Argentina is a well-oiled production line for exciting playmakers who move the ball to the beat of the tango, and Independiente star Ezequiel Barco is the latest to step off the conveyor belt and set his sights on Europe.
Despite rumours heating up over a potential move to MLS side Atlanta, nothing has yet been signed and Spain could well be a destination for the rising star, with a number of clubs keeping an eye on him.
Barco set to leave Independiente after Copa glory
AS understands that Ezequiel Barco's representatives have approached five top-flight Spanish clubs about the acquisition of the player, who has already trained with Jorge Sampaoli's Argentina squad in Buenos Aires. He is under contract at Independiente until 2019, but has a relatively meagre release clause of €10.17 million.
A prominent Portuguese club, and a selection of Premier League clubs have also been approached.
The 18-year-old scored a penalty in the second leg of the recent Copa Sudamericana final, which Independiente went on to win 3-2 on aggregate against Brazilian side Flamengo. Faced with questions about his future upon conclusion of that victory, Barco responded: "I'm delighted for the title, but this is my goodbye". And it does appear highly likely that he will be departing on a high.
Europe favoured over Atlanta United
The diminutive midfielder has been heavily linked with a move to Atlanta United, with Argentine newspaper Clarín reporting that talks are at an advanced stage. The nascent MLS club have focussed their recruitment on signing talented young players from South America, with Paraguayan midfielder Miguel Almirón a particular success for Tata Martino's side. That said, a move to the MLS could be complicated by the fact that Atlanta already have three designated players (that is, those outside the salary cap) in their squad - Almirón, Hector Villalba, and Josef Martínez. The club would have to buy out the contract of one of those players in order to create space for Barco.
The player's representatives ostensibly favour a move to Europe in the January transfer window, and it is possible that the speculation over his supposedly imminent transfer to Atlanta has been exaggerated in order to provoke clubs on the other side of the Atlantic into action.
A very important point for European clubs too is that Barco holds an Italian passport, and would therefore not take up a non-EU berth in those countries that have a quota (Spanish clubs are limited to three non-EU players) or have to go through the process of obtaining a visa,
Atlético interest in Barco
According to sources consulted by AS, Atlético Madrid have not yet had conversations with Barco's inner circle, but at least one person with knowledge of the situation said it would come as no surprise if Los Colchoneros were keeping tabs on the situation, with a view to expressing an interest in bringing him to the Spanish capital.
Atlético have signed from Independiente before, bringing in one Sergio Agüero in 2006 for 20 million euro. And the club's ongoing pursuit of Racing striker Lautaro Martínez shows that the club is looking to Argentina - and Avellaneda specifically - as a talent pool as Diego Simeone manages the gradual process of integrating young players in to his squad.