Alan Velasco: Argentina's pocket-sized playmaker following in Aguero's footsteps

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The 18-year-old exploded onto the scene in late 2020, and has clubs from around both Europe and North America monitoring his progress

Fifteen years ago, a diminutive teenager with the No.10 on his back was thrilling supporters of Independiente with his exploits in front of goal.

That youngster was Sergio Aguero, who scored 18 goals for his boyhood club during his final campaign in Buenos Aires before completing a €20 million move to Atletico Madrid in the summer of 2006.

That deal helped pay for the refurbishment of the club's Estadio Libertadores de America, and following the news that Aguero's time at Manchester City is coming to an end, there remains hope that he will soon return to play in the new-look arena.

If he does, he could find himself lining up alongside a new Independiente youngster who some believe could usurp Aguero as being the club's most expensive sale of all time.

That player is Alan Velasco, who - like Aguero - is short in stature and wears the club's famed No.10 jersey after enjoying a breakout campaign following football's return from lockdown in late 2020.

By the time the delayed 2019-20 season ended in early January 2021, he had scored six goals and provided three assists, all of which came within a nine-week spell as Velasco quickly became the golden boy of Argentine football.

The 18-year-old now finds himself learning under new Independiente coach Julio Cesar Falcioni, who coincidentally is the same manager whom Aguero thrived under back in the mid-2000s, and there is hope he too will go onto represent the club across the world in years to come.

If he does, it will mark the latest chapter in a journey that almost never began.

The forward's family originally turned down the chance to send Velasco for a trial at Independiente, despite the best efforts of his childhood friend, Ramiro Lobo, to convince them otherwise.

And so while Lobo began to learn under professional youth coaches, Velasco instead remained with local amateur side San Juan de Berazategui Club, where he would leave boys his own age for dead, as well as some that were a year or two older.

He impressed at countless competitions, including the renowned Evita Tournament, before Independiente came calling once more.

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Club legend Agustin Balbuena was among those who began attending his matches, and those who saw Velasco were immediately impressed, though there were doubts over his size.

Even now, he only stands at 167cm (5'6"), but so taken aback were the Independiente officials by his ability that they pushed hard to persuade his father that academy football was the right route for his son.

Velasco Sr. relented, and his boy began working his way through the youth ranks before earning his first Argentina call-up at Under-15s level in 2016.

He truly burst onto the scene a year later, however, and though there were still reservations over his physical limitations, more and more onlookers were beginning to take notice.

"As a child it was difficult for me to express myself due to the issue of my height, but I stood out when we beat Racing 6-0," he recalled. "I scored three goals, and I started to play better after that."

It was at that point he made the leap into the reserve side, and two years later - having helped Argentina win the U17 South American Championship - he made his first-team debut in May 2019, two months ahead of his 17th birthday.

He backed that up with a series of other substitute appearances, but it was only after Argentine football's coronavirus-enforced eight-month hiatus that he truly exploded onto the scene.

After both scoring and assisting against Fenix in October's Copa Sudamericana tie, he backed it up by repeating the trick two days later against Colon in the Argentine Cup.

He then finished the campaign with four goals in his final three matches, including a superb double in January's 2-0 win over River Plate, before being handed the club's famous No.10 shirt ahead of the current campaign.

"He can wear that shirt because he is a player with the necessary technique and skill," Independiente icon Ricardo Bochini claimed after the news was broken, with Velasco having impressed with his close control and dribbling ability during a run that saw him play predominantly off the left-hand side.

"For me, dribbling is an innate ability," Velasco, who cites Eden Hazard as a footballing inspiration and recently unveiled a huge Diego Maradona tattoo across his back, told Ole. "It is not something I needed to learn.

"In recent times, I have been learning to pass the ball more and to assist. Now, I want to work to improve my dead-ball execution.

"I can play in all three attacking positions: left, right or off a central striker. I am a fast player, and I always look to win my battles."

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It is those attributes that the likes of Lyon, Monaco, Newcastle, Parma, Atlanta United and Club America have taken notice of, as speculation regarding Velasco's next move intensifies.

After signing a new contract at the start of December which ties him to his boyhood club until 2023, he now has a release clause of $23.5m (£17m), and if that is met then he will break Aguero's record.

And while the pair have very different styles of play, there is hope that just as one Independiente hero begins to wind down his career, another is just getting started.

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