Nothing is a casuality. The dream night that Luca Langoni experienced against Atlético Tucumán, in the xeneize 2-1 victory at La Bombonera, is a consequence of the silent work that Boca has been doing for many years in its lower divisions, which since the change of leadership had more visibility.
Just as in previous times the boys emigrated almost without adding minutes in the first division, today that trend has changed. In fact, the case of the author of the double that allowed Xeneize to turn the result over to the Dean in the Bombonera makes that clear. His presence in the bank, and his subsequent entry, is the consequence of a painful situation, such as the serious injury of Exequiel Zeballos against Agropecuario, for the Argentine Cup.
However, being able to have gone out to look for a reinforcement outside the gates, the Football Council prioritized its hotbed. “We have Langoni, who plays very well and did a great job when he came on against Racing. We come from being champions and that is a good time for the boys to have chances to grow, “said Juan Román Riquelme as soon as it was known that the Changuito would have a long inactivity.
That is where the number 41 appeared as a valid alternative, even ahead of Martín Payero and Nicolás Orsini, two incorporations that, with different qualities, could well have entered before the boy born in Laferrere on February 9, 2002, who joined to the Ribera club at the age of 7 and that in January of this year he signed his first contract until December 2026.
Curiously, Langoni always had to fight Zeballos for the position in the hard way of the lower divisions. Now, due to an unfortunate event such as an injury, he takes care of the right side of the blue and gold attack on the field. The 2 to 1 gigantic success of coach Hugo Ibarra in deciding to enter him, who a little less than a year ago had scored in triplicate in the Bombonera, in a 7 to 0 Reserve against Central Córdoba.
Bet on the boys
The starting point of this new premise, betting on the kids, began in December 2019, when Juan Román Riquelme took over as the highest authority of the Football Department, from where he formed the Football Council. Made up of Jorge Bermúdez, Marcelo Delgado, Raúl Cascini and Mauricio Serna, that council decided to bet on the kids, after years in which the club had become a provider of good values… that others took advantage of. After all the investment, perhaps many came to debut in the first xeneize, but the consolidation stage took place in another institution.
Shortly after the elections, the Council made a drastic decision, more linked to politics than to the aptitudes of each one. He fired Nicolás Burdisso (Sports Director), Rolando Schiavi (Reserve DT), Héctor Bracamonte (fourth), Sergio Saturno (fifth), Gustavo Pinto (sixth), Leonardo Testone (seventh), Víctor Marchesini (eighth) and Luis Lúquez (ninth), and put people of his affinity. That is how Sebastián Battaglia (Reserve), Hugo Ibarra and Roberto Pompei (Fourth), Walter Pico (Fifth), Matías Donnet (Sixth), Antonio Barijho (Seventh), Pablo Ledesma (Eighth) and Mauro Navas (Ninth) arrived, to who was later joined by Claudio Benetti. All coordinated by a Boca icon from the 80s and 90s: Blas Armando Giunta.
A year ago, in one of the few times that he referred to that focus on the boys, Patron Bermúdez summed up in a talk with TNT Sports what the Council is looking for with this paradigm shift. “Before, many players were hired and the youth players did not play. That’s why they left. Our illusion is that they become stronger. We have to get a champion team that accompanies the growth of the boys”.
With Blas Giunta as coordinator, there is a real process of promotion and consolidation of the players at the Ezeiza venue. The boys feel watched and tested on a daily basis. Not everything remains in isolated preseasons with the superior squad and few concrete chances in the First Division.
Beyond the unprecedented of what happened against the Drill and the Cyclone, where several boys played their first official match and then continued in their respective categories, the statistics support what several of those who are part of the day to day in the Boca football.
During his second cycle at the head of the team, Miguel Ángel Russo made 11 youth debut: Gastón Ávila (20 years old), Exequiel Zeballos (20), Luis Vázquez (21), Alan Varela (20), Cristian Medina (19), Agustín Sandez (21), Renzo Giampaoli (22), Ignacio Ezequiel Fernández (19), Nicolás Valentini (21), Valentín Barco (17) and Aarón Molinas (21). Although it is also true that, beyond how established Varela is seen as a starter, the rest continue with their consolidation stage.
With Sebastián Battaglia, another five were added to this list: Gabriel Aranda (21), Vicente Taborda (22), Gabriel Vega (20) and Pedro Velurtas (21). The last one was precisely Langoni (20). His debut was in this tournament, in a 3-1 win over Barracas Central, when he came on to replace Sebastián Villa. Everything suggests that Ibarra will continue with that trend.
Even when some outstanding appearance generates the logical enthusiasm of seeing it in action more often, the times are respected. In normal contexts, the consolidation of a soccer player can take one, two and even three years. The example of four names, with a clear role in recent years in the Ribera club, is evidence of this. Riquelme made his debut in November 1996 and was only the undisputed starter in the second half of 1998. Carlos Tevez played his first game in October 2001, continued in 2002, but became established in 2003. Sebastián Battaglia started his career in May 1998, but he began to string games more frequently as of 2000. And the same thing happened to Nicolás Burdisso: he debuted the blue and gold jersey in October 1999 and only managed to get among the 11 in 2001.
