In this series, we take a look at some of the most interesting young talents in the world of football. Next up is Envigado’s 18-year old attacking midfielder Yaser Asprilla.
A couple of losses in the latest round of World Cup Qualifiers have left Colombia needing a miracle in order to make it to Qatar 2022. An inability to find the back of the net has been their downfall, with their goal drought now stretching to 646 minutes.
The inclusion of 18-year-old Yaser Asprilla in the latest squad seemed a left-field but exciting wildcard selection as Reinaldo Rueda looked for some fresh impetus to shake things up.
An eye-catching cameo against Honduras - in which he became the second-youngest player ever to appear for Colombia - set the stage for Asprilla to come to the rescue but bizarrely he wasn’t included in either matchday squad against Peru and Argentina and the Cafateros duly slumped to defeat.
A product of the famed Envigado academy, whose alumni also include James Rodriguez, Juan Fernando Quintero and Fredy Guarin to name but a few, Asprilla scored 5 goals in 20 appearances last year and quickly became one of the hottest properties in Colombian football.
Ever alert to the South American market, Watford agreed a deal for him in August but, with a work permit still an issue, have allowed him to remain at Envigado until the summer.
Having previously moved quickly to secure the likes of Cucho Hernandez and Joao Pedro, the Hornets clearly know a talent when they see it and, regardless of which division they find themselves next year, believe that Asprilla could be a game-changer.
One of Asprilla’s key qualities is his fearlessness when it comes to taking on players. Averaging 10.69 offensive duels per 90, Asprilla has an explosiveness, dynamism and directness to break the lines in the final third, with the confidence to try something different.
His excellent balance, change of pace and dribbling skills are akin to that of a traditional winger but, crucially, he is able to bring these to a more central role. Despite his skinny frame, his height and strength ensures he can hold his own in the middle and ride any challenges that come his way.
This is also aided by a very good first touch and quick decision-making, which allows him to beat his man or to wriggle away from the press and thus buy himself time and space to assess his options and progress the ball.
This interesting mix allows Asprilla to be a very versatile threat and his ability to take up different positions between the lines makes him hard to pick up and pin down.
Whether playing as an inverted right winger cutting onto his favoured left, in a more traditional number 10 role or even deeper in midfield, he has been able to influence the game wherever deployed, whilst also demonstrating a tactically flexibility and positional intelligence.
Arguably one of the more underrated elements of Asprilla’s game is his passing ability. Though he only has one assist to his name, he has great vision and technique to pick and execute through balls, while he also boasts a good range of deliveries and a high pass accuracy (81.7%).
Along with his physical attributes and intelligence, this skill above all is why his future probably lies in a more central role.
Of course, the fact that Asprilla is able to add goals from an attacking midfield position is another reason why he is such an exciting prospect. Though he sometimes tries a speculative shot from range once too often, he has shown impressive composure and anticipation with his finishing in the box.
Though he may still be raw and inexperienced, his personality, hunger and ability suggest he has what it takes to bring that creative spark that the Colombia national team is so desperately lacking.
His coach Alberto Suarez certainly thinks so, calling him “one of the best prospects Colombian football has produced in the last 10 years”.
While this World Cup cycle may have come just too late, expect to see plenty more of Asprilla in the years to come.