Diego Rubio 19 Striker Sporting CP
At the age of 19, Sporting Clube de Portugal's Chilean striker Diego Rubio has barely had time to allow his feet to touch the ground since breaking through at Colo Colo, the giant club in his home town, Santiago. Nine league appearances for the Los Albos first team were enough to secure him the all-important move to Europe, and to one of Portugal's most famous clubs. There, he started well after joining Sporting in July 2011 and impressed in his handful of first team appearances.
At face value, his temporary switch to Sporting B suggests that Rubio might not be a player who can cope with being thrown in at the deep end after fewer than 20 first team appearances in his career to date. But the move into the club's Segunda Liga reserve side is a logical and sensible decision, and doesn't reflect either his quality as a footballer or his ability to make the step back up in relatively short order.
The young Chilean needs time to adjust to life as a footballer, never mind to a new continent. Still at a formative age, Rubio must get used to his surroundings in Portugal and Europe before beginning to answer the question that is always asked of South American players in his position: did he move too early? Sporting's cautious management of Rubio should ensure that he is not one to fall by the wayside, and a spell with Sporting B seems a smart option for the time being.
In truth, it's not much of a demotion in any case. Sporting's is one of six B teams competing in Portugal's second tier, and despite an uncertain start they should be towards the top of the table come the end of the season. It's easy to see why Sporting would prefer to blood Rubio at this competitive level, where he will play games, score goals and learn much, as opposed to a first team set-up where he would face the daunting prospect of competing with - or rather deputising for the deputies of - Ricky van Wolfswinkel.
When he does return to the Primeira Liga in the famous green and white of Sporting, he will bring plenty to the table. Rubio is an instinctive striker, with great balance and lovely footwork, and a crisp finish inside the area. More often than not, it seems he gives his successful efforts no thought at all - he is a player who just knows where the net is and knows how to stick a football in it.
He possesses lethal pace and marries it to intelligent runs off the ball. Watching him in action sometimes evokes memories of the long forgotten style of a young Michael Owen, although the consistency of the end result is different as Rubio strives to become the finished article. He also has a freakish leap for a shorter player, not unlike the former Liverpool whippet in his pomp
Regardless of his short-term status within Sporting or his perceived progress over the past 12 months, there's little doubt that Rubio will eventually wind up filling his boots on the first division stage. Sporting certainly thought so last July, sliding a €30m release clause into his contract. Not unusual in Europe, perhaps, but a significant vote of confidence nonetheless.
Internationally there is yet more evidence of a small-steps approach by those with a vested interest in Rubio's long-term direction and overall improvement. He was brought into Claudio Borghi's 28-man preliminary squad ahead of last year's Copa America, but can count his number of caps on the fingers of one hand. This is a player who has time on his side, and both club and country seem willing to allow him to blossom naturally. The challenge, perhaps, will be to persuade him that it's for his own good.
"Very much finding his feet with Sporting B this season, and becoming an increasingly steady supplier of goals. With Sporting short up front, the A team should come sooner rather than later." - Ben Shave (PortuGOAL)
D Biding his time in the Segunda