Football Features

A full line-up of superstars River Plate gave European football

By Oliver Young-Myles

Published: 14:45, 8 June 2022 | Updated: 14:45, 8 July 2022

Aside from a shock relegation in 2011, River Plate are a club that have always competed for major honours both domestically and in the Copa Libertadores.

Thanks to their outstanding youth academy and massive reputation, River have been able to call upon some truly exceptional talents down the years, with the likes of Alfredo Di Stefano, Enzo Francescoli, Ariel Ortega and Hernan Crespo, amongst countless others, all previously donning the famous white shirt with the red stripe.

Generally speaking, River’s team usually boasts a future star or two who go on to become world-class players in Europe and Julian Alvarez has become the latest big-money export, signing for Manchester City.

With that, here is a star-studded XI of players who starred at River before excelling for major clubs around Europe.

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Goalkeeper: German Lux

River Plate apps: 98

Current club: Retired

Career path: River Plate, Mallorca, Deportivo La Coruna, River Plate

Recently retired, Lux returned to River Plate to see out his career after a fruitful spell in Spanish football with Mallorca and Deportivo La Coruna, winning the Segunda Divisionin in 2012 with the latter.

Lux had a good career but perhaps didn’t achieve what was expected of him when he kept six clean sheets for Argentina during their Olympic gold medal win in 2004. He may also forever be remembered for receiving a red card after catching the ball 25 yards from his goal in River Plate’s 1-0 defeat against Independiente in 2017.

Centre back: German Pezzella

River Plate apps: 65

Current club: Real Betis

Career path: River Plate, Real Betis, Fiorentina, Real Betis

German Pezzella won a host of titles at the Monumental Stadium before crossing the Atlantic, including the 2015 Copa Libertadores. The 26-capped Argentina international first joined Betis after leaving River, before Fiorentina splurged €11m on his signature in 2017, where he would go on to don the armband ahead of 2018/19, despite spending just one year in Tuscany. Last year he returned to Seville, where he has been a key part of Manuel Pellegrini’s defence, finishing fifth last season.

Centre Back: Javier Mascherano

River Plate apps: 71

Current club: Retired

Career path: River Plate, Corinthians, West Ham, Liverpool, Barcelona, Hebei China Fortune, Estudiantes

Javier Mascherano famously made his senior international debut for Argentina before making his first-team bow for River Plate such was the promise he showed as a youngster and he has gone on to enjoy an outstanding career at the top-level.

Initially deployed as a tough-tackling midfielder to great success with River, Corinthians and Liverpool (the less said about his ill-fated stint at West Ham the better) Mascherano was converted into a ball-playing defender while at Barcelona.

In eight years with Barcelona, Mascherano won the lot, lifting five La Liga titles, five Copas Del Rey, two Champions Leagues and a couple of Fifa Club World Cups before signing for Chinese Super League club Hebei China Fortune. He returned to Argentina with Estudiantes, whose chairman is Juan Sebastian Veron, and bowed out two years ago.

Centre Back: Ramiro Funes Mori

River Plate apps: 108

Current club: Al-Nassr

Career path: River Plate, Everton, Villarreal, Al-Nassr

Ramiro Funes Mori moved to the United States at the age of his 10 with his family and was briefly on the books with at Dallas before being lured back to his homeland to link up with River Plate’s youth team.

After spending four full seasons in their first-team, Funes Mori was snapped up by Everton in a deal worth £9.5m in September 2015. Funes Mori made 67 appearances for the club, but his time in England was marred after he injured Divock Origi’s ankle with a reckless challenge before grabbing his Everton badge on his way off the pitch after being sent off.

Funes Mori only played a handful more games for the Toffees prior to signing for Villarreal in 2018 and he has since joined Al-Nassr in Saudi Arabia.

Right Midfield: Lucas Ocampos

River Plate apps: 40

Current club: Sevilla

Career path: River Plate, Monaco, Marseille, Genoa, Milan, Sevilla

Tipped for a career at the top from a young age, Lucas Ocampos was signed by Monaco ahead of the 2012/13 season which ended in their promotion to Ligue 1 under Claudio Ranieri.

Ocampos played prominently for Monaco in their first season back in the top-flight alongside the likes of James Rodriguez, Radamel Falcao and Fabinho but he lost his way midway through the 2014/15 campaign and joined Marseille.

A nomadic, whistle-stop tour around Europe followed, but he has belatedly started to fulfil his promise at Sevilla, scoring 34 goals and recording 15 assists in 131 games for the club. And who can forget the game in which he scored, went in goal and made an injury-time save.

