The 60-second story
Date of birth: June 5, 1997
Place of birth: Nueva Helvecia, Uruguay
Position: Central midfielder
Height: 5ft 10in
Current club: Boca Juniors (36 apps, 1 goal)
While the standard of domestic football in South America has declined significantly over the past 20 years, one of the great features it retains is the ability to keep rolling out prodigious young talent.
Scouting networks from the world’s top clubs now penetrate deeper than ever before, poaching talent earlier and earlier. However, in most cases the opportunity to get a sneak preview of some of football’s best young talent still remains.
One such talent is Boca Juniors’ elegant central midfielder Rodrigo Bentancur, a player who, despite being only 18 years old, is already a regular for his club side and being linked with the likes of Real Madrid, Juventus and, most recently, Arsenal.
The languid midfielder enjoyed a breakthrough campaign in 2015, forcing his way into the Boca first team and earning himself the Revelation of the Year award from Clarin newspaper. It was a successful championship for Boca too, the club claiming both the Primera Division title and the Copa Argentina – a much-needed return to form after three years without a major trophy.
Despite only emerging in the latter part of the campaign, Bentancur caught the eye with his tidy footwork and smart distribution, drawing comparisons with team-mate Fernando Gago as well as club legend Juan Roman Riquelme.
Why you need to know him
Bentancur was born in Nueva Helvecia in Uruguay, a town best known for its Swiss heritage and excellent dairy products.
Aged 13 he had a trial with Uruguayan giants Penarol, but was not taken on. On the recommendation of his father, he made the trip over the River Plate estuary to Buenos Aires and tried out with Boca Juniors, who promptly offered him the chance to join their academy.
Bentancur’s father had to return to Uruguay to work, so young Rodrigo left home to live with his grandparents in the neighbourhood of Liniers, catching the bus each day to Boca’s training base.
Since then he’s made impressive progress within the club’s youth ranks, earning promotion to the first-team squad aged just 17. After debuting in a friendly at the start of 2015, he played and scored in a 5-0 friendly victory over Boca’s fierce rivals River Plate. In April he made his competitive debut, coming on as a substitute in a Copa Libertadores tie, South America’s Champions League equivalent.
— Rodrigo Bentancur (@RodriiBentancur) April 3, 2016
Since then he has become a regular member of the first-team squad under both previous coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena and his successor Guillermo Barros Schelotto. He started a number of matches during Boca’s successful run-in during the second half of last year, typically being deployed on the outside of a midfield diamond, providing quality on the ball and a strong work ethic.
“I’m a No.8 or a No.5,” says Bentancur. “I’m not an enganche. I consider myself more of a Gago than a Riquelme, though both are idols.” And other players he looks up to? “Iniesta, Xavi and Busquets,” Bentancur revealed. “Because of their technique and because I admire the way they play.”
Bentancur’s mentality was tested back in September when, having been selected for a crunch tie against title rivals San Lorenzo, he gifted the visiting side the only goal of the game with a slack pass in stoppage time.
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The tense match ended with both sets of players exchanging insults in the centre circle. But Bentancur couldn’t get off the pitch quickly enough, disappearing down the tunnel with tears in his eyes.
It was undoubtedly a tough moment for the youngster, but Arruabarrena backed him publicly and kept faith with his young midfielder for the crucial superclasico against River the following weekend. Bentancur repaid his coach’s faith with a mature performance in a vital 1-0 victory.
Bentancur is an elegant and versatile midfielder. He passes well off both feet and is a quick thinker with and without the ball. He is mobile thanks to his rangy frame, is comfortable pressing high up the field and a quiet but level-headed presence within the team.
His close control and adroit footwork mean that he’s comfortable playing in tight spaces and finding a way to play out. He perhaps lacks a little in terms of instinctive creativity and the turn of pace to play as a classic No.10, but doesn’t look out of place in advanced areas of the field.
There is perhaps still a bit to be learned for Bentancur in terms of when to hold possession and when to play. However, this is not unusual for somebody his age and, if coached well, is something that should improve. The increased pace of Europe football would inevitably push that area of development.
Outside of that, as his mistake against San Lorenzo demonstrated, he can have lapses in concentration and will need to ensure that he learns from his painful experience against San Lorenzo.
“Rodrigo Bentancur,” enthused the Spanish journalist Alberto Rubio of the sports daily Marca, “is a No.5 with the soul of Riquelme.”
"He has everything to be among the elite,” says Rodolfo Arruabarrena, his former coach at Boca. “We have an obligation to help him.”
Did you know?
As part of the protracted negotiations that took Carlos Tevez back to Boca last June, Juventus actually wanted Bentancur included in a swap deal. However, Boca negotiated him out of the move, leaving Juve with just a first-refusal clause for the player.
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What happens next?
A transfer to Real Madrid came close back in January. However, Boca stood firm due to the key role Bentancur has in the first team and the club’s desire to keep the youngster for their Copa Libertadores campaign.
“He’s got friends at Boca, he likes the scene at Boca,” said his father Roberto. “We’re grateful to the club because they’ve always been there for him, they’ve looked after him and they gave him the chance of being at a top team such as Boca.
“As of today Rodrigo is focused on that. He’s a laid-back lad. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves at all.”
Rumours this week have suggested that Arsenal have had scouts in Argentina watching Bentancur, while it has also been suggested that agent Jorge Mendes is interested in buying his economic rights before loaning him to a European club.
Whether those specific rumours are true or not, Bentancur will not be short of high-profile suitors.
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