Lionel Scaloni has won everything there is to win as coach in international football, and his contract runs till the 2026 World Cup. The continuity that Scaloni offers and the wealth of talent rising through the ranks for Argentina hints at the potential for a period of dominance.
The 44-year-old head coach has already shown that he trusts youth. The trio of Enzo Fernández, 21, Julián Álvarez, 22, and Alexis Mac Allister, 23, burnished their reputations at the World Cup. There are many young players waiting for a chance. At centre-back, for example, Nicolás Otamendi, 34, was solid. But, if he is unavailable, Lisandro Martínez, 24, is ready to step up. There are also the likes of Facundo Medina, 23, and Nehuén Pérez, 22, who were not in the World Cup squad, but are being tracked closely by Scaloni.
However, there are other positions that need an infusion of youth and Scaloni is well aware of this, as evidenced by the number of young players he has monitored in the past 12 months. With the 2024 Copa America just 18 months away and the World Cup to follow two years later, Scaloni is likely to start integrating them soon.
Here are three players who were not in Qatar, but could play a key role in the future:
Alejandro Garnacho, 18
BORN IN MADRID, he played for Spain’s under-18 side. Argentina wooed Garnacho, who has an Argentine mother, into its setup with a shock call-up to the senior team in March. Then 17, he remained an unused substitute, but soon made his debut for the U-20 team and scored four goals in four games in 2022 under the guidance of Argentine hero Javier Mascherano. He was also named in Scaloni’s preliminary squad for the World Cup.
Garnacho came through the youth academy of Atlético Madrid and was signed by the U-18 team of Manchester United in October 2020 for around half-a-million euros. He was promoted to the English team’s U-23 squad after nine months and broke into the senior team a year later. He made eight appearances till the World Cup break and got two goals and two assists. He is right-footed, with a good left foot, can play on the right-wing, too, and is expected to get more games at United in the second half of the season.
A fast and tricky wide player, with good spatial awareness, a great first-touch and remarkable composure in the opposition box, the 5’11” Garnacho is getting tougher, and fast gaining muscle, in the physical and intense Premier League.
Luka Romero, 18
ANGEL DI MARÍA started the World Cup on the right and finished on the left. Though there were a few players in the squad capable of manning the flanks, the 34-year-old’s appearance on both the wings highlighted the lack of specialist wingers. So, even if Garnacho manages to cement his place on the left, the team still needs options on the right-wing. Enter Luka Romero.
Born in Mexico to Argentine parents, Romero was raised in Spain; this made him eligible to play for all three countries, but he chose Argentina. Like Garnacho, he was called-up to the senior team in March, did not play, and then made his U-20 debut. He played twice for the youth side in 2022. He, too, was part of the preliminary World Cup squad.
Romero was recruited by La Liga club Mallorca from the youth ranks of an Ibiza-based club. He made his senior debut aged 15 in 2020, breaking the record for the youngest player in La Liga. Romero moved to Lazio in Italy in 2021. He played six times in the first half of the season, scoring once. The 5’5”, left-footed attacker has been compared with Lionel Messi, but he has focused on his own game.
Valentín Barco, 18
THE TWO PLAYERS who occupied the left side of Argentina’s defence are both on the wrong side of 30. Though still capable of putting in a shift, Nicolás Tagliafico, 30, and Marcos Acuña, 31, have started to decline from the levels they hit at their peak. But, Argentina have a tailor-made solution in Barco. Born in Buenos Aires, he moved to the youth academy of a club in Santa Fe before being brought back to the capital by Argentine giants Boca Juniors.
He made his debut for Argentina’s U-15 team in 2019, was selected to the U-20 team in May and made two appearances in 2022. Barco played thrice for the senior team of Boca Juniors last year and is currently on preseason with the senior squad ahead of the start of the Argentine season in January. He is expected to get more games next year and was reportedly being tracked by Manchester City.
The technically gifted, 5’7” defender can also play in a more attacking role on the left and is a good free-kick taker. He was reportedly discovered by the same scout who found Carlos Tevez and Juan Román Riquelme.