Column written by Nathalia Tavares
Boca Juniors are known for having one of the best academies in football and for integrating top talent into the first team’s squad. From Carlos Tévez, Fernando Gago and World Cup champion Leandro Paredes, the club has gone on to produce some of the best Argentine players.
However, having financial struggles over the past few years, Boca had to look into their youth teams. Now more than ever, it seems as though La Bombonera is dominated by young prospects from Predio Ezeiza. Lacking options on the left flank has paved way for Valentin Barco, who has broken through and established himself in the squad.
Having made his professional debut at just 16 years old in 2021, Barco has played the most minutes during this 2023 season. This is due to Valentín's versatility offering considerable offensive intent, allowing him to play both as a left-back and left-winger.
Playing regularly for Boca, who are in the Libertadores semi finals for the first time in three years, top European clubs such as Juventus, Brighton & Hove Albion and Manchester City are watching the 19-year-old talent - a transfer might be happening sooner rather than later.
Valentin Barco: Player profile
Born in Buenos Aires on 23rd July 2004, Barco started his journey as a football player at Sportivo Las Parejas at the age of three, before being scouted six years later by Boca Juniors where he’s been ever since.
Now, at the age of 19, Barco, who stands at 172cm (5’7), is one of the most exciting prospects in Argentinian football. This is down to his key attributes including his technical ability on the ball, agility, creativity and positioning.
Since his youth days, Valentín was designated to play as a left-back. However, because of his tactical understanding and technical qualities, in the last few months the current head coach, Jorge Almirón, started placing him in more advanced positions.
The heat map (above) illustrates Valentín's presence across the entire left side of the pitch, including the corner kicks, for which the youngster is responsible.
The heat map also shows that he also has presence in the centre of the pitch and this is due to Almirón’s tactical strategy involving the full-backs, who can move inside into central spaces when their team has the ball becoming known as ‘inverted full-backs’.
Playing inside, Barco is involved in a lot of short and progressive passes exchanges, where his positional awareness and technical ability are key for this. Depending on his choice to press or not, he either creates space for him to play or draws the opposition and creates space for the winger, who’s seen in a 1v1 situation against the full-back.
That said, this does not mean that Barco is a static player if he’s given a special tactical role. He's mobile, agile and versatile, always looking for free space to occupy and get himself in condition to receive the ball and put his on-ball abilities to use.
This mobility is clearer when Valentín plays as a winger, where he can position higher/lower or inside/out and try to explore the back of the defenders.
Even though Barco’s played in multiple positions along the left flank, given that he’s played about 45% of his minutes for Boca’s first team as a full-back, and also his youth development, in comparing his stats to other players, it will be done considering the full-back position.
Dribbles and carries
As we can see above, Barco is ranked in 99th percentile on take-ons per 90 compared to full-backs performing in the leagues covered by FBref in the last 365 days - which is exceptional for a young player in his debut season as a regular in his club.
His dribbling success rate stands at 44% which may not seem much, but given the many dribbles attempted (6.11 per 90) by the player and the combativeness and intensity of the Argentinian football league it’s another positive stat.
This type of ball progression is most commonly observed when Valentín plays as left-back. His quick feet are a main feature of his game, highlighting his technicality and allowing him to change direction fast and get past his opponents.
There’s no doubt about his ability and certain dominance on the left flank of Boca’s team in possession, but Valentín’s use of his weak foot is still a bit lacking. He’ll probably do this more often as develop his game, not only because of the inverted full-back strategy, but also and especially because he’s been getting minutes in midfield, especially when playing more centrally.
Barco has completed 73% of his passes (at the time of writing), which puts him in the 42nd percentile on pass accuracy. This sort of low pass completion has a lot to do with his decision-making and that’s not been the best so far. Whether as full-back or as a winger, he relies a lot on long balls to try and connect with the attackers particularly into the final third.
According to FBref, Barco has 4.31 passes completed into the final third and 1.36 passes completed into the penalty areas (both stats per 90 minutes).
The youngsters sometimes risky decision-making in attempting passes, does have a positive effect on Boca Juniors’ game plan. As we can see above, Valentín’s ranked in the 87th percentile on progressive passes completed per 90.
Barco also completes a good amount of passes: 43.96 per 90 minutes, with 6.68 of those progressive passes (92nd percentile). Although a force when open in the left flank, Valentín is also comfortable playing inside, which helps him having a bigger and more impactful offensive involvement.
Given that Barco is a very offensive full-back that often plays as a winger, he gets to the box or at least close to it at times. His finishing abilities are not his strongest suit, but, compared to other full-backs, Valentín is well above average overall.
The Argentinian youngster has 1.08 shots per 90 minutes, with 0.36 of those on target. Those stats indicate that 33.3% of his shots are on target, a good rate for players in his position.
According to FBref, Barco has 0.11 expected goals per 90 minutes, having scored 0.14 goals per 90.
That means the full-back has exceeded, not by much but still, what was expected of him in terms of scoring.
Out of possession, Valentín Barco keeps up his intensity though he’s not very aggressive.
Barco has 2.37 tackles per 90 winning about 69.6% of them ranking him in the 81st percentile for tackles won per 90 in the FBref database. On the other hand, in the air, the full-backs presence isn't his strongest trait, winning 0.14 aerial duels per 90.
Moreover, the young full-back averages 0.79 blocks, 0.93 interceptions and 1.08 clearances per 90 which may not appear the best, but given Boca Juniors has an average of 60.3% of possession in their games, they tend to not have many problems defensively specially in Primera División.
Valentín Barco is without doubt another young talent consolidating himself in Argentinian football, which is one of the most intense and physically demanding leagues in South America. He’s achieving all this at an early age, which is why so many top European clubs are keeping an eye on him.
All things considered, he is a player characterised by his technicality and agility on the ball, allowing him to pass and dribble over opponents. Positioning can also be considered as one of the main aspects in Barco’s playing style, he tends to look and occupy space wherever on the pitch so he can receive the ball and work in possession.
Even though he is not that tall, the youngster is a very strong player and he compensates for his lack of aerial presence on the ground which is clear by the amount of ground duels/tackles he tries and wins per game.
Also, despite his tactical understanding on the ball, there’s room for improvement in aspect when he’s off the ball. As an offensive flank player, when he attacks, Valentín’s leaves space behind him and because of this being able to recover well to the back is important not only to give defensive consistency to his side but also so that he can drop deeper on the pitch when needed.
However, it's far from doom and gloom. Valentin Barco is an exceptional talent with a really high ceiling - who has the potential to succeed in Europe.
Who will take Valentín Barco from Boca Juniors and when will they do it? This will be answered very soon, given the interest shown in the player.