The match didn’t matter. It was the final game of the 2012-13 season and Racing Club had nothing to play for. Eleven players, including six youth graduates, trudged onto the pitch. Five of those six players knew that, in all likelihood, this would their last match at the club, possibly even in the country.
“La Academia de los Pibes” – The Academy of the kids – had produced five world-class players in one go, a once-in-a-generation event. And the 3–0 win against CA Union Santa Fe was symbolic of that.
Two of those five players left that very summer while the rest surprisingly stayed on for another year.
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So let's take a look at who the famous five are, and how their careers have panned out since.
Rodrigo de Paul
21 | Left winger, attacking midfielder
Rodrigo de Paul was signed by Valencia but remained under-the-radar – one, because Rodrigo the striker – the one from Benfica – seemed to be the far more promising signing and two, because he cost €4.8 million, which would probably be pocket change for Peter Lim.
But De Paul seems to have been the astute purchase – blessed with pace and trickery, he gets past defences with ease. He has largely carried over his form from Argentina to Spain. 56 games at Racing procured five goals, six assists and opposition nightmares. His 34 appearances so far at Valencia, have produced two goals, four assists and equally as many nightmares.
Including this amazing performance against Rayo Vallecano:
22 | Striker
At 5’9” he isn’t tall, or particularly strong, but Luciano Vietto knows what it takes to poach goals. It was that quality that made Villarreal fumble for their chequebook and sign him for €5.5 million last summer and what a player they got. If anything, he became better at evading markers and scoring goals on arriving in Spain from his native Argentina.
From 72 games, 18 goals and six assists is a good return, but Villarreal got 20 goals and eight assists – in just 48 appearances.
Of course, bigger clubs were interested. Atletico Madrid were impressed, Diego Simeone too, so he promoted him to a bigger club, just like he had done in 2011 when he advanced Vietto from the reserves. Only this time, he needed €20 million to do it.
Just like the first promotion, it was probably worth it.
22 | Central midfielder
Bruno was a bargain for Manchester City, signed for just €2.5 million. A six-month loan spell at Valencia saw him play in just one game – a 3–0 win against Málaga – for the second half. Another six-month spell at Córdoba saw him feature in eight consecutive losses and pick up two yellow cards.
Now, he sits on the sidelines at the Etihad and occasionally makes the bench - providing Manuel Pellegrini's side are struggling with injuries.
It’s a shame – he is a goal-scoring midfielder with excellent vision, racking up 10 goals in 98 games for Racing. His all-action style makes him a suitable Yaya Toure replacement – but there isn't much sign of that happening anytime soon.
22 | Left winger
He was one of two players to leave in 2013. Ricardo Centurion was the star of the show, and even manager Luis Zubeldía reserved plenty of praise for him.
Centurion catches the attention because of his great coverage of the pitch and intensity - rare for an attacking player.
How fast he plays the game particularly stands out, not just the traditional athletic side of things, but the way he can beat his man after performing a step-over.
But the Argentine knew European football was a different proposition, which explained his desire to test himself out.
Moreover, his end product was lacking - scoring four times and assisting another in 34 games. Genoa took the chance and snapped him up on a one-year loan deal for €610,000 from the jaws of Juventus and Milan. However, in twelve games he had produced nothing – albeit it is fair to say 579 minutes in a season isn’t much of a chance.
He returned to Racing to develop his game further, scoring thrice and assisting another in 17 games before being snapped up by Sao Paulo for €4.2 million six months later.
Calculated risks and sensible decisions have defined Centurion. He correctly sensed that he wasn’t ready for Europe and took the decision to develop further in Brazil. He has been a revelation in South America and has become more prepared to play for the team.
More clubs will definitely be on the way for the winger and we should expect him to make a smart choice on his next venture.
24 | Attacking midfielder
The other player to leave in 2013, Farina was a revelation in his final season at Racing, scoring four goals in 29 appearances. He earned a move to Benfica, but is yet to play for the club.
A highly successful loan spell at Baniyas in the UAE was followed up by another temporary move, this time at Deportivo de La Coruña, which was marred by injury problems. His latest interim transition is at Rayo Vallecano, where he is currently being ousted by a certain Jozabed.
A talented player whose talents are not being used enough – it’s a shame. He has an eye for goal, whether it’s scoring himself or creating chances, he just isn’t near the goal at the moment or even the pitch, for that matter.
The academy seems to churn out a remarkable number of players ready for the first-team, which is beyond any youth academy’s realistic expectations. The loss of five world class players in two years didn’t deter the club at all as they won the 2013-14 Argentinean title.
The future looks bright too. Newly promoted youth stars central midfielder Lucas Bareira and right-back Mauro Bazan are already making an impact in the first team.
Moreover, bargain signings made in January include: 22-year-old Paraguayan attacking midfielder Oscar Romero (Cerro Porteno, €2.4 million), 20-year-old second striker Brian Fernandez (Defensa, €800,000) and right midfielder Santiago Naguel (Argentinos, €661,000) have given Racing a strong foundation to build from.
A squad that can, and will, challenge for the title.