Football Features

Squawka Scout: Why Julian Alvarez is attracting attention from across Europe

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 16:47, 27 December 2021

January is on the horizon which can only mean one thing. The winter transfer window is open and sales aplenty are on the way.

It’s a time for managers and their respective boardrooms to discuss strengthening their squads in preparation for the business end of the season where prizes are to be handed out.

Among the many clubs certain to be busy in January is Manchester United, now temporarily under Ralf Rangnick’s leadership. According to reports,  United have set their attention to Argentina’s River Plate and highly-thought-of forward Julián Álvarez.

But they are not alone.

What position does Julián Álvarez play?

Álvarez joined River’s academy in January 2016 from Atletico Calchín, having previously undergone a trial at Real Madrid aged 11, and has predominantly featured at centre-forward but manager Marcelo Gallardo would often use the 21-year-old elsewhere. His secondary position is on the flanks, most prominently from the right, though on a handful of occasions he’s operated in a deep-lying forward role. Given Gallardo goes through various systems (in 2021 alone he deployed a 4-4-2 diamond, 3-1-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 3-5-2, 3-4-3 and 4-1-4-1) there are certain requirements expected from his players.

Álvarez, in particular, is capable of leading the line alone or in a tandem and he has been effective in both, scoring 36 goals and recording 23 assists in 96 appearances across all competitions. En route to winning the 2021 Argentine Primera División, Álvarez scored goals, earning him the league’s top scorer award.

Usually following one of Alvarez’s successful attempts is a ‘Spider-Man’ web-shooting celebration, and there’s method behind the madness. Álvarez was nicknamed ‘spider’ at age two because of the way he controlled the ball – he seemed to have four pairs of legs.

Which clubs want to sign Julián Álvarez?

There’s no shortage of interest. A who’s who of European ‘super clubs’ are closely monitoring Álvarez including the aforementioned Red Devils, who could be losing Anthony Martial in January. But, as touched upon, competition for his signature could be fierce especially with a reported £17m release clause in his contract which rises to £21m in the final 10 days of the winter transfer window.

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Spain’s big two Barcelona and Real Madrid, who have an excellent history of housing talents from Argentina, are in the picture. So too are Bayern Munich, another club with a rich South American tradition. The same can be said for Inter Milan where Álvarez’s compatriot Lautaro Martínez calls home (maybe his replacement). Atletico Madrid, Fiorentina, Liverpool and Milan have seen their names alongside Álvarez’s in recent months.

Which Man Utd player is Julián Álvarez like?

If the hallowed turf of Old Trafford does become Álvarez’s next stomping ground then he will not only bring depth to Rangnick’s attack but steely competition. At the moment United’s centre-forward options boil down to evergreen Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani, but the latter could also be on the move.

Rangnick’s willingness to utilise a two-striker formation means Ronaldo and Álvarez could hypothetically be partners. But the same can be said for Marcus Rashford, who is likely to be the Argentine’s direct competitor in the German’s 4-2-2-2. Let’s not forget Mason Greenwood either, who led United’s line in their Champions League meeting against Young Boys at home when Rangnick deployed a 4-1-4-1.

What they say

“Playing in Europe is most people’s dream because of those leagues’ quality and what it means to be at those clubs. But I am taking it easy. Obviously I talk to my agent and my family, but I know I have to stay focused on what I’m doing. Later the time will come, through the work I am doing. On the PlayStation I play with Barcelona or Manchester City,” Álvarez told Radio La Red in October 2020.

Since then his stock has only grown — he’s bagged 26 goals in 2021 for River — and Álvarez recently admitted he’s got some thinking to do.

“I don’t know what will happen. Now I am going on vacation. In January we will see if I start the preseason or something else happens. What I do know is that when making decisions I will choose what I think is best.”

Álvarez’s departure would understandably be a big blow for River, but Gallardo sees it as a byproduct of his form.

“That generates all the repercussions that it has of being a wanted and desired player.”

If he does leave then Gallardo will look back fondly: “He is a player that the coaches love. For his quality, for his generosity, for his mischief. Any coaching staff would like to have it. He is a very young boy and has a long journey ahead of him.”

When asked how to describe himself as a player, Álvarez said: “I like more to play and be in contact with the ball. I reach the goal as a consequence of the game. And that comes naturally to me and does not generate any kind of pressure.

“I am not an area striker, I like to start from behind and play for the entire attacking front. I do not have a single way of defining, but I do it in several ways. I’m not obsessed with being a scorer.”

You can see him working hard for Diego Simeone, though the Atleti’s boss is preaching caution.

“He has shown important things but he is still young. He may have a moment when his level will drop and we will see what kind of player he is once he leaves,” he recently told Olé.

“When they explode so young, then there is a period where you go down because it is normal. There comes a time when you don’t score so many goals, your rhythm slows down, you are less precise.

“We will see how he comes out of that and then we’ll see the player he’ll be. I like him because he has strength, speed, he scores goals, and has a good shot. Hopefully, he can maintain his form.

“Any footballer, if he plays for the national team or for River, is good. I tell them when they come to Atletico: I’m not going to talk to them about how they have to play, because if they come to Atlético, they are good. But playing well is not enough. If they only play well, it is not enough.”

Earlier this year Álvarez made his national team debut before adding four more caps — coming off the bench each time — and it’s a view to being part of Argentina’s squad at Qatar 2022 that could be the deciding factor.

“If he continues at this level it doesn’t matter where he plays,” national team head coach Lionel Scaloni responded when asked whether it would be better for Álvarez to play in a major European league ahead of the World Cup finals.