Argentina's Haaland? River Plate sensation Girotti flying high ahead of Superclasico

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For years, the Argentina forward line has been the envy of international football but time is running short for some of the nation's most reliable goalscorers.

Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero are still around at the top level, while Inter's Lautaro Martinez has proved a fine addition to the Albiceleste set-up since bursting onto the scene, but a natural replacement for Gonzalo Higuain seems more difficult to find, with hard, direct runners in Pipita's vein scarce.

No wonder, then, that the emergence of Federico Girotti has raised hopes not just at River Plate, but across Argentine football as a whole.

The 21-year-old is making a huge impression in Argentina and, while it is still early to draw conclusions, he appears to have what it takes to compete at the highest level – even earning comparisons with Borussia Dortmund phenomenon Erling Haaland.

The centre-forward, whose strapping 6'3” frame certainly bears some resemblance to the Norwegian, has taken little time to endear himself to the River faithful.

In January, he came off the bench to net at La Bombonera in a 2-2 Superclasico draw against arch-rivals Boca Juniors and followed that up with three goals in two Copa Argentina games to confirm his claim for a regular first-team spot.

By mid-April, Girotti averaged a goal every 89 minutes for River, and he has pushed on to become a regular starter for Marcelo Gallardo's side.

On Wednesday, he played the first hour of River's Copa Libertadores draw with Junior while protests raged outside in the streets of Barranquilla.

While he did not make the scoresheet, his presence and intelligence in holding the ball up throughout the game was further proof that he is much more than just an impact substitute.

Federico Girotti River Plate

Away from the pitch the youngster has two great passions: FIFA and, more unusually, flying, having studied to be a commercial pilot prior to going professional.

It was through the former endeavour, though, that the decision to mimic Haaland's famed celebration following his goal against Atletico Tucuman came about.

“I play with my friends online,” he explained to TyC Sports in April. “I play quite a lot and I had said to Paulo [Diaz] and Pala [Agustin Palavecino, both River team-mates] that I was going to try out the celebration."

Indeed, his celebratory homages have become a fixture in River games. As well as Haaland, ex-River favourite Lucas Pratto and, more controversially, Boca idol and vice-president Juan Roman Riquelme have also seen their signature moves imitated as the goals continue to fly in for Girotti.

While River will be hoping that their new gem produces the goods consistently both in the Copa Liga Profesional – Sunday sees the Millonario face off once more against sworn rivals Boca at the quarter-final stage – and the Libertadores, they will also be hoping to reap long-term gains.

In January 2020, the club rejected a bid of just under €4 million (£3m/$5m) from Serie A side Torino for Girotti's services, at a time when his first-team appearances could be counted on one hand.

“The offer came to leave, but I had a talk with Gallardo at the Ezeiza training ground. It was almost all decided,” he confided to Radiopasillo Monumental last year.

“He told me that he intended to play me. If your club's coach tells you that, more so if it's Gallardo and River, you don't hesitate.

“I didn't care about leaving or the money, nothing. I care about being here and I wanted to play for River.”

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River and Girotti's calculated gamble in turning down the approach should pay off handsomely, with his transfer value effectively tripling since the start of 2021.

If and when the youngster does choose to pursue his career in Europe, following the likes of fellow academy graduates Matias Kranevitter, Sebastian Driussi, Exequiel Palacios and Lucas Martinez Quarta in recent years, interested clubs will have to contend with a hefty release clause worth €20m (£17m/$24m), which was negotiated in a contract extension signed at the end of last year that keeps him at the club until December 2022.

For now, though, Girotti's priority is once more coming to the fore against Boca, and yet another strong Superclasico performance will only increase those tentative comparisons with Dortmund's stellar sharp-shooter.