Argentina bowed out of the Copa America last night after suffering a 2-0 defeat to hosts Brazil. Although making a run to the semi-finals, Argentina failed to impress. Only five years ago, the team was in the World Cup final and almost took Germany to penalties if not for a moment of magic from Mario Götze. Lionel Messi cannot lead the team forever, so what future prospects can lead the Argentina national team?
The Future of the Argentina National Team
Argentina remains a pipeline for talent in world football. Although no current prospect looks to be ‘the next Messi’, there should still be optimism going forward. Under the proper management, there is still potential for the squad to make noise in next year’s Copa America and the 2022 World Cup. Let’s take a look at which players can highlight the future generation.
Paulo Dybala – 22 Argentina Caps
Dybala is now 25 and no longer a ‘rising star’. He is, however, world-class talent and it remains a mystery as to why current manager Lionel Scaloni simply does not use him. The star man did struggle in Serie A for Juventus last season, but this was due in large part to a decreased role as Cristiano Ronaldo became the focal point of the attack. Dybala showed his true colours in the Champions League, however, as he netted five goals in nine matches. As a matter of fact, he averaged a goal every 103 minutes in the competition.
The year prior, however, Dybala finished his Serie A campaign with 22 goals and five assists. Partnered with fellow countryman Gonzalo Higuain, Dybala was arguably the top forward in Italy. He should’ve been, without a doubt, preferred over Angel Di Maria in this year’s Copa America.
One would think Dybala would improve his game under Maurizio Sarri’s new leadership and attacking play style at Juventus. Dybala has all the talent in the world to become Argentina’s talisman and should be treated as such internationally.
Mauro Icardi – Eight Argentina Caps
Icardi, like Dybala, has all the talent in the world to become the top at his position. The 26-year-old striker has only appeared eight times internationally, however. This is due to his well-documented off the field issues. Icardi is a magnet to controversy, so naturally Argentina have tried to avoid that. If new Inter manager Antonio Conte can manage to change Icardi, then he will realize his potential as one of the world’s greatest strikers.
Icardi scored 17 goals and provided five assists in all competitions last season. This was considered a down year, which speaks volumes about his quality. In 2017/2018, Icardi scored 29 goals in 34 Serie A appearances. The year before that he scored 24 goals and provided seven assists in 34 appearances. Icardi is a complete poacher with playmaking abilities, and should use Argentina’s recent down years as motivation to cement a place in the squad and succeed.
Lautaro Martinez – 11 Argentina Caps
Martinez outperformed Sergio Agüero in this year’s Copa America. It’s safe to say the 21-year-old has proven his international worth, as he was Argentina’s only true bright spot outside of Messi. A teammate of Icardi’s at Inter Milan, he should only get better under Conte’s guidance.
Martinez scored six league goals last season as a bench option. Although those numbers don’t stand out, last season was his debut in Europe – more specifically a very tactical-minded league in Italy. Martinez definitely passes the eye test- he has the size and speed necessary to succeed, with an uncanny eye for goal. In just 11 international appearances to date, he has already netted six goals. If he can continue to form a partnership with Icardi on the club level, the striking duo’s chemistry for Argentina will be something to fear.
Giovani Lo Celso – 18 Argentina Caps
Lo Celso’s quality was always clear as a young prospect at Paris Saint-Germain. He struggled for playtime in a deep midfield, however, and transferred to Real Betis in Spain. At Betis, Lo Celso blossomed into a complete midfielder. He’s an excellent dribbler who isn’t afraid to always push forward or track back. In 32 league appearances last season, he scored nine goals and dished out five assists. He also scored five goals in seven Europa League matches.
Like Martinez, Lo Celso seemed to have secured a starting position for Argentina in this year’s Copa America. Argentina’s depth at midfield runs dry quickly while looking at the squad, so it has already become Lo Celso’s to boss.
According to Joe Levy from The Independent, Champions League finalists Tottenham Hotspur are interested in Lo Celso as a possible Christian Eriksen replacement. If the move happens, Lo Celso would take the reins as the team’s playmaker in the midfield. This would be a massive step in his career, and one that would pay dividends to Argentina’s future.
Lisandro Martinez – One Argentina Cap
The young defender is still unproven on the big stage. He starred for Defensa y Justicia in Argentina and secured a move to Ajax this summer. Playing as a centre-back, Martinez has found himself in an ideal position. Ajax have produced some of the world’s top centre-backs in recent years, boasting names such as Toby Alderweireld, Matthijs de Ligt, Davinson Sanchez, and Jan Vertonghen.
Ajax’s manager, Erik ten Hag, has already proven his ability to develop players. Ten Hag was also a centre-back in his playing days, suggesting he knows what is necessary to succeed at the position. If Martinez follows the model of young Ajax centre-backs before him, Argentina will have a gem in their hands.