, everyone knows Argentina needs a change. The resources become used up, the generations age, and the shift to younger players is inevitable. Now, the question is obvious: Is anyone capable of assuming the role of leader in such a topsy-turvy team like Argentina? If there is, there is only one, and his name is Santiago Lionel Ascacibar. This midfielder was born in the city of La Plata, on February 25, 1997, and is currently the captain of the U20 Argentina side. He is also one of the best players of the Argentine league. He played 24 of 30 games for Estudiantes, and led them to a third placed finish, and even led the table from the 3rd matchday to the 12th.
How does Ascacibar play? His main characteristics come inherently from his position on the pitch: the 5, or defensive midfielder. Fierce in marking, aggressive and with great timing in regaining possession. The work rate of the young midfielder is another trait that sets him apart from other youngsters. In fact, his greatest future lies in the possibility of becoming a “todotorreno” midfielder a la Kanté, who appears in all areas trying to recover possession. Undoubtedly, Ascacibar has a superb physique and does not give any ball away without a fight. It isn’t easy to find such characteristics in players who are so skilled with the ball at their feet.
Now, Ascacibar’s best attribute is not his technique, but his short passes, long balls and quick decision-making gives him a special quality that Argentine defensive midfielders often lack. Apart from his role in midfield, Estudiantes manager Gustavo Matosas has also played him in the left interior midfield spot. This is possible because of all of the aforementioned qualities he boasts. He gives you a range of possibilities to improve your team.
Ascacibar played most of his games next to Rodrigo Braña, forming a double pivot in Estudiantes’ midfield. He also lined up in a double pivot in South Korea’s U20 World Cup; this time, together with Santiago Colombatto, both high points in an Argentina side that gradually devolved as the tournament progressed. Ascacibar’s ability to keep running and break up possession allows his teammates greater freedom, which is why as ‘El Rusito’ dropped back, Colombatto could advance further to link up with Argentina’s attackers, from Ezequiel Ponce to Marcelo Torres.
His future is uncertain. His youth and the level he has shown in Argentina validate the interest of several European clubs. Among his suitors are Real Sociedad, Eintracht Frankfurt, and even Atlético Madrid. However, it seems as though he may join Roberto Mancini’s Argentine contingent at Zenit.
The best decision for his career? Santiago Ascacibar recently turned 20. If he wants to stay 1 or 2 more years in Argentina, in his childhood team, he will gain experience and professionalism. However, he leaves for Europe, he will have to take the step up in his game and acclimate to his surroundings. I can affirm that he has the capacity to succeed in a league more competitive, rapid and demanding than Argentina’s Primera.
Leadership. With the strongest traits of Santiago Ascacibar already explained, I think it is necessary to stop and focus in an aspect so important in Estudiantes’ young midfielder: the ability to lead. It is normal to find a player who has played less than 40 professional games organizing his midfield and directing his teammates? In order to have a career on the level of, say, Javier Mascherano, you must stand out from a young age in these aspects.
Could Ascacibar become Argentina’s next Jefecito? Obviously, nobody has this answer, but if his career continues at this rate, he will be Mascherano’s natural successor. For this reason, the player should take the step up to Europe and maintain a high level in the Old World, this is clear. Although this step is never easy for South American players. For now, as spectators, we can closely follow the career of this player, one of the brightest jewels in Argentina.
By: Sebastian Aravena/@saas01. Translated by Zach Lowy/@ZCalcio.