The Wonderkid Files: Valentín Barco - will Man City & Brighton target be Argentina’s first great left-back?

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We said it when we took a look at Carlos Baleba last week, and it remains true – if Brighton are monitoring a talented young player, you should pay attention to them. And when the club trying to beat them to a signing is Manchester City, you need to pay even more. The player in question is Valentín Barco, and he’s one of the most gifted full-backs in the world.

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The 19-year-old, who is already drawing comparisons with Marcelo, plays for Boca Juniors in Argentina and has some caps for his country’s Under-20 sides to his name as well – and based on what we’ve seen from him so far, it won’t be long before he’s knocking on Lionel Scaloni’s door for a call-up.

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Signing for Boca as a 10-year-old, he made his league debut in 2021 (the same year he made The Guardian’s prestigious NextGen list) but only broke into the first-team this season, making 20 appearances this season and scoring his first senior goal in the Copa Libertadores against Monagas SC in June – a fine finish after an angled run which you should be able to see here, so long as you’re not geoblocked or struggling with whatever fresh technical hells Elon Musk has unleashed upon Twitter:

Argentina does not have a reputation for producing great full-backs, and it’s perhaps no great shock that Barco started his career as a winger – he’s got the speed and ball control you’d associate with a more attacking player, and accordingly he’s a very forward-thinking left-back indeed, regularly pressing forward at pace to support and start attacks.

But unlike many highly aggressive wing-backs in the modern game, he has genuine defensive chops as well. He reads the game extremely well and regularly picks off passes down the flanks, and his turnover rate in the defensive third is impressive. He’s also a much better tackler than many young, ball-playing defenders, and isn’t afraid to gamble on last-ditch slide tackles – mercifully, he has the timing to pull them off, too.

The presence of some very apparent defensive nous doesn’t mean he contributes any less up the other end of the field, either – he’s a sharp passer with a keen eye for a through ball who exploits the channels well, and a good ball carrier who can beat opponents with the ball at his feet. His crossing could do with some work, and he isn’t the kind of wing-back who can effectively get to the byline and look for direct balls into the box, but he should work well as a narrower full-back slotting inside a more traditional winger.

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He’s also not much of a physical presence, not that that’s especially uncommon in full-backs – he reportedly stands at 5’8” and has his distinctive shock of ginger hair perches atop a skinny, wiry frame which can’t take too much of a buffeting from more physical opponents. Thankfully, he has the ball skills to beat players without needing to go shoulder-to-shoulder.

Barco has a reported £8m release clause in his contract, and both the Seagulls and the Citizens are supposedly weighing up the value of triggering it – as, apparently, are RB Leipzig, another club with an extremely keen eye for talent. The list of suitors alone should tell you how gifted the young Argentine is.

Not that there isn’t some work to do to turn him into a complete prospect, of course. While he has genuine tackling ability, he does still make rash decisions in defence and has picked up just under one booking every two games, a ratio Vinnie Jones would have been proud of. He’s also arguably a little one-dimensional as an attacking player as well, always looking for a burst of pace followed by a quick ball into the channel – if he could add some more direct passing options to his arsenal, he could leave defenders guessing a little more often, but he neither attempts many balls over 10 yards in distance, nor succeeds with many of those that he does. It’s a relatively minor limitation, but something any future coaches may want to address for his long-term development.

In every other facet of his game, Barco has the attributes to become a top full-back, a genuine all-rounder who can contribute at both ends of the pitch. Has Argentina finally produced arguably its first truly great left-back? Only time will tell, but the odds look pretty good.

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