In this series, we take a look at some of the most interesting young talents in the world of football. Next up is Independiente’s talented winger Alan Velasco.

“I play ball, I don’t feel pressure” – words easier said than demonstrated under the lights. Yet when you see Alan Velasco play, there is a clear sense of freedom that backs up the teenager’s statement. Heralded as the next big thing at one of Argentina’s most famous clubs, by any other measure there is a considerable weight.

Independiente were able to begin construction on a new stadium from the sale of Sergio Agüero in 2006 and many would label Velasco with the same ‘generational talent’ tag.

The Estadio Libertadores de América has finally been completed but financial issues that saw the project take over a decade still run deep, and just like Agüero years earlier, the eventual sale of Velasco could be viewed as a lifeline. Independiente will be hoping that’s the case, but perhaps also that they can enjoy Velasco for a little while longer.

Agüero as a teenager was a phenomenon and most comparisons are both unhelpful and wide of the mark, but the same youthful exuberance and fearless approach is evident. A mentality even when the team is down to receive the ball, make things happen and lift teammates. From the potrero to the top flight without filter.

“He is bold,” Independiente’s director of youth football and perennial interim manager Fernando Berón said. “One-on-one he dribbles without problems and that marks his personality. I have no doubt that the club has a diamond in the rough.”

Nothing characterizes the archetypal Argentinian talent more than the art of dribbling and Velasco’s quick feet and pace immediately catch the eye.

An ability and balance to twist, turn and go either side of the defender then accelerate away at pace makes Velasco a threat across the pitch. The 18-year-old’s dribbles in the final third (above) are not restricted to the left wing, despite his usual starting position, and often result in either a shot or chance creation.

With a remarkable 11.31 dribbles per 90 minutes since making his senior debut for Independiente, there are few players in Argentina whose numbers stack up to Velasco.

And while dribbling has been a feature since his debut under Ariel Holan in May 2019, all other aspects of Velasco’s game appear to be improving with every game played.

“Dribbling is an innate ability [of mine] and recently I’ve been learning how to pass better,” Velasco said in an interview with Olé.

Goals scored in this Copa Diego Maradona (left) / Dribbles per 90 in this Copa Diego Maradona (right)

Not just passing but scoring too. No player has averaged more dribbles per game than Velasco and only Boca Juniors striker Ramón Ábila has scored more. An impressive return considering Independiente’s struggles and Velasco’s position, reflected by his xG a third of that of Ábila.

The spectacular goals steal the headlines but it’s also worth noting how effective Velasco’s dribbling is in tight spaces. When comparing his closest rival in this regard, Boca’s Sebastián Villa – it’s clear that the Colombian’s strength lies in pure pace and his success comes in the space he can find down the wings. Velasco, on the other hand, is able to utilize his ability to beat defenders centrally even when space is restricted.

And this leads in to discover Velasco’s best position. Largely used from the left where he cuts inside onto his right foot, Independiente caretaker Fernando Berón opted to allow the teenager license to roam more centrally with devastating effect against River Plate recently.

“He was the ace up our sleeve. I don’t know if he has to play as an enganche, but his position is that,” Berón said after Velasco’s brace earned El Rojo the win.

The thinking behind perhaps initially starting Velasco wide is to allow the youngster a little more space and time. Still guilty on occasion of holding the ball a little too long or making the wrong decision, as is common with young players eager to impress, the wings can be a little more forgiving in this respect, clear from the heavier traffic through the middle.

If Velasco is to follow in the footsteps of the iconic Ricardo Bochini, Independiente’s great enganche, then the ability to find calm amid that madness is critical – operating in tight spaces, spotting passes and executing them at the ideal time with perfect weight.

Three assists in his last 13 appearances have shown improvements in that regard as Independiente increasingly look to Velasco for a spark. 77.7% pass accuracy may not leap off the page, but the number of crosses or attempted passes into the penalty area impact that overall success rate.

When keeping things simpler, Velasco’s passing is good and he has shown a good range. Comfortable keeping it short to keep possession but able to spread play and find teammates in space over long distances.

With a contract until 2023, Independiente can only dream of seeing Velasco in red for a fraction of that time. Berón has already warned of as much, “I think we’ll enjoy him for a short time. Everything he does is that of a special player and it’s very feasible a club comes in and puts the money.”

A release clause of $23.5 million is a huge amount for Argentinian clubs yet a figure that cash-strapped Independiente likely won’t hold out for and will tempt European suitors. Velasco might only be “thinking about Independiente” but many clubs will be thinking about Velasco.

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