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Agustin Almendra: Boca's 'new Riquelme' set for big-money European move

12:00 PM WAT 24/10/2019
Agustin Almendra NxGn
Likened to one of the greats of modern Argentine football since an early age, the teenager is now being linked with Barcelona, PSG and Manchester City

There is something about players born in the year 2000 and Boca Juniors.

First came Facundo Colidio, who left Buenos Aires for Inter in a deal worth €8 million (£7m/$9m) despite having never played for the Boca first team.

Now, though, there is Agustin Almendra.

A player who always stood out at under-age level, he has become a mainstay of the Boca first-team squad even though he won't turn 20 until February.

Unsurprisingly, given his performances in central midfield, the great and good of European football are on his tail, and he is expected to become the most expensive sale in Boca history when he eventually departs.

Born in San Francisco Solano, a town in the southern region of Greater Buenos Aires, he took his first footballing steps around 15 kilometres away in Lanus. It was there that he met his mentor, Roberto Madoery, who enrolled him into the academy system at Independiente.

However, with Madoery then offered a role within the Xeneize (the Boca academy), the coach proposed that Almendra accompany him.

While training with Boca, Almendra also spent a year playing in the Metropolitan League in his local neighbourhood, representing Club Social y Deportivo 7 de Agosto.

"Baby players like him were rare," recalled Diego Meirinho, who coached the team. "It was an extraordinary thing. He had a special way of running and keeps it up to now. He jogs and doesn't bend his knees – it's weird!"

At the age of 13, he finally entered the Boca youth system proper, playing for the club's Novena, or Under-14s. In his first season, he would win the league title. He would repeat that the next year with the U15s and again, in 2017, with the U17s.

"We saw the same things that we had seen from Riquelme in terms of how he handled the ball," his coach at U16 level, Roberto Passucci, explained. 

"When he started in the middle of the field in a dominant team and he raised his head, he was tremendous."

In 2017, Almendra signed his first professional contract and began training with the club's reserves. Within a year, he had been invited to partake in pre-season training by first-team coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto and, in April, he was handed his first senior start, coincidentally against former club Independiente.

He went onto make three further appearances off the bench that season, by which time comparisons with ex-Boca midfielder and current Juventus star Rodrigo Bentancur were commonplace.

Equally adept at sitting in front of his own penalty area or driving into the opposition box, Almendra encapsulates the modern 'interior'. An extremely strong tackler, he is comfortable dribbling with the ball, playing short and long passes while possessing a decent long-range shooting ability.

Since his debut season, he has gone onto play a key role for Boca, even starting the second leg of their infamous Copa Libertadores final against River Plate in 2018 at Santiago Bernabeu.

His first goal for the club had come seven months earlier, with his last-minute header wrapping up victory over Club Atletico Union.

He has been troubled by knee problems, meaning that he is not always named in the starting XI, but that has not stopped the likes of Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Napoli showing an interest in the teenage talent.

As reported by Goal, Barca – along with Valencia – held preliminary talks with Boca regarding a transfer ahead of the 2019 January window.

Over the summer, meanwhile, it seemed like Serie A was his likeliest destination, with Boca president Daniel Angelici telling Radio La Red: "We have several clubs interested in Almendra, but Napoli made the most concrete proposal we’ve received so far. We are analysing the offers, but it’s very likely he’ll probably leave."

In the end, he didn't depart and it is estimated that his value in the current market is around €27m (£23m/$30m), with Atletico Madrid said to be considering making such an offer.

Christened the 'new Riquelme' since an early age, the weight of expectation has surrounded Almendra ever since he broke into the Boca first team.

He has coped admirably with the pressure and should do likewise when he eventually follows Colidio to Europe in the not-too-distant future.