After becoming a European champion at U19 level, Nahuel Leiva has helped Villarreal to the top of the Liga. We find out about the winger tipped for the very top.
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Argentina-born winger Nahuel Leiva has been catching the eye for Villarreal this season, with the Yellow Submarine top of the Liga and the 18-year-old tipped as an outside bet for Spain's UEFA EURO 2016 squad.
Name: Nahuel Leiva
Debut: 13 January 2014 v Real Sociedad
Date of birth: 22 October 1996
Preferred foot: right
They say …
"We need to take care with Nahuel. He is 17 and has to keep developing. We will help him, we will push him and we will correct him, but he brings a lot of desire and tenacity. He is a lad that listens and is receptive, but he has to continue with the same humility because there's still a long way to go for him."
Villarreal coach Marcelino after handing the teenager his first senior start in February 2014
It was in the attacker's home town of Rosario, Argentina, that Nahuel first grabbed the attention of Europe's scouts. He signed for Villarreal aged 14, trained but was unable to play for the club's official sides until he turned 16. Once eligible he became a fixture in Villarreal's B team and it was not long before he impressed senior coach Marcelino.
After several Liga and Copa del Rey outings over an 18-month period, he was given Spanish citizenship and duly called up to his adopted country's Under-19 squad, playing a pivotal role in La Rojita's UEFA European U19 Championship triumph this summer.
Playing style …
A quick and tricky customer, Leiva is a wide midfielder also capable of operating in the No10 role behind the striker. His wonderful technique, change of pace and eye for goal are other plus points while his low centre of gravity has left assorted experienced defenders trailing in his wake.
Shades of …
As a fast flanker with excellent balance, bags of skill, an eye for goal and a Rosario birthplace, there is only one man people will liken this talented tyro to: Lionel Messi. Of course, any such comparison is unfair at this age, even if their backgrounds, early moves to eastern Spain, playing positions and styles make it inevitable.
Eureka moment …
Despite making his Liga bow in 2013/14, Leiva spent the next season almost exclusively with the reserves. Many feel this spurred him to work harder and his goal as a substitute in July's European U19 final against Russia in Greece has been a catalyst for bigger and better things. He is now a key constituent of Villarreal's first team, figuring in all seven Liga fixtures and both UEFA Europa League Group E games so far.
Best case scenario …
Featuring in Villarreal's barnstorming Liga start, Leiva will want to help keep the leaders atop the Liga. Should he help them stay in the title mix there is a possibility he could make a late claim for a spot in Vicente del Bosque's UEFA EURO 2016 squad.
He says …
"I was delighted to play the 90 minutes. I saw my name on the teamsheet and focused on giving my very best. It's my job to help the side and I have the right mentality to learn from the best."
After making his first start v Espanyol in February 2014
"I'm confident and you can see that on the pitch. I needed to learn how to defend more and now I'm much better. I feel I'm at a very high level."
After breaking back into the first team at the start of the season