Next Generation – Thiago Almada, from Tevez's neighourhood to another Manchester tug-of-war?

By Sports Desk June 07, 2020

'Next Generation' is a series focusing on the young players tipped to establish themselves as the elite in the 2020s.


Fuerte Apache, Buenos Aires is an imposing sight. Like a skyrise jungle domineering over the run-down surroundings of small shops and bars, it holds a certain aura that is probably not helped by its reputation.

Ejercito de los Andes, to give its original name, received its more familiar moniker after a shootout in the estate was broadcast live on the news. The 1981 film 'Fort Apache, The Bronx' is where the nickname came from, and it stuck.

Carlos Tevez is the barrio's most famous son. The former Manchester United, Manchester City, Juventus and Argentina star's face is prominent in numerous places around the estate, with several murals dedicated to him.

While the biggest – and most iconic – piece in tribute to the forward can be seen on the north edge, facing away from the estate, there is another deep inside Fuerte Apache.

Here, fittingly, Tevez looks out over the football pitch of Roger 'Didi' Ruiz, the coach who discovered him, and where Argentina's next great hope crafted his skills.

First there was Tevez, now Fuerte Apache expects of Thiago Almada.

From Tevez's patch to Velez

As early as four years old, Almada – like Tevez before him – was playing with Club Santa Clara in Fuerte Apache. By five he was signed up by Velez Sarsfield, but he continued to represent his local side as well.

For Almada, a silky attacking midfielder, football has offered a legitimate route to a better life. Even though he accepts the area isn't quite as dangerous as it was in Tevez's time, trouble was still frequent in his youth.

"In the neighbourhood, there are a lot of people who chose the wrong path. It is one way or the other, and I also chose," he told Diario Clarin in 2017, when he was still a part of Velez's youth setup.

But he wouldn't be for much longer. A little over a year later, in August 2018, Almada made his first-team debut as a 17-year-old, appearing for 26 minutes in the 2018-19 Superliga opener against Newell's Old Boys.

He went on to play a total of 16 league matches that season under the tutelage of Gabriel Heinze, generally operating through the middle or off the left, but such prominence at a young age in Argentina does not go unnoticed by bigger European clubs, and it caused fractions.

Velez were understandably concerned about Almada being poached and, with his contract set to expire in June 2020, for a period it seemed realistic he could leave for pittance.

The situation led to speculation claiming Heinze had grown frustrated with Almada, though the coach furiously denied this in a news conference last year, saying: "Tell that journalist that he is a liar and he is absolutely wrong. There are two people here, it's me and it's Thiago. I tell him that they have a lying journalist and the information is a lie. My relationship with Thiago remains the same."

"All the goals were scored by him"

In September, Velez finally tied Almada down to a new four-year contract. As much as anything, it provided the Liniers club with greater financial security, increasing his release clause from a reported €14million to a figure that will reportedly reach €25m after August 31. Directors could breathe a sigh of relief.

Man City had been lurking. With reports of Almada's agent travelling to Europe for talks with other clubs, a feeling of deja vu would have been justifiable for Velez, who lost Benjamin Garre – a former youth-team colleague of Almada – to the Premier League giants for a nominal fee in 2016.

While Almada's rise has been impressive – he has played 22 times in the Superliga this term – it cannot be said that no one saw it coming.

Turu Flores, a former Velez player, spent five years on the coaching staff of the club's senior side, including a 12-month stint as head coach. In that time, watching the youth teams was a regular occurrence for him, and one kid always seemed to stand out.

"I've known Thiago since he was a child," Flores told Stats Perform News. "He is a friend of my son and already had an incredible impact when he was 14 years old. I remember him when he was 12, 13 or 14 years old. At that time I was working for Velez and I used to go and see him playing. He used to start as a central midfielder, but the matches would finish 3-0 or 4-0 and all the goals were scored by him. So, you could already envisage that he has the potential to make important things in football."

'Welcome to Manchester', part two?

