Manuel Lanzini 19 Midfielder River Plate
Manuel Lanzini is a bit of a mirage in our opinion. He does exist we promise you, we didn’t get to 99 last year and then just make up a player for the final entry (although that would have been brilliant), what we mean is that you see a diminutive 19-year old Argentinean attacking midfielder who is comfortable on the ball and is happy taking a man on, and you immediately assume he’s going to be world class. Goes with the turf I guess.
You see here’s the thing, we’re not actually sure he is ‘brilliant’ any more, he might just be ‘very good’ and while there’s nothing to be ashamed of in that, it does mean the difference between something approaching superstardom and ‘just’ being a good top-flight player.
There are flashes and moments where you could swear he’s special. It’s a little step-over, a flashy turn or a pass that you know most won’t see that usually catches your eye and tricks the mind. You see it and immediately think I’ll keep an eye on him, he ticks all the boxes (see the profile on Juan Iturbe for said list), he must be the next big thing.
But here’s the reality. Firstly there is not enough of any of the above. For every step-over that comes off there’s a blind alley run into and possession lost. For every clever pass that looks like it comes from a player twice his age, there’s a simple one that goes astray. We’re in no way saying that he’s not talented because he really is, it’s just he may not be the superstar in waiting many people assumed he was when he first entered the scene.
The original ‘we’ve got another one here’ hype was easy to get caught up in. As we said he does fit the check-list and in River’s desperate 2011 he was considered a reason for hope. He appeared sporadically and the talent was glimpsed but in his report last year we did make the point that his inclusion was ‘a punt on his potential rather than any solid evidence’.
What was exciting was that a season long move to Fluminense has already been agreed to at that stage and embarked upon. We would have our proof when it came time to write this year’s report and we were pretty sure this was going to be a B, maybe even a B+. He started well with a couple of goals and again, the flashes of talent were immense. However, that’s were we began to feel a bit deflated.
Over the course of the loan he proved horribly inconsistent. The moments that get you off your seat were there but the gaps between got longer and longer. He never played particularly badly, it’s just he never really sparkled in a position where moonbeams and fairy dust are a pre-requisite. It felt like he was on the brink of throwing it all in and just going with the stereotype on more than one occasion, but he never actually let go. You wanted ‘great’, more often than not you got ‘reasonable’.
But’s that’s okay isn’t it? It was probably a 6 out of 10 season and the stats aren’t bad on the surface – 37 appearances and 5 goals. It’s just we wanted…well…more. This is the problem for Lanzini - because he fits the stereotype the expectations are unrealistic. He’s a good player, do we really want to punish and criticize him because he isn’t a great one?
Yet. He isn’t a great one yet. You see he still has the raw talent in there, and since returning to River for their first season back in the Primera you can see some growth. He is evolving, slower than some, but the benefit of playing with Flu (who he left with a title-winner’s medal in his back pocket it should be noted) and getting game time is evident.
He has yet to have a proper run in his favoured position behind the strikers, Matias Almeyda played him wide at times which felt like an awkward fit. Recently he has found himself training on his own after criticizing his then manager in the press (cue January transfer rumour mill on 3, 2, 1, GO!) and it may be in the longer term that River is just not the best stage for him to develop his talent to the full. However, it may be that now is his time as Almeyda has left the club and there was a clear clash of ideas there. He’s shown some evidence of being able to learn - here’s hoping that continues.
So his biggest crime seems to be that he might not become one of the best players in the world and he needs a run in his favoured position. Around him a new breed is now taking on the mantel of ‘brilliant young Argentine playmakers’, journalist Ed Malyon directed me towards Lucas Mugni and Leandro Paredes when I asked the question, whether those two make it or not the wheel will continue to turn and keep throwing out the huge potential the country seems to foster.
We’re absolutely confident that Lanzini will have a good professional career and at some point be at least linked with the usual European suspects - isn’t that enough? Well the answer’s ‘yes’ in the longer term of course but for the 100 which looks at a single 12 month block, it has to be a ‘no’. He’s had an okay 12 months and he’ll have worse seasons later in his career we’re sure, but in terms of making another world football top 100 anytime soon? Probably not.
“Manuel Lanzini has impressed since returning to River, although he's never really been given the chance to play in his favoured position behind the strikers. A talented individual, who deserves more faith from his manager”– Ed Malyon (The Mirror, The Guardian)
C- Suffers due to the pedigree, may well be a couple of years or more before we know exactly how good he is