Will the Lionel Messi story be re-written through Nahuel Leiva's La Liga journey?
Our story begins with an exciting young Argentine talent, whisked from the footballing hotbed of Rosario to arrive in (an equally) sunny Spain, having barely entered into his formative teen years. It doesn’t take too long before the young prodigy begins to showcase his considerable talent, and the interest and attention of scouts and media invariably begin to peak.
Then as the young adolescent’s path begins to unfold, a crossroads is reached. An offer to represent the Spanish Youth National side over his native Argentina… what to do? No, as similar as it may be, this is not the story of a certain Mr Lionel Messi, and we all know who he opted for in the end anyway!
But the tale of one Nahuel Leiva of Villareal FC is intriguing, and unlike his fellow Rosarino, Leiva seems set to spring a twist in what could be labelled as “The Messi Story Rewritten.”
Continuing the Yellow Submarines’s “Argentine” tradition
Nahuel Leiva (Rosario – Argentina October 22, 1996) is perhaps the paradigmatic example of the “global game” of this millennium. Where players are scouted all throughout the globe, and from at what would seem to be unfeasible ages, to then be shipped around the world as modern day “Toy Soldiers”.
Having arrived in Castellon province at the tender age of 14, the name Nahuel Leiva has been a name of the lips of many a follower of the affectionately named “Yellow Submarine” and Spanish football alike.
The latest (figuratively speaking at least) in the long line of distinguished Argentinians, that include amongst them such luminaries such as the supremely talented Juan Roman Riquelme. The youngster was brought in under the radar in comparison to the majority of his predecessors, with the firm intention to patiently develop within Villareal’s highly acclaimed youth setup.
However, and despite bureaucratic issues not allowing the young Leiva to compete in official competition for the better part of over 3 years. It would not take long before the gifted attacking midfielder was training with the first team.
Villareal boss Marcelino Garcia Toral cast his eye on the teen early on in his tenure, and indeed showed the necessary confidence to give the player his La Liga debut at barely 17 years of age. He in turn would promptly do his manager proud with a string of accomplished performances belying his youthful age.
Needless to say the rookie playmaker’s precocity did not go unnoticed in the Spanish National Team setup. Indeed barely a fortnight on from his debut and Leiva was (un)surprisingly granted Spanish citizenship.
With La Roja’s top brass no doubt working tirelessly working behind the scenes, keen to avoid a repeat of the perceived failure of letting Lionel Messi slip through their nets, a youth national team call up duly followed. And thus our dilemma ensues. Not the time old: Club vs. Country, but the new-fangled: Country vs. Country!
Start as you mean to go on?
Initially to the potential conundrum of allegiance the player himself continually (and even still at present) opted for a far less partisan stance than that of the often compared Barcelona star. Rebuffing any questions over national team preference as: “something his agent is in charge of”.
But when push came to shove, the Villareal starlet elected to represent Spain at Under-19 level, doing so a handful of times already, and whilst these appearances for “La Rojita” do not tie him down to any full international team at present. Leiva would do well to bear in mind the rapprochement that Argentina’s current Number 10, and one of the all-time greats of the game receives for only a perceived lack of patriotism.
Leiva The Player
In footballing terms, Nahuel Leiva bares little resemblance to both his notable Argentine predecessors at Villareal, or indeed (and of course) to Rosario’s most famous footballing son.
A quick, athletic midfielder with good technique, in his short career to date Leiva has shown himself to be adept at playing on either flank or through the middle.
If a footballing simile was to be applied, it would perhaps lie somewhere between another of Rosario’s distinguished footballing exports: Manchester United’s Angel Di Maria, the Villareal prodigy showing the same directness and verticality as “El Fideo”.
Mixed in with yet another outstanding Premier League South American import, Arsenal FC’s Alexis Sanchez, Leiva demonstrates a similar change of pace over a short distance, and a comparable delicate touch and vision as the Chilean striker. Though any such aspirations at this time would be little more than a (not completely unrealistic) pipe dream.
2015 has been billed in the media as a big year for Villareal’s young gem. However, truth be told Nahuel Leiva’s story is one that could run for some time, with a multitude of intriguing questions yet to be answered.