It has been quite an 18 months for Independiente captain Federico Mancuello after struggling for years to make a real impact at his boyhood club, the 26-year-old has rapidly helped the club from their darkest hour in the Nacional B back to the Primera, been named club captain and made a goal scoring debut for Argentina.
It is little wonder that ‘Mancu’ is so loved in the red half of Avellaneda but his goal scoring exploits from midfield have not gone unnoticed and now it appears that the time is right for the club icon to take the step up and test himself in Europe.
A host of Premier League sides, including West Ham, Newcastle and Tottenham have all been attributed with an interest and for a knockdown price they might just pick up a bargain.
Who is Federico Mancuello?
Despite being born more than 700 kilometres north of Avellaneda in the city of Reconquista in Santa Fe Province, Federico Mancuello is Independiente through and through. He joined the academy as a youngster and slowly worked his way through the youth divisions at the club before making his first team debut in December 2008 under manager Miguel Angel Santoro.
Mancuello’s performances at this early stage of his career were rather hit-and-miss and he found it difficult under a number of different coaches to command a starting role.
At 21 years of age, Mancuello was part of the Independiente squad that claimed the Copa Sudamericana title in 2010 but a year later when manager Antonio Mohamed decided he was not part of his plans, Mancu was sent on-loan to Belgrano.
The spell in Cordoba did little to improve Mancuello’s inconsistency and injury eventually hampered his opportunities and so he returned to Independiente a year later ready to battle for a place in the side.
This unfortunately coincided with one of the worst periods in the celebrated clubs history and at the end of the 2012/13 season, El Rojo were relegated out of the top flight for the first time in their history.
Unlike River Plate two years prior, Independiente did not cruise back to the top flight and their year spent in the Nacional B proved to be a real battle of attrition. It took a playoff match on June 11th 2014 against Huracan for El Rojo to seal their place back in the Primera to the relief of everyone associated with the club.
Mancuello had been a regular in the starting eleven scoring two goals but had not yet become the figurehead of the side with veteran Daniel Montenegro still in possession of the captain’s armband.
This was to change during the 2014 Torneo Transicion. In the opening fixture back in the Primera against Atletico Rafaela, Mancuello opened the deadlock and set El Rojo on their way to victory with a superb individual goal. It showcased what the new Mancuello was all about – a deft turn lost his marker and after driving towards the box, he unleashed a powerful left footed shot into the corner of the net.
Over the course of the season, this left foot would become more and more of a weapon for Independiente and Mancuello ended the season as one of the Primera’s leading scorers with ten goals in nineteen appearances.
Mancuello had firmly established himself as the centre of Almiron’s Independiente side and in their first season back in the top flight, El Rojo finished a more than respectable fourth. It was this consistent level of performance that led Argentina manager Gerardo Martino to first take notice and describe the 26-year-old as the best player in the domestic league.
This led to the 26-year-old earning his first international nod for the friendlies prior to the Copa America and on his debut against El Salvador in Washington he scored an audacious free-kick from the narrowest of angles.
Many, unaccustomed with Mancuello, might have thought that it was a fortuitously overhit cross, but those who have watched him score from corners for Independiente know differently.
Martino selected Mancuello for his preliminary 30-man squad for the Copa America but was cut from the final 23 that travelled to Chile.
However, the experience had pushed Mancu further into the spotlight and determined to gain more international experience the captain of El Rojo knew that he would need to leave for Europe.
A long list of suitors now appears centred in the Premier League
When Mancuello emerged as one of the top players in the Argentine Primera, he signed a new deal with Independiente but crucially with a release clause set at a meagre $5 million. Following the Argentina debut, interest in the midfielder has never gone away and at such a low price it is easy to see why.
El Rojo have gone about their transfer business during the winter break and with the season back up and running, their captain has been suspended and subsequently injured as the club look prepared for life after his departure.
Celta Vigo and Dnipro had both been strongly linked earlier in the window with Mancuello having a clear preference for Spain after speaking with fellow Argentine midfielder Augusto Fernandez and stating it will further increase his chances of an Argentina recall.
However, with the Spanish club opted against making an offer and Ukranian side Dnipro also pulling out it has left Mancuello’s destination a little more unclear.
The midfielder remains in training with Independiente and is in contention for their upcoming league match but the fact remains that he and the club are waiting for a reasonable offer from Europe.
His agent is now undoubtedly attempting to stir up interest in his client and reports now centre around Seria A clubs, Palermo and Sampdoria along with a host of Premier League clubs.
West Ham, Newcastle, Tottenham, West Brom and even Manchester City have all been mentioned and the likelihood of these moves varies from club-to-club.
What is true is that at just $5 million, or a fraction over £3 million, any of these clubs could pick themselves up an experienced box-to-box midfielder with some decent years still ahead of him.
In a market of inflated transfer prices, Mancuello represents good value for those shopping in this window on a budget.
What will ‘Mancu’ bring to Europe?
Mancuello’s absence will be keenly felt by Independiente – since being handed a starring role under Jorge Almiron the 26-year-old has scored 13 times in 29 league appearances.
The step from the Argentine Primera to any of Europe’s top leagues is huge, but there is far more to Mancu than his goals. With a recent strike-rate more likely to be seen on the record of a centre-forward, it is an easy misconception to make.
A central midfielder by trade, Mancuello has seen his role shifted as Independiente have experimented with different formations. On the left of the three midfielders in a 4-2-3-1 Mancuello enjoyed most success as he was able to pick up the ball in space and shoot from range and arrive late in the penalty area unmarked, while shirking the more rigorous defensive duties of the two holding midfielders.
His left foot is a tremendous asset as Mancuello is a clean striker of the ball and is therefore a real goal threat but also a decent set-piece taker. It also allows him to play wide and although not blessed with the blistering pace of a winger, he is no slouch either whipping in excellent crosses from that flank.
However, he has also shown the battling qualities needed to play in a central role in a more conventional 4-4-2. Not shy of a challenge but with the engine to get from one penalty box to the other for 90 minutes and contribute to the attack, Mancuello is a natural box-to-box player. Partnered with a solid defensive midfielder, Mancu has the range of passing to provide a compact yet creative spine to a side.
At 26, there is perhaps not a great deal of room for development and it is highly unlikely that Mancuello will end up plying his trade at the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich but for a mid-table club he could prove good value.
Hard-working, a good engine and a wonderful left boot make Mancuello a valuable and versatile midfielder, who at $5 million is difficult to beat for value.
Written by Peter Coates
Follow Peter on Twitter @golazoargentino
You can check out more of his excellent work on Argentinian football through his website, Golazo Argentino
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