This is the last part in my series on the look and shape of the new Argentinean National Team, this time on the forwards. Due to the number of players covered, they've been divided up into two categories - center and second forward. Players are listed by age. At the end I'll sum up their possibilities of being involved with Basile's Argentina and to which extent.
Abbreviations: WYC = World Youth Championship, the U-20 tournament run by FIFA. Held every 2 years and won by Argentina in '95, '97, '01, '05 since Maradona first led his team to win it.
(Note: please take my classification with a pinch of salt, as it's a pretty fine distinction for many of these players.)
Julio Cruz (Internationale, Italy) is highly unfortunately to be remembered mostly for coming on for Crespo to little effect in the game against Germany at the World Cup. A veteran of the game at 32, he's only been hovering at the edge of the Argentine squad in the last few years after a great season for Inter, scoring many goals in mostly substitute appearances. It was a choice between him and Diego Milito for the World Cup squad as back-up for Crespo, and he just edged it because of great form leading up to the end of the season. An uncomplaining hard-worker, it's sad that his only World Cup involved only two substitute appearances. At his age surely chances in the NT will be rare at best, although he's a very useful guy to have on the bench.
Hernan Crespo (Internationale, Italy) is the most experienced forward Argentina have currently at international level and probably the best center forward. He has had bouts of erratic form in club football lately and never settled in at Chelsea, but his 29 goals in 54 appearances for Argentina cannot be argued with. The man who took on the heavy mantle of Batigol has done as well as he can be expected to and on current form is certainly Argentina's best option. Joining Inter seems to have sparked off his club career again, some great goals having seen him take the place of Brazillian Adriano in the starting line-up. Must surely be Basile's first choice unless he has other considerations in mind. At 31, though, the Copa America would probably be the extent of his NT career.
Diego Milito (Zaragoza, Spain) has only 3 caps for Argentina. Frankly, I can't understand why. Well, perhaps Crespo's dominance and the fact that he spent two seasons in Serie B with Genoa, but surely someone who has been so excellent for his clubs for the best part of last season deserves a shot? He started at Zaragoza on electric form, notable achievements include a hat-trick against Barcelona in a match Zaragoza won 4-2 and putting 4 (!!!) past Real Madrid in a 6-1 pasting. Sadly both were Cup ties instead of league ones, but with both Spanish giants fielding pretty much the first team those were impressive achievements. Injury troubled him and his form dipped during the latter parts of the season, but frankly the whole club had sunk into a low they couldn't seem to overcome by then. Started this season brightly before getting injured in last week's match. He's 27 years old, just reaching the peak of his powers and in my humble opinion should definitely be given more chances in the battle to succeed Crespo with an eye on 2010.
Luciano Figueroa (Genoa, Italy) cannot be discussed without mentioning Delgado, who I'm going to talk about below. The reason for this is fairly unfortunate - Figueroa doesn't seem to play well without having Delgado as his strike partner. The two did very well together at Rosario Central and in the 2 seasons they were both at Mexican club Cruz Azul. All the other clubs Figueroa has attempted to play for has yelded fairly disastrous results, with perhaps his (very) short spell for River Plate last season an honourable exception. A member of the '04 Olympics-winning team (although I'm not sure he actually played), he somehow has 15 caps and 9 goals for Argentina - not bad, all things considered. It's hard not to admire him moving back to the Argentinean league just to increase his chances of being selected for the World Cup, and it looked like he might have an outside shot until he got a long-term injury. The 25 year old has little chance to play for the NT in the near future, not only because of his Delgado-dependency, but also because he's currently playing in Serie B.
Cesar Delgado (Cruz Azul, Mexico) is the other half of the pairing mentioned above, Figueroa's strike partner at both Rosario Central and Cruz Azul. He's also 25 years old, but there are a couple of key differences between the two. First, Delgado has managed to stay at the Mexican club and is doing fairly well there in his fourth season according to reports. Secondly, he can play well without Figueroa. Partnered Tevez to good effect in the '04 Olympics and has 18 caps for the NT, although his goalscoring record is less than impressive. In terms of talent, though, I think he's a better bet than Figueroa. Basile certainly seems to like him - he was due to be called up for the Brazil friendly until he got injured. Based on that, I'd say he has a good shot of getting into the team in the future.
