Wunderkids: Building Football’s Most Exciting Young XI – Julian Alvarez, striker

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It’s the stuff of managerial dreams – a blank check to build the most exciting young starting XI in world football.

Well, that’s exactly what a new podcast from BBC Sounds – Wunderkids – aims to do over its 11 episodes and the first is available for listen now.

The Wunderkids team, in conjunction with BBC Sport, have proposed 11 players and each week presenter Steve Crossman will be joined by experts to discuss the latest inclusion, with a new player revealed each week.

The criteria are simple – each player must be young and have the potential to become the next superstar in their position.

But we’re not going to the obvious names – like Kylian Mbappe, Erling Braut Haaland or Jadon Sancho – we’re looking at the players who are about to make the big time breakthrough.

In the first episode, the focus is on the position of the striker and the first name on the team sheet is the new signing of Manchester City Julian Alvarez.

Who is he?

Julian Alvarez celebrates the River Plate goal
Alvarez’s best moment in a River Plate shirt came when he scored twice against Boca Juniors in October

An Argentinian striker at Manchester City? Sounds familiar.

Six months after Sergio Aguero’s departure sparked much talk of the champions needing a replacement centre-forward, Pep Guardiola has completed the £14m to sign Alvarez in January.

The 21-year-old arrived from Argentina side River Plate but was immediately loaned out, meaning he won’t appear for City until next season at the earliest.

Alvarez is primarily a striker, having scored 23 goals in 57 league appearances, but can also play wide.

He made his debut for Argentina in 2021 and has since earned six caps for his country.

What does the expert say?

South American football expert Tim Vickery

“River Plate has had the same coach since 2014, Marcelo Gallardo, and in South America having the same coach going into an eighth year just doesn’t happen. They have a coach with a long-term project, and Alvarez is the absolute jewel in the crown of this project.

“There was a huge game between River Plate and Boca Juniors [in the 2018 Copa Libertadores final], probably the greatest in history and one that will never be forgotten. Alvarez, 18, came off the bench in that game. It’s a huge statement of faith and it’s clear that it’s pure class. Even then with River, they brought him in slowly and gave him a game here and there on the bench. Gallardo knew exactly what he was doing with this player.

“Even until February 2021 he was not an automatic first choice, he played sometimes and had great games but they brought him in slowly. It was only after they sold Colombian striker Rafael Santos Borre that he was in the first team, he was the undisputed first choice then.

“He’s a combination player, he’s a collective player. He’s a striker with the soul of a midfielder, that makes him a Manchester City everywhere. He’s so talented and so versatile. If City needed an orthodox boxing striker, he’s not the player he is, but he’s good enough for it because he’s fast and good technically and he’ll hit them right footed and of the left foot.

“He’s a versatile footballer and I don’t think there’s anyone I’ve enjoyed watching more in South America in the last year. As Aguero has created such wonderful memories, that’s what what Alvarez can do for City.

“Where can he go? Well, he’s already pretty much at the top of the world food chain at Manchester City. Now the only question is whether he can sleep.”

What does the fan say?

Andres Bruckner, contributor to Hand of Pod, an Argentinian football podcast.

“What makes Alvarez a special talent is that he is a goalscorer, but he can also play in different positions in attack. He is really, really complete.

“When River won the league [last year] and he was the top scorer with 18 goals, I knew that was when he would go. My favorite memory of him is when River beat Boca 2-1 and he scored two goals.”

Wunderkids XI: 10 places to fill, Julian Alvarez in the lead

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