Lionel Messi’s goal against River Plate on Sunday offered a magnificent snapshot of how important he is for his side and how elegant his style of play is. Messi played in Brazilian right-back Dani Alves, who delivered a back-post cross to fellow Brazilian and Barcelona superstar Neymar. Meanwhile, Messi had already entered the box to quickly react to Neymar’s knockdown. The Argentinian only needed a sophisticated touch with his knee to control the ball and to allow him to place his shot beyond the reach of the helpless Marcelo Barovero at the inside of the right-hand post.
Despite the fact that Lionel Messi and his fellow teammates stole the show during the Club World Cup final between Barcelona and River Plate, the clash was an extraordinary one for River Plate midfielder and Argentinian international Matias Kranevitter, as it would be his last game for Los Millonarios. Kranevitter completed an €8 million transfer to Atletico Madrid last summer, but he was allowed to stay at his beloved club to feature in this season’s Club World Cup after winning the Copa Libertadores.
The 22-year-old can look back on a magical period during his time at River Plate, although it has to be said that he was not able to stand out on a pitch filled with world-class players. Nevertheless, the soon-to-be Atletico Madrid player had to lose an awful lot before he was able to become the footballer he currently is - “Great men are not born great, they grow great,” as Vito Corleone from the Godfather would put it.
Kranevitter grew up in the city of Yerba Buena in Tucuman. Born in 1993, he was raised in a difficult period in which the poor people of Argentina, including Matias Kranevitter’s own family with six children, suffered under Carlos Menem’s regime. His father worked as a taxi driver to finance his family, while his mother stayed at home to keep an eye on the children. Kranevitter, who was one of the oldest, worked as a golf caddy at the age of 12 to financially support his family.
However, Kranevitter’s nephew Andrew Romero and uncle Cesar Costilla Colo argued that he should start playing football. So, shortly after, he started playing for local side San Martin de Tucuman. At the age of 14, a scout from River Plate invited him to go on trial at the club after he saw Kranevitter’s qualities during a tournament.
He left Tucuman to join the famed River Plate academy, knowing that he was taking a serious risk, as there are no guarantees of success at this stage in world football. Moreover, he had to leave his family and travel all by himself to Buenos Aires to work himself up through the ranks.
In December 2012, Kranevitter’s willingness to make sacrifices, style of play, and competitive nature allowed him to make his debut under Gustavo Zapata. Kranevitter was already part of the winning River Plate U20 side during the Copa Libertadores in Lima, which indicated that he could soon become a first team regular. However, Leonardo Ponzio and Cristian Ledesma formed tough competition, which resulted in the fact that he was not able to make a lot of minutes.This period nonetheless remained valuable to Kranevitter, as he learned a great deal from this duo.
After a while, during the 2013-2014 season, Kranevitter slowly but surely started to appear regularly under the new manager Ramon Diaz, who showed a lot of faith in him. However, Marcelo Gallardo, who succeeded Diaz, gave the youngster his full confidence during the 2014-2015 season. Gallardo saw Kranevitter as the perfect player to allow his side to switch to his preferred, dynamic style of play. Therefore, Gallardo did not hesitate and immediately made Kranevitter a first-team regular; due to the consistency of his performances, he has rarely found himself out of Gallardo’s side. In addition, it was during that campaign that Kranevitter made his senior international debut for Argentina against Bolivia back in August.
One can argue that Kranevitter lost Messi out of sight seconds before he scored the first goal for Barcelona in the Club World Cup Final. This situation mainly occurred because Kranevitter covers a predetermined space instead of marking a specific opponent. In Europe, and as Barcelona demonstrated against River Plate, a defensive midfielder is faced with loads more movement around him. Kranevitter should be capable of adapting to this somewhat new style of play if Diego Simeone is willing to give him this time.
On the other hand, it can also be argued that he does not need an extensive period of adaption like some foreign players moving to, for instance, the Premier League need, since Kranevitter will meet plenty of compatriots in the form of Angel Correa and Luciano Vietto in Madrid. Moreover, the Spanish language should not be an issue either, and Kranevitter is already quite familiar with Diego Simeone, as Simeone’s son Giovanni plays for River Plate as well.
Despite being only 22 years of age, Kranevitter composed himself well after this early setback, as he went on to play a good, final match for River Plate. Kranevitter performs with exactly the mentality that Simeone demands from his players, as he is a player who puts the needs of the team before everything else. His stamina, therefore, is another strength of his game. Kranevitter is able to cover spaces and large amounts of ground in time to help out the backline despite not being the quickest player on the pitch.
At 5-foot-11, Kranevitter is not the tallest person either. However, as a defensive midfielder, one is not expected to win as many aerial duels as a centre-back. In addition, Koke has already proven that he can successfully play as a defensive midfielder, and bare in mind that Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez are two brilliant headers to give aerial support if necessary.
At this stage, it should not come as a surprise that Kranevitter has already been compared with former Rival Plate player Javier Mascherano, who currently represents Barcelona. This comparison is not completely wrong, as both players are very efficient in terms of distribution, however Kranevitter does not go to the ground to make a sliding tackle as often as Mascherano does.
In conclusion, Atletico Madrid’s Godfather, Diego Simeone, will be very pleased with the availability of Kranevitter, especially during the absence of Tiago in Atletico’s midfield due to his broken leg. It will, however, not be easy for Kranevitter to immediately become a first-team regular with the competition of players like Gabi and Saul Niguez. Nevertheless, after having already faced a handful of difficulties, Kranevitter will give his heart and soul to become a great Colchonero.