In this series, we take a look at some of the most interesting young talents in the football world. Next up is River Plate’s 20-year old striker Julián Álvarez.
It has been almost two years since Julián Álvarez made his River Plate debut, and while the 20-year-old’s lack of a starting role to date might lead some to think that the forward doesn’t have much of a future, a freshly-signed new deal until 2022 would say otherwise.
More importantly, that contract saw Álvarez’s release clause increased to €25 million. Considering the departure of Nacho Scocco and the decline of veteran Lucas Pratto, now is the time for the man they call La Araña.
When River manager Marcelo Gallardo turned to the 18-year-old Álvarez to come off the bench in Madrid for the closing minutes of the historic Superclásico victory over Boca Juniors, this was not some moment of generosity to an academy boy barely in the first-team set-up, but in fact a show of great faith.
Those brief moments in such an important game may only have really served to highlight mental attributes, while patience has been required for the meager 25 appearances to have followed since. But whether it’s been those small cameos or for Argentina’s under-20s, Álvarez’s class has shone through.
As a prodigious talent who had a trial at Real Madrid before joining River, Álvarez has often been categorized as a striker while climbing up through the ranks, and while certain characteristics to eventually excel in that role are evident, the youngster has shown a great deal of versatility either on the wing or dropping off the center-forward.
Often occupying the space in front of the back four, in a way that the excellent Matías Suárez does in Gallardo’s first choice eleven, Álvarez intelligently finds space and looks to play positive passes forward.
This skill has not been restricted solely to River, a place where Álvarez gets the chance to work daily under Gallardo. For Argentina’s under-20s, the Córdoba province-born talent finds the same spaces to the benefit of the internationally capped center-forward Adolfo Gaich.
Finding these spaces normally associated with a number 10 and making an average of 6.2 progressive passes per 90 minutes has seen Álvarez create 2.78 shots on average.
A decent range of passing illustrated by Álvarez’s excellent set-piece delivery has been used by his teams to great effect to provide a range of assists and goal-scoring opportunities.
Yet it has been in the wider areas and the half-spaces where Álvarez has found most joy. With an impressive burst of acceleration and the ability to beat his man with pace, Álvarez has averaged 5.34 crosses per 90 minutes with an impressive 45% accuracy.
His eagerness to cut inside and play more accurate low crosses into the penalty area rather than go on the outside of the full-back and cross aerially like a more traditional winger is a factor in this.
Also, while Álvarez’s career to date has seen him more as a provider, his traits to play closer to goal and improve on his tally of three senior River goals are evident.
Through his in-game intelligence, smart movement and sweet striking of the ball, Álvarez has scored a variety of goals. If he were pushed more centrally, there is a sense that more goals would likely follow.
Whether the power and technique shown in the example against Bolivia, the deftness of the lob against Internacional in the Copa Libertadores, or the accuracy to score in the win over Venezuela at the Pre-Olympic tournament, Álvarez has an undervalued eye for goal.
For as long as Rafael Santos Borré and Matías Suárez remain at River, Marcelo Gallardo will have his front two, but Álvarez is closer than ever to push his way into contention. Patience will still be required, but there is no doubt that the forward remains an important part of the club’s future.