Since Diego Maradona’s retirement – and even a bit before that – any Argentine attacking midfielder who was short, skillful and creative has been called ‘The Next Maradona’. While the title is impossible to live up to, some players have fared far better than others.
Juan Román Riquelme
In his day he was utterly sumptuous, especially at Villarreal and Boca. The blot on his copybook was his big money move to Barcelona, where he was pushed out onto the wing. When given a free reign and the license to express himself, he was a Rolls-Royce of a player, as demonstrated by the fact there is a bronze statue of him outside Boca’s stadium, La Bombonera.
Argentina caps (appearances): 51
Argentina goals: 17
Ortega was Maradona’s direct footballing descendent. He played in the 1994 World Cup, but most will have seen him for the first time in 1998, in France, when he had the No 10 shirt all to himself. Small and elusive, he shared a lot of Maradona’s qualities. He dazzled in the tournament early on, but went out head-butting Edwin van der Sar. His time in Italy was decent, but his club career fell apart due to his refusal to play for particular teams and his problems with alcoholism.
Argentina caps: 87
Argentina goals: 16
For a couple of years, in the early 2000s, Aimar was, one of, if not the finest attacking midfielder in Europe, pulling the strings for a Valencia side that won two La Liga titles and a UEFA Cup. His form dipped but there was a renaissance at Benfica. Sometimes given the nickname, El Payaso (the clown), he was constantly battling it out with Riquelme for the No 10 shirt during their careers at international level.
Argentina caps: 52
If Ortega was ‘The New Maradona’, Gallardo – El Muñeco (the doll) – was ‘The New Ortega’, and so, by definition was up against Diego as well. Every time he left his beloved River Plate to play in Europe he returned to the Estadio Monumental. In 2014, he became River’s manager and has gone on to become the most successful coach at an international stage in the club’s history.
Argentina caps: 44
Argentina goals: 13
El Conejo (the rabbit) was an absolute Championship Manager favourite, who never quite escaped the hype. More of an on-the-last-shoulder striker than a classic No 10 in the traditional Argentine mould, his club career took him from River Plate to Barcelona, Real Madrid, Monaco, Sevilla, Benfica and a few others before returning to River to see out his career. He was always good, but rarely great.
Argentina caps: 39
Argentina goals: 11
Who? Well, actually, the first ever to have been burdened by the moniker. Five years at Boca led to a move to Fiorentina along with Gabriel Batistuta, and while ‘Batigol’ managed 168 goals for La Viola (The Purple), Latorre managed just two appearances before being sold to Tenerife. He subsequently spent 11 years at 11 clubs doing not a lot.
Argentina caps: 6
Argentina goals: 1
Currently taking home a shedload of yuan playing for Shanghai Shenhua, despite ruffling a lot of feathers along the way Tevez has pretty much been a success at every club he’s played for. His goal-scoring record for the national side isn’t brilliant but he has always been an absolute fan’s favourite.
Argentina caps: 76
Argentina goals: 13
Attacking midfielder? Tick. Short stature? Tick. Silky skills? Tick. Played for Portsmouth? Tick… hang on. That’s not right. One person to label D’Alessandro ‘The Next Maradona’ was Maradona himself. When Argentina won the Under-20 World Championship in 2001, he was named second-best player of the tournament, but alas, he failed to win a single honour outside his home country.
Argentina caps: 28
Argentina goals: 3
In terms of his club career, Messi has surpassed the great man – Messi has a claim to the title of greatest footballer of all time, but El Diego dragged the national team to World Cup glory, and Messi (regularly expected to do the same) has never quite managed it. There was an Olympic gold in 2008, but World Cup and Copa America runner-up spots have been the best since.
Argentina caps: 117
Argentina goals: 58
Like a few in this list, Zárate performed well in Argentine club football, (for Vélez Sarsfield, in this instance) but one season at Lazio aside, flattered to deceive. Currently at Watford, his fourth English club, the 30-year-old is still yet to win a full international cap.
Argentina caps: 0
Argentina goals: 0
Along with Messi and Tevez, Agüero’s maybe the only player who can lay claim to the title, ‘The Next Maradona’ with any seriousness. The prolific striker has scored relentlessly wherever he has played, especially at his current club Manchester City where he already has 122 goals. He is even the father to one of Maradona’s grandchildren, after a four year relationship with the legend’s youngest daughter, Gianinna.
Argentina caps: 82
Argentina goals: 33