A wonderful technician, it's easy to see why City might see Almada as a long-term replacement for David Silva, even if they already possess Phil Foden. But having missed out on him last year, there's reportedly growing interest from elsewhere – United, Inter and Atletico Madrid have all been mentioned as admirers.

It remains to be seen if Almada emulates Tevez and causes another tug-of-war between the Manchester giants, but whoever manages to prise him away from Velez will potentially get themselves a generational talent.

"He is very young and has a long journey ahead of him, a lot to learn, but he has incredible conditions," Flores adds. "He's got a great shot and amazing vision. His vision is not common anymore, you don't see it, or we haven't seen it for a long time. This kind of player comes from the playground, how he controls the ball, how he hits the ball. He is one of the last players that grew up in the street playgrounds."

That style of play is also reflected by his idolising of Juan Roman Riquelme, who invited him to a barbecue after seeing him play earlier this season. "He got my number, texted me and invited me. He is my idol – I could not believe it," Almada told Infobae in October.

Like Riquelme at Boca Juniors in the 1990s, Almada is already a significant influence at Velez despite being a teenager, even if only 10 of his league appearances this term have come as a starter.

With nine goals since making his debut, he is – remarkably – Velez's top-scorer, and only five players have featured more regularly than him.

In terms of chance creation, he's laid on 54 key passes since August 2018, the second most of Velez players, and his dribbling excellence is also quantifiable.

He has attempted 121 take-ons in senior football, completing 60 per cent – of Velez players, only Gaston Gimenez (67 per cent) has a better completion rate than Almada.

Explosive, technically outstanding and creative, there is much to like about his game. More dynamic than Riquelme and arguably a greater natural talent than Tevez, Almada's future looks exciting.

Tevez may have blazed a trail out of Fuerte Apache for Almada to follow, potentially even to Manchester, but there's every chance the teenager could one day be held in even higher regard than Carlitos.

Related items

  • Cavani mustn't let controversy affect his mindset ahead of PSG reunion – Solskjaer Cavani mustn't let controversy affect his mindset ahead of PSG reunion – Solskjaer

    Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has challenged Edinson Cavani to not let his recent social media faux pas impact his mindset ahead of a crucial Champions League reunion with former club Paris Saint-Germain.

    Cavani was the star of the show and United's saviour in Sunday's 3-2 win over Southampton, coming off the bench to claim an assist and two goals – in doing so, he became the first player since Solskjaer in 1999 to have at least three goal involvements as a substitute in a single Premier League game.

    But his performance and accomplishment were overshadowed late that night when a social media post he published contained a Spanish phrase many would consider to be racially insensitive.

    Cavani deleted it once he had been informed of its potential to cause offence and issued an apology on Monday, explaining that it was meant as a show of affection towards a friend who had paid tribute to him.

    On Wednesday, United host PSG – of whom Cavani is still the record goalscorer – in the Champions League knowing a point will be enough to secure a last-16 place, but unsurprisingly the attention was on Cavani in Solskjaer's pre-match news conference.

    "Of course, we communicated with Edi, he's deeply sorry for the mistake," Solskjaer told reporters. "There was no malicious intent, just an affectionate greeting to a friend of his. We've explained to him and he's been asked to explain to the FA [Football Association], so of course he'll cooperate with them and we'll support him."

    Solskjaer also stressed the importance of the FA getting involved, insisting United must play their part in stamping out discrimination.

    "I think it's one of those unfortunate situations where he's just come into the country, where in Uruguay it's used in a different way to here," he continued. "We'll support him, but we support the FA and it's important they've asked him to explain and that it's out there for everyone to see, because we want to be in the fight against discrimination with everyone."

    But Solskjaer accepts the controversy, coupled with the emotional aspect of Cavani facing his old club, could have an impact on the striker's mindset.

    He said: "He's ready to play. Of course, it's special for him to play against PSG, so that'll affect him mentally and, I think from knowing him, it'll give him energy. He'll be ready, he's so professional and experienced.

    "He'll work on his mindset today and tomorrow to be ready, which the same goes for the FA situation.

