ALEJANDRO ‘Alex’ Sabella was known in England for his spells with Sheffield United and Leeds.
Back home in Argentina he had a special relationship with Estudiantes.
He played for the club in La Plata, an hour outside Buenos Aires, and he later coached them with great success, winning the South American title and coming close to beating Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona in the final of the Club World Cup.
After taking Argentina to the final of Brazil 2014, he kept a connection going with Estudiantes.
And a few months before his recent untimely death, Sabella sought out a slightly built teenager who was making his first appearances in the Argentine league.
Sabella got on his knees in front of Dario Sarmiento, and told him that he had the potential to be a big star.
WANTED BY PEP
Manchester City would seem to agree.
They cannot take the player across the Atlantic just yet – Sarmiento does not turn 18 until March.
But they have been tracking him for a while, and negotiating with Estudiantes since the middle of last year.
The president of Estudiantes is former midfield star Juan Sebastian Veron. In a recent chat with the local media, Veron was anxiously looking forward to counting the money.
“The club will make sure of receiving a very important quantity,” he said, with his vice Martin Gorostegui adding that a general agreement has been reached with City.
“There is a fixed sum,” he said – reported to be a little less than £10 million – “and other payments depending on a number of items. If the deal goes through, that’s how it will be.”
The sums involved are considerable for a player with a handful of first team appearances and no goals.
But, as Veron said, “what’s happening with Sarmiento is a bet on his future.” Judges such as Alejandro Sabella and Man City’s coaching staff seem convinced that it is a bet worth taking.
LEFT-FOOTER LIKE MESSI
The reason for the fuss is that they have seen something that – in terms of style and potential – cannot fail to bring comparisons with Lionel Messi.
Sarmiento is a little left footer, so fresh faced and youthful that he looks a little like the kid member of a boy band.
The ball is tied to his left foot. But, like the teenage Messi, he is much more than a head down, world of his own dribbling specialist.
He sees what is happening around him, and can look up and stretch the play with intelligent diagonal passes.
To possess such a skill set at so young an age – to be able to make an impact in the Argentine first division while he was still 16 – these are signs of rare promise.
But there is, of course, a long and winding road between promise and reality. Sarmiento’s path has already been interrupted by the pandemic.
LONG ROAD AHEAD
Football in Argentina shut down between mid March and the end of October.
When it was time to restart, Sarmiento seemed to have gained a few pounds.
Having time on his hands may have been difficult. Living up to stratospheric expectations will be harder still.
Messi, of course, came to Barcelona at the age of 13.
He went through his entire adolescence in the city, finding his identity as a player and as a person.
Sarmiento looks set to make the move five years later, between adolescence and adulthood – at a much more delicate time.
And rather than the stability of growing up in a single city, he will probably be loaned around to gain experience – or possibly to lose his way.
Or maybe, hopefully, to prove himself worthy of having Alejandro Sabella at his knees.
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