Fernando Cavenaghi (Spartak Moscow, Russia) was one of the bright young hopes of Argentinean football at River Plate. Top scorer of the '03 South American title winning U-20 side, he was tipped for great things in Europe after an impressive goalscoring record with River in the 03-04 season. Then he moved to Russia and was never heard from again. Actually, that's not true. The problem is that Cavenaghi still hasn't settled in to life at Spartak, two years after moving there. In his first season he scored a mere 6 goals from 25 appearances. Things don't look to be improving this season so far either. It is my fondest hope that he'll secure himself a move out of Russia somehow and regain his form. What a waste if one of the (former) brightest young stars of his generation continues to struggle away from the spotlight. In current form, it would be risky for Basile to call him up, but there's still hope for the 23 year old in the future.
Javier Saviola (Barcelona, Spain) is yet another former golden boy of Argentinean football, a story that's becoming sadly common especially amongst playmakers (see: Aimar) and strikers. During two phenomenal years for River Plate as part of a formidable team that also included Aimar, Ortega and Juan Pablo Angel, Saviola confirmed his status as the biggest rising star of his time by finishing the '01 WYC as both Top Scorer and winner of the Golden Ball, a feat that had only previously been accomplished by one man - Diego Maradona, of course. He still holds the all-time top scoring record in the tournament, having bagged 11 goals. After that, it was no surprise when Barcelona came calling.
Sadly, the decision to buy Saviola was made by a President who did not know what he was doing and bought players without consulting his coach (see: Riquelme). That brand of insanity also explains all the contracts of players signed during that era, which contained huge wages and bonuses. To be fair to Saviola, he was pretty good in the 3 seasons he played for Barca. But the problem is that the expectations upon a hugely expensive center forward at a club in such a state of crisis at the time were enormous, and 'pretty good' doesn't suffice. Rijkaard, the new coach, wanted a different kind of player, and the new management wanted to cut costs, so Saviola's transfer saga began. It is necessary to relate all this because that transfer saga is still going on, 2 seasons later. Saviola failed to settle at both clubs he was loaned to, notching up unimpressive goalscoring records. Barca are still trying to sell him, although he has stated his intention to see out the last year of his contract - persumably spending most of his time either on the bench or playing Copa del Rey matches, since he's a fair distance down the striker pecking order.
Anyway, all this hasn't stopped Saviola from reaching 30 caps for Argentina with a good goalscoring record. He was a member of the '04 Olympics squad, had a great start to the World Cup but faded in the match against Mexico and was dumped from the starting line-up against Germany. On form, he's pretty brilliant, but does tend to get into bad patches sometimes and disappear out of games. I actually quite like Saviola, and reportedly his team mates at Barca do too, so if the above sounds frustrated at all, it's only because I think he's put his international career in danger by choosing to stay at Barca. With such fierce and quality competition for his spot, he can't afford to be sitting around. At 25, Saviola should be approaching the peak of his career, and it's sad to see his progress languishing.
Rodrigo Palacio (Boca Juniors, Argentina) is definitely having a much better time with his club by comparison. The 24 year old's career has really taken off in the last 2 seasons, making him one of the most lethal forwards in the Argentinean league. His excellent goalscoring record for Boca led to him being included in the World Cup squad, one of the few Argentina-based players to earn the honour. Unfortunately, he was limited to one substitute appearance against Ivory Coast, where he had to play as the lone striker as coach Pekerman reinforced the midfield by pulling off the other striker Saviola. Still, the big tournament experience can only help him in the future. Palacio only seems to be getting better for Boca, and surely it's only a matter of time before Europe comes calling. Here's hoping he doesn't do a Cavenaghi (see above), since in his current form he has a great shot at being selected for the NT, especially since the coach who has taken him to where he is now picks the Argentinean team.
