A certified young baller.

Argentina’s post-Messi future is bright: The next generation is being led by an all-conquering Di Maria regen

In an era where young guns consistently remind us mortals how old and decrepit we are, the River Plate academy is making a point of hammering it home and making us feel extra talentless with a string of starlets.

Football is no stranger to a young baller punching above their weight, smashing the glass ceiling and bursting onto the scene in a bid to create a legacy, but there are moments when an anomaly breaks through and we all stand still for a moment.

Blink and you’ll miss it. One moment, a team is floundering and yet the next, they’ve suddenly plucked a youngster out of the academy, thrown him to the wolves and they’ve started playing like a 10-year veteran who’s swept up accolades and honours for fun.

Those are the real diamonds in the world of young footballers. Unpolished, but unshaken. Exuding an arrogance that matches their ability and will undoubtedly carry them to the top of the mountain while we wonder where it went wrong as we lather on the deep heat for another hour at Powerleague.

When they make you question your otherwise illustrious six-a-side career, however, that’s when you know you’ve stumbled on a gem of the highest order. Just one watch of River Plate’s Franco Mastantuono is all it’ll take to unlock that emotion.

Born in August 2007 – no, really – in the Buenos Aries province of Argentina, Mastantuono might’ve missed the launch of the Xbox 360, but he wasted no time when it came to football, kicking a ball around from the age of just three years old at River de Azul, where his father was a coach.

By age 10, he was being offered a spot in the academy at River Plate – which he declined in a bid to pursue tennis.

Some things are just meant to be, however, and for the boy who has been playing football for as long as he’s been able to walk and talk, he found himself signing for River Plate in 2019, two years after their initial approach.

By age 15, he’d been called up to Argentina’s under-17 side and a string of stylish displays at club level with River Plate’s youth team quickly saw him graduate to Argentina under-20.

In short, boundaries do not exist for the mazy teenager with a left foot made of dynamite and all of the skill and poise of a prime Angel Di Maria, ready to throw any defender off balance and devastate an opponent at any given opportunity, no matter how big the task might be.

He signed his first professional contract with River Plate in August 2023, which immediately included a €30million release clause. You can see why by watching him strut his stuff below.

Not bad, kid. Not bad at all.

Two minutes of Mastantuono – who has also been blessed with one of the coolest names in football – is not only enough for us to see his outrageous potential, but the talent that the 16-year-old already possesses.

Possessing impressive height and physicality for his age, Mastantuono impresses with a seriously tight control and balance. Watching him weave inside on his left foot is reminiscent of Di Maria in full stride, while his pace and eye for the killer ball in high-pressure scenarios is a cheat code.

He’s rough around the edges of course, and needs to work on getting the most out of his weaker right side to truly leave defenders heaving and head-shaking.

River Plate recently agreed fresh terms with their latest teenage sensation, bumping his release clause up to €50million and signing him through to 2026 amid interest from ‘top European clubs’ per Fabrizio Romano, despite having only made 10 appearances at the time of writing.

It sounds insane, but after watching him, all questions are answered.

Considering the talent of Agustin Ruberto and perhaps the more well-known Claudio Echeverri, clubs are desperate to get a slice of the River Plate pie while their talent factory is churning out ridiculously gifted young ballers for fun.

Argentina are well and truly on for a Golden Generation just as the post-Messi era looms – and Mastantuono could well lead the charge.

By Mitch Wilks

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