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Miguel Borja: The River strikers’ road to redemption 



In July 2022 Colombian striker Miguel Borja made the move from Junior FC in his homeland to Argentinian giants River Plate. Tasked with replacing Julian Alvarez, he had big boots to fill.  


After a dream start to life for Los Millionarios in 2022, another young prodigy was next in line and Borja was pushed out of the side by Lucas Beltran. 


With the 22-year-old since moving on to Fiorentina, Borja is once again back to his brilliant best. 


Albert Hilton provides the background to Miguel Borja’s journey and the challenges he has faced which have made him the player he is today. 


Miguel Borja: The beginning 


If you are unfamiliar with the player leading the line for River, this should get you up to speed on Borja’s complex career so far. 


His main assets are his electric pace and power. He loves to run off the defenders’ shoulder and pounce on opportunities within the 18-yard-box. 


Rising through the youth ranks at Deportivo Cali in his native Colombia, he struggled to make a name for himself in the first division and decided to drop into the second tier. 


This is where he really started to shine, score goals and attract attention. 



 After rather unsuccessful loan moves to Italy and Argentina, he ended back up in Colombia with Santa Fe, where he won the Sudamericana.  


In his best footballing year to date (2016), Borja scored 19 goals in 21 matches for Cortuluá, breaking the record of most goals scored in an Apertura league tournament.  


In the second half of 2016 he played a key part in winning the Copa Libertadores with Atlético Nacional and subsequently was voted the best player in South America in the prestigious ‘Rey De America’ award.  


In February of the next year, he was on the move again, this time to Brazil and Palmeiras. 

The heavy price tag of $10m may have weighed him down, as he only scored 22 goals in 82 appearances and was sent out on loan to Colombian side Junior and then Gremio in Brazil. 

 

Eventually, after a successful second spell with Junior, he made an $8m move to River Plate as they had lost their main goal threat in Julian Alvarez to Manchester City. 


Borja’s bright start 


The weight of a River Plate top is one of the heaviest in South America, where you must be a certain type of person to thrive for a club of that magnitude. 


Luckily, Borja had learned from his experience and relished his new surroundings.  


He was an instant success under Gallardo scoring nine goals in 18 appearances – starting just nine of those games. 

Living up to the extremely high expectations of River fans was something that Borja seemed to do with ease, both creating chances for his teammates and scoring goals.  


Gallardo utilised Borja’s three main strengths perfectly: his pace, finishing ability, and willingness to bully opposing defenders, with the Colombian winning 56 duals against the opposition, once again pleasing the River Plate faithful. 


However, in October 2022, Marcelo Gallardo announced he was stepping down as River manager after eight very successful years in charge. 


This decision would see Borja’s River Plate fate change drastically.  


Not to be in 2023 


With Gallardo gone and Martin Demichelis in, Borja was swept to the side as young Argentine Lucas Beltran was favoured to lead the line.  


With the two strikers sharing very similar qualities, Demichelis never started the two up front together. He preferred Beltran to start and then to bring on Borja to prey on tired legged defenders in the second half. 


As much as Borja may have brought to the River team, Beltran seemed to bring more. Beltran scored 12 goals to Borja’s five, three assists to his one, and 36 chances created compared to just 10 from Borja. Demichelis clearly had a favourite for a reason.  


River went on to win the league title in July 2023 and with golden boy Beltran making his way to Fiorentina, this was Borja’s moment - make or break. 

Fans and experts alike were very sceptical of Borja and his ability to be the focal point of the river attack after Beltran’s departure, after all he seemed to be a shadow of his former self. 


However, the front man fired on six occasions in just eight starts in the group stages of the Copa de la Liga, seeming to effortlessly fill the Lucas Beltran shaped hole up front, just as he had done with Julian Alvarez the year before. 


Unfortunately, it just wasn’t meant to be for Borja, he missed both the round of 16 against Belgrano and the quarter-final against Rosario Central through injury and River ultimately lost on penalties, you would think with a bang in form Borja the story may have had a different ending.  



Back to his best 


It would be an understatement to say that Borja’s start to 2024 has been anything but outstanding, he has already matched his Copa de la Liga goal tally from last season in eight less games at the time of writing. 


River’s mix of youth and experience has been extremely exciting to watch so far in 2024 and Borja looks like he is relishing it more than anyone, averaging 1.7 goals per game off an xG of just 0.67, clinical.  


In terms of what would be a successful year for Borja and River, anything less than triumph in the Libertadores is failure, but if he carries on like this he could be ‘Rey de America’ once again.

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