'The Colombian Neymar' - Can Gallardo tame River Plate's new No.10 Carrascal?

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Marcelo Gallardo Jorge Carrascal River Plate GFX
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The 22-year-old attacker is clearly a special talent but doubts remain over his temperament as he inherits an iconic shirt at the Monumental

As is the case at arch-rivals Boca Juniors, the No.10 shirt carries no little mystique at River Plate.

Uruguayan legend Enzo Francescoli once wore it with distinction before bequeathing the jersey to that wayward genius Ariel Ortega, while current coach Marcelo Gallardo also starred for the Millonario with the 10 on his back.

In 2019, Colombia international Juan Quintero wowed the Monumental with his tricks and deadly left foot, while the most recent recipient of the club's most prized possession was fan favourite Ignacio Fernandez, who moved to Brazil's Atletico Mineiro in the last transfer window.

Jorge Carrascal, then, has some big shoes to fill, but placing added pressure on the 22-year-old's shoulders by giving him the No.10 shirt looks like a deliberate ploy by Gallardo, as he aims to get the best out of the talented yet inconsistent playmaker.

Carrascal arrived in Nunez from Ukraine's Karpaty Lviv in 2019 to no little fanfare. He had been saddled with the tag of 'The Colombian Neymar' ever since he burst onto the scene as a teenager at Millonarios, making his debut at the tender age of 16 and moving on his 18th birthday to Sevilla's feeder club on a five-year contract.

Injury and ill-discipline stunted his development in Spain, though, and Carrascal managed just 28 minutes on the field for Sevilla Atletico before the Andalusians cut their losses and off-loaded him to Karpaty.

The youngster then failed to sustain an impressive debut season in Ukraine and he ultimately ended up back in South America, with River taking him initially on loan before making the deal permanent in exchange for $3 million (£2.1m).

Since arriving at the Monumental, he has been an intermittent performer, combining moments of brilliance with infuriating outbursts of indiscipline.

Marcelo Gallardo Jorge Carrascal River Plate GFX

In the last six months alone, he has picked up two red cards and scored just three goals: the first expulsion came after striking Banfield's Emanuel Coronel in the face; the second in the middle of River's Copa Libertadores semi-final first leg against Palmeiras following a vicious attack on Gabriel Menino.

Gallardo could not hide his fury after the former incident and explained to reporters that the icy stare he sent Carrascal's direction owed to the frustration he felt at seeing one of his best players lose control.

“I was angry because Carrascal is also a player I see as one of the most unique talents in Argentine football,” he stated. “He was given the chance to play, he was doing well. But I'm far from about to punish him.”

Indeed, the start of 2021 has seen Carrascal – who has received offers from both CSKA Moscow and Al Ain in recent months – richly rewarded.

January saw the 22-year-old sign a new contract at the Monumental, while Fernandez's departure to Belo Horizonte left him with the coveted No.10 shirt.

“The No.10 at this club means a great deal,” Gallardo told TNT Sports. “I chose [Carrascal] for his way of playing, his talent, his warmth, his abilities and because I think that playing with this number will not weigh heavy on him.

“Clearly, that does not mean he will play every game but it suits him because he is a very talented player.”

The coming season looks set to be crucial for Carrascal's future.

Carrascal PS

Having shifted between the left wing and middle of the park for much of his River stint, Fernandez's exit leaves the door open for Carrascal to take a more central role in the club's attacking build-up.

That responsibility means he must temper his desire to show off his dribbling repertoire at every available opportunity and work in tandem with those around him, which would see him become a real asset for Gallardo.

It goes without saying that those moments of madness as witnessed against Banfield and Palmeiras will no longer be tolerated.

Should he succeed in reining in those impulses, a great year beckons not just with River – who once more will be fighting for the Libertadores title – but with Colombia too.

Having excelled at Under-23 level in the 2020 Pre-Olympic tournament, a strong season at club level would make it almost impossible for senior team coach Reinaldo Rueda to overlook Carrascal's talents in a packed international year, which includes a host of World Cup qualifying fixtures and the Copa America, which will be partially played in Colombia.

His displays at both club and country will also be of interest to European scouts keen to pick up the next great talent from across the Atlantic Ocean.

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Another series of underwhelming performances, however, could confirm suspicions that despite his undoubted ability, Carrascal does not have the right mentality to make the breakthrough.

He certainly did little to impress as River struggled past newly promoted neighbours Platense at the weekend, but Thursday's Supercopa final against Racing Club gives the Colombian the perfect window to show he has the maturity and consistency to succeed when it counts most.

Gallardo, for one, believes his young charge has what it takes to become River's next great No.10, and while the comparisons with Neymar may be exaggerated, there is no doubt that the Millonario coach has a great eye for talent and could, thus, propel Carrascal to a whole other level in the coming months.

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