Boca Juniors are a special club; of that there can be no doubting. In Argentina, there is a rivalry worthy of any audience in the world, with an atmosphere that dwarfs the majority of others. When Boca come up against River Plate in the ‘Superclasico’, the two most successful clubs in the country, with 67 Primera Division titles between them, often produce a spectacle filled with a unique sense of hatred and hostility. On the pitch, that leads to fireworks.
Most successful players in Argentina and other South American countries ply their trade where the audiences, and rewards, are greatest. While that happens to be in Italy, Spain, England or Europe in general, the role clubs back at home play in their development should not be forgotten, especially at a club like Boca.
Juan Riquelme, Carlos Tevez, Gabriel Batistuta and Diego Maradona hit the highest heights of their careers elsewhere, but they are just four names on a stellar list to have donned the shirt at La Bombanera. It has been a slow start to the new campaign for El Azul y Oro (the blue and gold), with one win from their opening two games leaving them twelfth in the league. River, meanwhile, top the table with a 100% record.
But the future is bright, because their youth system is producing future stars. The latest is 19-year-old central midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur, and just as his predecessors did, he has been tipped to shine on the biggest stage, with Arsenal and Real Madrid just two clubs supposedly taking an interest in his precocious talent.
Bentancur is a relative newcomer to the highest level, only making his debut in 2015, and yet there is clear method in Boca’s willingness to aid his rapid rise, and Europe’s elite taking notice. After establishing himself as a mainstay in then coach Rodolfo Arruabuena’s plans, he was given the Revelation of the Year award by local newspaper Clarin as he helped the team to the domestic double. His immediate task is to continue impressing under new boss Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who replaced Arruabuena earlier this year.
Rather than growing up with dreams of following the likes of Riquelme and Tevez on the path to legendary status with the Argentine national side, La Albiceleste (the white and sky blue), Bentancur has Uruguay in his sights. Born in Nueva Helvecia, is homeland’s biggest club, Panarol, turned him down aged 13. With the help of his father, he made the journey to his new home to have a trial with Boca, who were suitably impressed and offered him a contract. From then, he stayed with his grandparents in a nearby neighbourhood.
As a Uruguayan with an Argentine football education, Bentancur has developed into a midfielder capable of brilliance, but with a tenacious approach. At 1.85 metres tall, his centre of gravity is not particularly low, and as a result he has become more of a deep-lying midfielder than Boca’s more famous sons. According to the man himself, he follows Fernando Gago, a current teammate, more than Riquelme in terms of influence. Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez and Sergio Busquets are also on his list of idols.
Elegance, above all else, is the hallmark of his play, added to his physique and stature; he draws the most comparisons with Busquets. Tactically, he has proven himself to be well beyond his years, sniffing out danger at the base of Boca’s impressive midfield, which also includes fellow prospect Adrian Cubas. And yet, even though he claims not to be like Riquelme, he possesses the ability to do magical things with a football, and a young player of his intelligence could be moulded in a number of ways.
It seems as though the next logical step is for Bentancur to head to Europe, and one day he is likely to make the jump. Juventus have first refusal on his signature, along with Cubas, Guido Vandala and Franco Cristaldo, as part of the deal that saw Tevez return to Boca in 2015.
There would be many a tough act to follow in Turin, who at the time of that deal were struggling to come to terms with losing both Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal. Paul Pogba’s departure this summer leaves yet more gaps to be filled long term despite some sensible acquisitions from the Italian champions, currently enjoying a five-year stranglehold on Serie A.
But Bentancur would be well served to stay in Argentina, hone is skills and attempt to make waves internationally, having not yet represented Uruguay at any level.
Right now, the club are struggling domestically, but with the season in its infancy, concerns will likely subside. In Rodrigo Bentancur, they have a midfielder of enormous potential, with versatility and a mentality to match. One day, perhaps, he will join the list of famous Boca Juniors alumni.
About the author – Harry De Cosemo
Harry is a European football writer specialising in English, Spanish and Italian football. He has worked for a number of top publications including MARCA in English, uMAXit football, FourFourTwo, Squawka and The Press Association.