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Valentin Barco: Boca Juniors wonderkid who could be Manchester City-bound

12:00 BST 17/08/2021
Valentin Barco NXGN GFX
The 17-year-old left-back, who is the fourth-youngest player in the history of the Argentine giants, has impressed since stepping up to the first team

When players are emerging from the youth ranks and receiving glowing reports from scouts and journalists, they tend to be those who play further up the pitch.

In Argentina, the focus is almost always on the player with No 10 on his back, such is the weight it carries, while out-and-out strikers who are banging in the goals also get their share of the spotlight.

You do not hear of many left-backs who have world-class potential, particularly at the age of 16 or 17, so those who do catch the eye tend to be particularly special.

That certainly seems to be the case for Valentin Barco, with the Boca Juniors youngster having surfaced as one of the brightest talents the Argentine giants have developed in years.

For those who have seen the Buenos Aires native grow up, that is not coming as much of a surprise.

'El Colo', as Barco is known, began his footballing education at the age of three at local side Club Atletico Sportivo, before six years later he was taken for a trial under the watchful eye of legendary Argentine scout Ramon Maddoni.

Maddoni helped unearth Carlos Tevez, Juan Roman Riquelme, Fernando Redondo and Esteban Cambiasso, and could see the talent Barco had almost immediately. On his advice, he was signed by Boca.

Aged just nine, Barco could not live on campus at Boca's 'La Candela' academy and as such was forced to make a round trip of more than 400 kilometres three times each week from his home town of Veinticinco de Mayo just to attend training sessions.

"He would get up at five in the morning to study, then we would go to La Candela and return at 10 o'clock at night," his mother, Patricia, explained to Convergencias in 2019. "There were times when we only had enough money for gas and for the toll. He would even go to train when he had a fever."

That determination to be a success meant that when Barco did eventually leave home a year later, he was still able to thrive away from his family base.

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Playing predominantly as a winger with the number 11 on his back, he helped his age-group side to a league title in 2018, though his coaches.

Leonardo Testone and Jorge Martinez, saw that he could be more dangerous running from deep, and so gradually moved Barco back into midfield and then to full-back.

The change in position certainly did not limit his impact on games, and after signing a contract with Adidas at the age of 14, he soon became a key player for Argentina's youth sides, starring as the Albiceleste's Under-15s won the Vlatko Markovic tournament in Croatia.

That was in the summer of 2019, but with the Covid-19 pandemic shutting down all youth football in South America just months later, 2020 felt like something of a lost year for Barco.

The election of Riquelme as Boca's second vice-president however meant that Boca's attitude towards their academy changed, with the club now far more keen to push their homegrown youngsters into the senior squad than they had been under previous regimes.

As such, Barco signed his first professional contract at the age of 16, before being invited to join Miguel Angel Russo's squad for pre-season ahead of the campaign's resumption in June.

Though he was originally sent back to the reserve side once competitive matches returned, it was not long before he was called upon by Russo, with Barco selected to start against Club Atletico Union on July 17, a week before his 17th birthday.

The fourth-youngest debutant in Boca history, only Leandro Paredes in the modern era has made their first appearance for the club at a younger age, but Barco did not let his inexperience show, causing plenty of problems in attack with his speed and willingness to make forward runs on both the outside and inside of his opposite number.

Given his history as a forward, it should perhaps come as no surprise that Barco's main strengths are in the final third. He has supreme technique when in possession while also possessing an eye for goal when he gets into shooting positions.

That is not to say that he is lacking in defensive ability, as illustrated by the heroic clearance he made in front of his own goal against Banfield in his second senior appearance, with his all-action displays certainly having caught the eye.

"He is a great player," fellow Boca left-back Frank Fabra said of the teenager. "He is only 17 years old, but he has shown a great personality. I like players like him."

Fabra is not the only one to have admired Barco, with reports already suggesting that the Abu Dhabi-owned City Football Group are keen to continue their hoarding of South America's best young talents by adding him to their stable.

For his part Barco's contract at Boca runs until 2023, and they are keen not to let him leave. They just want to enjoy the rarest of beasts - a teenage left-back who plays like he has been around for years.