Copa America 2011: One to watch – Ever Banega

Name: Ever Banega

Age: 23

Position: Midfield

Club/Nation: Valencia/Argentina

For a while it looked like Ever Banega was going to be one of those players who could have had it all but ended up with nothing. One of five siblings raised in a rough, tough Rosario suburb, Banega’s supreme naturally ability with a football elevated him from the squalor.

Aged just 18, Banega was being heralded as the next big thing to come from the de la Plata basin. Already a revered regular in the Boca Juniors first team, he was also part of a squad including Mauro Zarate, Angel Di Maria and Sergio Aguero who won the U20 World Cup for la Albiceleste. By January 2008, having played just 28 games for Boca, Banega was treading the well trodden path from Argentina to Spain. But like many other teen prodigy’s, his career stalled when he was packed off to Europe too soon. Valencia paid around €18m for the boy they thought was a man. Soon after he’d joined los Che he was tabloid fodder for some webcam shenanigans and not long after that he had the law and club officials on his back when he was caught drink driving.

After an underwhelming start to life at the Mestalla, Banega was sent on loan to Atletico Madrid where his form and behaviour further declined. Acquiring the unwanted tile of Cabra Loca – the crazy goat – Banega’s nocturnal activities created more news than his footballing ones. Atletico returned him to Valencia who tried to send him elsewhere. By the summer of 2009 they were desperate to get rid of the troublesome talent, but after various moves – including a loan to Everton – failed to materialise, they were stuck with each other.

But then the penny dropped. Banega got himself together and revitalised his lifestyle. Off the booze and on the ball, the 23-year-old flourished into a key component of a los Che side who recorded two consecutive third place finishes in La Liga. Banega is considered one of La Liga’s best players – inclusive of the Barca-Real band. Standing a little over 5ft 8inches, he’s a feisty deep-lying midfielder who’s infectious pressing and enthusiasm for a tackle often depict him as a defensive midfielder.

New Argentina Coach Sergio Batista will ask Banega to double up alongside Javier Mascherano to screen a culpable back four, but Cabra Loca has more strings to his bow than being a spoiler. For Valencia he is the orquestador. The purveyor of tika-taka, running games from deep, demanding and embracing the ball before moving it on slickly over a range of distances with metronomic passing, motored by a schooled footballing brain. In many regards Banega is the complete midfielder. He defends and dictates with equal composure and has a penchant for daring dribbles from within his own half. He scores few but when he does they’re worth watching again.

After making his international debut at 19, Banega has taken the scenic route to cementing his place in la Albiceleste set-up. Diego Maradona didn’t take him to last summer’s World Cup, instead favouring the 35-year-old Juan Sebastien Veron. But this is a new Argentina and a new Banega – the boy who’s become a man.

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