Calchin is a modest village of approximately 3000 people, northeast of the industrial province of Cordoba, Argentina. At first glance, there is nothing distinctive about the place, but at the village entrance, there are billboards saying, “Julian, the pride of Calchin.”
Julian Alvarez was like countless other Argentine children, who dreamt of donning the national jersey one day and grew up idolising Lionel Messi.
Cut to the present, that dream has transformed into a magical reality after the striker became World Champion with Argentina after it beat France 4-2 on penalties at the Lusail Stadium.
From the bench to the limelight
Like his role in Manchester City, Alvarez started the World Cup knowing that he would predominantly operate from the bench, as an understudy of Lautaro Martinez.
He started the first two matches from the bench, which included a 2-1 loss to Saudi Arabia. But, the minutes that he spent on the pitch showed coach Lionel Scaloni how indispensable he was to the team, especially in the attacking phase.
A misfiring Lautaro was dropped, and suddenly, Alvarez found himself to be a crucial aspect of the Albiceleste attack. He scored four goals in the World Cup, including knockout goals against Australia in the Round of 16 and Croatia in the semifinal.
Alvarez, known as “La Arana” (The Spider), has built an impressive repertoire in his relatively short career. His relentless pressing, ability to link-up play and scoring ability makes him an asset for his team.
Where it all began
Born to middle-class parents, Alvarez joined the Argentine giant River Plate from Atletico Calchin in 2016.
He scored 23 goals in 57 appearances for the club before securing a move to Premier League champion Manchester City in January 2022, remaining in River Plate on loan till July. He has three goals in 12 appearances for Manchester City.
Alvarez made his senior debut for Argentina on 3 June 2021 in a World Cup qualifier against Chile. He substituted Ángel Di María in the 62nd minute. His first international goal came on 29 March 2022, in a 1–1 draw against Ecuador.
The Messi-Alvarez bond
One of the biggest positives for Argentina in the Qatar World Cup was the symbiotic relationship between Messi and Alvarez.
Their ability to read each other’s game and link-up play was a crucial reason behind the attacking success of Argentina.
It almost reminded of the relationship shared between Diego Maradona and Jorge Valdano in the 1986 World Cup, when Argentina last won a World Cup before 2022. Maradona was the star of the show, but it was the loyal support of Valdano that helped Maradona up his game and propel Argentina to the summit in Mexico.
When it comes to numbers, they are eerily similar, if not identical. Maradona scored five goals in the 1986 World Cup, while Valdano scored four. In the 2022 World Cup, Messi scored seven goals, while Alvarez scored four as well.
From a young age, Alvarez showed values that are hallmarks of a great player if preserved well. He has been praised for his work ethic, especially the way he supported Messi throughout the campaign. This positive attitude, however, did not grow overnight.
“At seven years old he was a very supportive, responsible and studious boy, given to help his companions,” Patricia Magnino, one of Alvarez’s teachers at the Rivera Indarte primary school in Calchin, told AFP. “Now he’s a star, a great, alongside (Lionel) Messi.”
Another of his former teachers, Graciela De Barberis added: “He always stood out for his humility and speaking little. Dreams come true if you work for them.”
Alvarez- a good headache for Pep Guardiola
Alvarez has mainly been restricted to a bench role in Manchester City till now, with first-choice striker Erling Haaland breaking all kinds of records with his goalscoring.
In his 12 appearances for City, the 22-year-old has started in just three and has come off the bench in the other nine.
After becoming a world champion, and that too in a fashionable way, Guardiola has a good headache to deal with. How would he make optimum utilisation of Alvarez? While Haaland has not given Pep any reason to drop him (Scoring 23 goals in 18 appearances), how would Guardiola keep a world champion on the bench who had four goals in the tournament?
Guardiola, in one of his earlier interviews with Sky Sports, had partly hinted as to how he would solve the dilemma.
“They can play together. Against teams that defend so deep, they can share. The good players, they can always play together, and in this squad we have many.”
“If we play with tighter wings, I see [Alvarez] as complementary to Haaland. If we play with more open flanks, not so much.”
It remains to be seen whether Alvarez will predominantly feature from the bench despite a brilliant World Cup or have a more regular role in the City team. But, one thing is for certain – Manchester City might just have found two successors of Sergio Aguero, and one of them lifted the World Cup with him at the Lusail Stadium in Qatar.