“Today I see Zeballos’s face, convinced that he is a top player. I see the face of Molinas competing with the player next to him, who is a national team player. I see Sandez’s face and I notice that he didn’t weigh any of the two matches against Atlético Mineiro. I see that Varela, when he plays, shows that he is important. I see that when Medina had good moments he recognized it. I see Vázquez and I am very happy because he had been waiting for a while for him to assume the role and he is assuming it, ”Bermúdez highlighted a while ago, in dialogue with TyC Sports. His words do not differ from what stands out today behind closed doors.
“Boca has very good players, but we have to let them grow. They must be cared for and protected. Because if not, it ends up being negative for them”, one of the gears of all that machinery based in Ezeiza highlights to this newspaper. And he explains: “At the same time, it is very difficult for them all to play together. Especially in the consolidation stage. You have to surround them with experienced people. When Tevez started, at his side were Delgado and Guillermo (Barros Schelotto). Battaglia had Serna and Cagna and later Cascini. And the same thing happened to Burdisso: in his first years as a starter at his side were Bermúdez, Samuel and Schiavi. That mix is what will empower them. ”
In tune, Bermúdez warned in that talk with TyC: “I really like the spirit with which these guys took on this challenge. I really like the way and the way in which they have been convincing themselves, for two years, that you could get to the first one. But I also continue to see in them a process. It is important that the men who manage the club’s football never lose the north, so that they have the corresponding space and can accommodate themselves. They cannot be demanded as if they were already First Class. It is not right to say “Either the youngsters or the more experienced”. No no no . They are part of this club, of this squad. But let them grow, let them go step by step”.
“Boca’s priority today is not to become champion in the lower categories, but to train the boys. That they seek to play from below, exercise that the wings are sent to the attack, that the goalkeeper asserts himself with the game with his feet. And that, in the long term, is going to have an impact on the First Division”, values another frequent voice on the Predio.
In Ezeiza not only those who play well have a prize. It is common for Riquelme to ask for the corresponding report to know how the children are at school: if they are up to date with their studies or not, and if they attend classes or not. “Here we train people, who also play football,” he says. With this management, no one who has not finished high school will be consolidated in the first division.
Each boy has a personalized folder where different parameters are analyzed, ranging from football to issues related to the personality of each one: if he needs support, if he needs family support, how they are doing at school. In relation to this level of detail, the president of the Football Council praised on several occasions the work previously carried out by Nicolás Burdisso, who at the beginning of 2020 was forced to emigrate as a result of the change in leadership.
The temptations are too many and too accessible. A youth who debuts in the First Division of any club is automatically an object of desire. And that can confuse, dizzy, blur. That is where the club must be very attentive. From the club they avoid giving names, precisely to take care of them, but they acknowledge to this newspaper that there are at least three cases of youth who were demoted for arriving at a practice without sleeping or for being absent from school. In the latter case, it was Riquelme himself who picked up the phone, called the parents and together they made the boy understand his absence. Not only for his own good, but to serve as an example to those who come after.
The machinery is simple and well-oiled: behind each youth that is promoted to first division there is a committee, made up of the Council, Giunta and the coach, which evaluates who deserves a chance, considering the sporting, the human and the academic aspects. And they are given support.
Riquelme’s goal is that, in the near future, Boca hardly goes shopping and feeds mostly on its inferiors. That is why he also loaned several of the boys, so that they can gain shooting and competition rhythm in another club, and return more educated to Boca.
The former midfielder grew up surrounded by trainers (Jorge Griffa, Carlos Bianchi and José Pekerman) and absorbed that assessment from the hotbed. Don Torcuato’s man plans a scenario of continuity for the current leadership. In this hypothetical context, there is an action plan that, if the polls continue at the end of 2023, would conclude in 2027 or, hypothetical re-election, in 2031. Riquelme is aware that the kids who are 12 or 13 years old today will explode in the next term.
what’s coming… what’s coming
Those who stand out in the minor divisions are Sebastián Díaz Robles (goalkeeper), Santiago Gauna (midfielder) and Javier Morales (forward), from the Fifth Division; Lautaro Di Lollo (back), Santiago Dalmasso (offensive midfielder) and Julián Ceballos (hook), from the Sixth; and Aaron Anselmino (back), Juan Pablo Moreno (hook) and Jerónimo Campos (left winger), from the Seventh, among others.
But the idol-turned-leader is also aware that Boca has a hard time planning long-term without the urge to win altering his day-to-day. In the Boca World, the tree can cover the forest. And then, there are specific cases of player additions that threaten this promotion of boys. The Peruvian Luis Advincula competes for the right side with Marcelo Weigandt, the arrivals of Esteban Rolón and Juan Ramírez take away ground from Medina and Varela. And Norberto Briasco and Nicolás Orsini first, and Romero, Benedetto and Payero later, are the first option over Zeballos and Luis Vázquez.
What is certain is that this model will also favor a near future that will be difficult for Argentine clubs in terms of the economy. With a very high dollar, the soccer market in our country will be less and less attractive. Brazil, Mexico and the MLS appear as the most seductive destinations for those elite players who decide to get out of the hectic pace of European competition and seek to add the last tickets to their accounts, before hanging up their boots.
In this context, the fact that Boca aims to strengthen its hotbed is something that can generate great satisfaction at a low cost. Both from the football and the economic point of view.