Centre Midfield: Exequiel Palacios

River Plate apps: 92

Current club: Bayer Leverkusen

Career path: River Plate, Bayer Leverkusen

A 2021 Copa America winner with Argentina , Exequiel Palacios joined Bayer Leverkusen during the January transfer window of 2020.

That Leverkusen were able to acquire the 23-year-old so easily came as a surprise considering he had been strongly tipped to move to Real Madrid before their acquisition of Brazilian defender Eder Militao from Porto swallowed up the last remaining non-EU spot in their squad.

Centre Midfield: Manuel Lanzini

River Plate apps: 91

Current club: West Ham

Career path: River Plate, Al-Jazira, West Ham

Manuel Lanzini made just shy of a century of appearances for River Plate after coming through the academy and also spent a season developing his game in Brazilian football with Fluminense.

Lanzini took a bizarre career decision when leaving River Plate by joining Al-Jazira in the United Arab Emirates but since 2015 he has been performing in the Premier League with West Ham where he has, injury permitting, been a key feature of the side.

Left Midfield: Alexis Sanchez

River Plate apps: 31

Current club: Inter

Career path: Cobreloa, Udinese, Colo-Colo, River Plate, Barcelona, Arsenal, Manchester United, Inter

Alexis Sanchez only spent one season with River Plate on loan from Udinese but it proved to be integral to his development as he established himself as a regular with the Serie A club the following campaign.

It was a successful spell too as he won the 2008 Clausura with the club, alongside Falcao and Ariel Ortega in attack. Sanchez went to become one of the most feared forwards in Italy over the next few seasons culminating in a move to Barcelona in 2011.

Sanchez performed well in Catalunya, scoring 41 goals in 141 games but the arrival of Neymar in 2013 relegated him down the pecking order paving the way for a move to Arsenal where he adapted seamlessly. In January 2018, Sanchez was on the move again, this time to Manchester United but his spell at Old Trafford was an unmitigated disaster and he is now at Inter Milan, making most of his appearances as a substitute.

Attacking midfield: Erik Lamela

River Plate apps: 36

Current club: Sevilla

Career path: River Plate, Roma, Tottenham, Sevilla

River have an outstanding record at honing the skills of talented young attackers and one of the most hyped-up players they’ve developed in recent years is Erik Lamela who became a fixture in the first-team aged 17.

Lamela’s promise was identified by Roma who signed him in 2011 and his form for them was so good that Francesco Totti even declared him his potential heir. Rather than stick around in the Eternal City, though, Lamela joined Spurs in a £30m deal in 2013 as a replacement for Gareth Bale who had just been sold to Real Madrid.

It had been expected that Lamela would provide the X-factor at Spurs in Bale’s absence but he ultimately reinvented himself as a hard-working wide player capable of magic on his day instead, his recent Puskas Award win is a testament to that, but he just lacked the consistency to be truly considered among the elite before leaving for Sevilla.

Striker: Gonzalo Higuain

River Plate apps: 41

Current club: Inter Miami

Career path: River Plate, Real Madrid, Napoli, Juventus, Chelsea, Milan, Juventus, Inter Miami

Gonzalo Higuain only spent a couple of seasons in River’s first-team but he showed sufficient quality to be scouted by Real Madrid who signed him in 2007 when he was still only 19.

The Argentina international won a handful of trophies during his time in the Spanish capital but truly blossomed into a world-class forward while playing for Napoli between 2013-16. It was in his final season in Naples that Higuain matched the record for the most goals in Serie A when he scored 36 goals in only 35 games.

Such was his outstanding form in Naples, Juventus paid £75m to sign him which made him at the time the fourth-most expensive player in history. The arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo in 2018 relegated Higuain down the pecking order but following loans with Milan and Chelsea, he re-found favour at Juve under his former Napoli boss Maurizio Sarri. Now, Higuain is cutting his teeth in MLS with Inter Miami.

Striker: Radamel Falcao

River Plate apps: 111

Current club: Rayo Vallecano

Career path: Lanceros Boyaca, River Plate, Porto, Atletico Madrid, Monaco, Manchester United, Chelsea, Monaco, Galatasaray, Rayo Vallecano

Radamel Falcao started his career at the now-defunct Colombian side Lanceros Boyaca but after they dissolved in 2000 he moved over to Argentina to link up with River Plate’s youth team.

It took him a while to establish himself in the first-team largely due to injury problems but he managed 45 goals in 111 games to earn a move to Porto where he emerged as one of the world’s finest strikers.

Aside from a troublesome two-year spell in English football, Falcao has been a colossus in European football, scoring a multitude of goals for Porto, Atletico Madrid and Monaco before joining Galatasaray and back in La Liga with Rayo Vallecano.