Carlos Tevez (West Ham, England) or Carlitos, as he prefers to be called, was the main subject of the biggest story of this transfer window. Expectations are mounting on the 22 year old at West Ham, and they are legitimate ones given what he has achieved with his former clubs. After moving to Corinthians as Boca's best player, he scored an impressive 21 goals in 29 games and captained them to the Brazilian title. Carlitos was part of the '03 side that won the South American U-20 title and also an instrumental part of their '04 Olympics victory along with Mascherano, ending the Olympics as top scorer with 8 goals. He's one of the public's favourites, and accordingly has 20 caps, although not all that many goals. A great display at the World Cup earned him further European admirers, although Tevez did not agitate for a move until he fell out first with the fans, then the new coach. I know that Basile admires him, and he's enormously popular so I can't see him not being one of the first choices in the future. The problem is that if he doesn't settle into life in the EPL - and there are no signs yet that he has - a lack of form could see him excluded until he sorts the problem out.
Sergio Aguero (Atletico Madrid, Spain) is the new Romario, the new Maradona or the new Messi, depending on who you ask. He doesn't want to be known as any of those things, naturally, although he's flattered by the comparisons. What he is, is a very, very good prospect for the future. Only 18 this year, he made cameo appearances in the aftementioned '05 WYC, most noticably drawing the penalty which Messi converted (again) to win the match.
'El Kun' became the youngest player to debut in the Argentinean first division at the tender age of 15 years and 35 days old, breaking a record set by - go on, guess - Maradona himself. He really came into his own in the last season, lifting Independiente with his strong runs, passing vision and plenty of goals. The big money move duly came from an Atletico desperate to spend their way out of mid-table mediocrity. He just scored one and made one in their 4-1 win over Athletic Bilbao in his first start to repay their faith and stake his claim for a starting spot. Best newcomer of the season? A good bet, I'd say, especially if he can help his club avoid their typical curse of flattering to deceive.
Him and Messi are an interesting case to consider tactically, especially the similarities to Riquelme and Aimar, albeit this pair play slightly further forward. Aguero has a powerful, accurate shot that Messi can't match which means that he's better suited to play as a forward. Messi, to me, has a better sense of the entire situation, so he's more suitable to play behind the strikers (hence me including him in the midfielders post). Like Riquelme and Aimar, the two are similar, but not so similar that they can't play together. Messi claims that they could do very well together because of their mutual understanding (the two are great pals - another parallel to their predecessors), so that would be interesting to see if Basile ever decides to play them together again when he's got a proper team and some time to work with them (i.e. not like how the friendly with Brazil). I for one hope that they don't end up being each other's substitute, with the result that one is eternally stuck behind the other for a starting place - for an example one need only look to, yet again, Riquelme and Aimar. I am convinced that Aguero can have a bright future in the NT, as long as he's not rushed into it.
Unlikely to feature
Julio Cruz - age is a merciless thing. So is competition.
Luciano Figueroa - I don't think there's that bad a shortage
Javier Saviola - once he slips out of contention, it's going to be hard to get back in
Likely to feature in Qualifying/Copa America
Hernan Crespo - still number one
Diego Milito - deserves a chance
Cesar Delgado - consistent performer, rated by Basile
Rodrigo Palacio - great current form and a Basile favourite
Carlos Tevez - if he finds his feet in the EPL. Too good to waste.
Sergio Aguero - hopefully will be slowly integrated into the team
Likely to feature in 2010
Fernando Cavenaghi - hopefully will regain his form sometime soon
This concludes my series on the future shape of the Argentinean team. I hope Albiceleste fans feel at least a little better about our team's future and non fans derive at least some enjoyment from my ramblings. Any comments you want to make would be great. I'll follow this up later with a post of random observations I've made while compiling this series, mostly about the spread of leagues and past youth team successes.