In this series, we take a look at some of the most interesting young talents in the world of football. Next up is Estudiantes’ 17-year-old wonderkid Dario Sarmiento.
While rumors continue to swirl around the possibility of a Lionel Messi and Pep Guardiola reunion at Manchester City, there is another diminutive Argentinian seemingly on his way to the Etihad.
The player in question is 17-year-old wonderkid Dario Sarmiento, who became the second-youngest debutant in Estudiantes history when he came off the bench against Huracan last October.
Sarmiento has already earned rave reviews from the likes of former Barcelona defender Gabriel Milito and the late ex-Argentina boss Alejandro Sabella, who reportedly sank to his knees in reverence when he met the teen tyro in person.
Initially, on the books of Independiente, the Florencio Varela native switched to La Plata-based Estudiantes in 2009. Having impressed at youth level for El Pincha, Sarmiento was called up to the Argentina Under-16 side that was victorious in the Torneo Desarollo in Portugal and the prestigious Mondial Montaigu in France. He scored the equalizer in the final against Mexico before converting the decisive penalty in the shoot-out.
Sarmiento was then promoted to the Estudiantes first team and immediately caught the eye with his dazzling wing play. Though typically more of a central playmaker at youth level, he has often been used on the right-hand side, cutting in off the flank onto his favored left foot.
By far and away Sarmiento’s greatest strength is his dribbling. His low center of gravity, magnetic ball control, and explosive change of direction allows him to slalom past defenders with ease.
Averaging 10.93 dribbles per game, Sarmiento thrives in 1v1 duels and is a constant threat whether he is weaving infield or standing up his opposition full-back and driving past them to the by-line. Unsurprisingly, his 17.73 offensive duels per 90 this season is among the top five in the division.
In the great tradition of players forged in the dusty potreros of Argentina, Sarmiento plays with fearlessness and imagination, whilst also having deceptive strength and steel for his small stature.
One of the best examples of his audacious gambetas so far in his short career came against Deportivo Laferrere in the Copa Argentina.
Sarmiento’s ability to carry the ball in tight spaces means that he is a potent weapon in breaking down packed defenses in low blocks, while also winning lots of fouls (3.24 per 90 minutes) in dangerous positions.
However, given his frightening acceleration from a standing position and his lightning pace, Sarmiento is also fantastic in counter-attacking systems. With time and space in front of him, he can isolate opponents and motor forward, as shown by his average of 2.73 progressive runs this season.
As an inverted winger, Sarmiento favors cutting inside to deliver in-swinging crosses on his left foot. Understandably for such an unpolished player, there is still plenty of room to develop his weaker right foot but, if he can add this to his game, it would give him a more well-rounded threat from the wing.
Although his pass completion of 73.5% can also be improved, it’s worth noting that a lot of his attempts are more high-risk and therefore not always as likely to come off. With his past experience as a number 10, he is more than capable of unlocking a defense with a clever pass and, once more physically mature, we could see him revert to a more central role in time.
Above we see one of Sarmiento’s trademark reverse passes, as he cuts in from the wing to draw opponents towards him before slipping the ball into the vacated space for the forward player.
While he may not have many assists to his name, much of that can be put down to the goal-shy teammates in a low-scoring Estudiantes who have failed to hit the back of the net in all six of their games in the Copa Diego Maradona.
Sarmiento has yet to open his account for Estudiantes but possesses a decent shot and his four goals in six games for Argentina U16 suggest that he has goals in him.
Certainly, his decision making in the final third could do with some improvement – along with his defensive contribution and aerial ability – but he has all the raw attributes to add that in due course.
Much more than a one trick pony, Sarmiento has the game intelligence, vision and technique to go along with his eye-catching wing wizardry.
Though an admittedly small sample size to judge him on, the unrefined potential is clear for all to see and, with the right coaching and people around him, Sarmiento could develop into an elite talent.