In this series, we take a look at some of the most interesting young talents in the world of football. Next up is River Plate’s 19-year old midfielder, Santiago Simón.
All the talk around River Plate lately has been about the sale of Julian Alvarez to Manchester City. The 21-year-old forward and South American Footballer of the Year has been the jewel in the Millonarios crown and his departure will be a big blow to the Argentinian Primera champions.
Nevertheless, one of the key strengths of Marcelo Gallardo’s side has been their ability to regenerate, rebuild and move on without missing a beat. Their academy has produced a steady flow of young prospects to supplement the first team whilst also bringing in much-needed cash through sales.
Arguably the next young starlet ready to step up to the mantle of ‘next best thing’ at River is 19-year-old midfielder Santiago Simón.
Handed his debut at the tail end of 2020, the former U17 international established himself as a regular for River in the second half of last year, playing 16 times and helping the club to their first league title in 7 years.
What immediately marked him out as a talent to watch was his maturity and the way he stepped up to the first team with apparent ease. Hard working, low profile and a quiet personality, Simón plays with a veteran’s mentality, leading Olé to dub him “a hero without a cape but with overalls”.
Typically deployed on the right-hand side of midfield, Simón is a versatile and flexible player who can fulfill a number of roles. Not really an out-and-out winger but not quite a central playmaker, it’s hard to pin down his exact position but he has mainly been used on the right of a front three or deeper as the most attacking option of a midfield three or four.
Having said that, he’s also capable of operating more centrally, having played as a forward in the youth divisions, and even has had brief spells at right-back against Estudiantes and Arsenal.
All of this points to great game intelligence and understanding of the different systems and roles he is asked to play.
Taller than your average winger and not blessed with explosive acceleration, Simón nevertheless has a good surge of pace when he builds up a head of steam and his game is more about the clever positions he picks up, his link play with teammates and his technique with the ball at feet.
What’s more, Simón has a good range of passing and crosses the ball well too. For River, he typically makes 10.7 forward passes per 90, has a 70% accuracy with his passes to the final third and averages 0.23 assists per 90.
Perhaps Simón’s biggest strength is his dynamism and energy. One of the words often used to describe him is “despliegue”, which doesn’t have an easy translation but roughly can be seen as the ability to cover every blade of grass and a player’s physical attributes and endurance.
This dynamism is what has drawn comparisons with another former River graduate, Exequiel Palacios, while Simón himself as said he looks up to and studies Kevin de Bruyne.
Simón’s physical capacities plus his reading of the game also make him good at pressing and winning the ball high up the field, while he is also very diligent at tracking back to help out his full-back and do his defensive duties, typically averaging 9.08 defensive duels per 90 for River.
Naturally for a player with 30 or so senior appearances, there is still room for improvement. Simón has 5 assists to his name but has stated that he knows he needs to add more end product and shoot more often, especially if he continues to be deployed in a more advanced role.
His hard work was recognized when he received the call up to the national team in November for the World Cup Qualifying double-header against Brazil and Uruguay, just a year after making his first team debut for River. More likely to be a key member of the U20s in the short term but Simón definitely appears to be a player destined for the Albiceleste senior side.
As for his club form, River have assembled a star-studded side with the likes of Juanfer Quintero and Esequiel Barco joining but Simón has kept his place and been an ever-present for River so far in the Copa de la Liga.
Barcelona are reportedly interested, as are Villarreal, Betis and Sevilla, but, with a $20m clause, this latest diamond from the Millonario academy won’t come cheap.