    "He's learned his lesson - it may affect him, but he just needs to put it to the side during the game. The best players can put the problems or the other thoughts away for a while and then perform when he has to."

    His social media mistake aside, Solskjaer has been impressed by Cavani since his arrival at the start of October – though he urged the Uruguayan to get better at parking his car.

    "I've been impressed with his attention to detail in everything - apart from his parking. He's parking too close to the other players and coaching staff sometimes," Solskjaer quipped.

  • Lewandowski 'the most complete' and should win The Best award Lewandowski 'the most complete' and should win The Best award

    Robert Lewandowski is "the most complete" player in world football and should be named The Best FIFA Men's Player 2020, according to Lothar Matthaus.

    Bayern Munich striker Lewandowski scored 55 goals in all competitions last season as Hansi Flick's side won the Champions League, Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal.

    Voting for the award considers achievements from July 20, 2019 to October 7, 2020, during which the Poland international also won the UEFA Super Cup and DFL-Supercup with Bayern.

    Lewandowski scored 15 goals and assisted five more as Bayern won all of their 2019-20 Champions League games and lifted the trophy, an achievement that will be central to his claim for the honour.

    The 32-year-old's output far outstripped perennial contenders Cristiano Ronaldo (four goals, no assists) and Lionel Messi (three goals, three assists).

    Bayern overcame Paris Saint-Germain in the final and their star duo of Neymar (three goals, four assists) and Kylian Mbappe (five goals, five assists) could not get anywhere near Lewandowski in the Champions League.

    Liverpool's Mohamed Salah – the only other attacker on the 11-man shortlist for the FIFA accolade – had four goals and two assists in last season's Champions League.

    Lewandowski also had a better shot conversion rate (34.9 per cent) than any of those candidates and averaged 3.4 shots on target per 90 minutes – the most of any player to have featured more than four times.

    "As the name suggests, there can only be one who is the best. That is Robert Lewandowski," Matthaus wrote in his Sky Sports column.

    "He's no longer just the best number nine in the world. Robert is the most complete and best player there is in world football.

    "With FC Bayern he has won the five big titles that can be won. Champions League, Bundesliga, DFB-Pokal, DFL-Supercup and UEFA Super Cup. In addition, he was also the top scorer in the first three competitions mentioned.

    "His rivals Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar and Mbappe are all fantastic players – just like Lewy. The difference is he has won every title there was to be won.

    "Messi had a season without a trophy, Ronaldo became Italian champion, is still great, but not as strong as a few years ago."

  • Barcelona still haven't compensated me or called to say I'm dismissed, Setien claims Barcelona still haven't compensated me or called to say I'm dismissed, Setien claims

    Former Barcelona coach Quique Setien claims the club still have not compensated him for his early dismissal, or even called to inform of his contract termination three months on.

    Setien arrived at Barca in January as Ernesto Valverde's replacement, signing on a contract until 2022 as the club hoped to reconnect with their philosophy of exciting, possession-based football.

    However, Setien's time at Barca was fraught with problems, from an apparently strained relationship with talisman Lionel Messi that reportedly spread to other members of the squad, to underwhelming results and performances on the pitch.

    The culmination of numerous issues at the club was the 8-2 humiliation by Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-final, a result that contributed to Messi's desire to leave and effectively spelled the end for Setien in August.

    He was swiftly replaced by Ronald Koeman, who himself is struggling to oversee an improvement, though Setien opened legal proceedings against Barca the following month as he alleged that he and his coaching staff were only given official notification of their contract terminations in September via Burofax.

    More than three months on from his initial dismissal and Setien is claiming Barca still have not spoken to him directly about his sacking or paid compensation, though his staff did reach agreements with the club in the past week.

    "Barca have not compensated me, nor have they offered me anything," Setien told COPE's El Partidazo show. "They have not even called me to tell me that I am dismissed.

    "It's evident that the club is going through a worrying moment, something that when you arrive is clearly perceived and which directly affects sports performance.

    "You always believe that from within you may be able to help solve it, but for us, despite putting everything on our side, it has been impossible."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.