The voyage will be delayed — first comes the South American Under-23 Championship in Venezuela between Jan. 20 and Feb. 11 — but as far as Boca Juniors are concerned, Valentín Barco has sailed. One of the most exciting talents in South America, 19-year-old Barco is on his way to Brighton & Hove Albion in the Premier League.
Boca Juniors developed the player from the age of nine, had a quick look at him in the first team in 2021 when he was just 16, and then had a few brief months to enjoy him last year. And now the relationship has come to an abrupt close.
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Barco is a young man in a hurry. He has grown up with dreams of testing himself in top-class European football. There has been plenty of interest over the last few months, and when Brighton showed that they were serious, he had no doubts. His release clause was a mere $10 million. It was about to go up to $14m, but it appears that he was so anxious to make himself attractive to his suitor that he forced the move through before the increase came into effect.
He is joining a bright and ambitious club with a solid recent track record in bringing over youngsters from South America. Brighton have pioneered the current model in England. They have done it first and they have done it well — coach Roberto De Zerbi’s squad contains the likes of Facundo Buonanotte and Julio Enciso, plus South Americans signed from elsewhere in Europe such as João Pedro and Pervis Estupiñán.
And then, of course, there are the players that they brought across the Atlantic and moved on at a massive profit — such as Moisés Caicedo ($146m) and — the example that may well be clearest in the mind of Barco, his compatriot, fellow redhead and former Boca Juniors player Alexis Mac Allister ($63m).
Brighton have clearly acquired the know-how in helping their new signings bed in off the field. And they have also been astute in finding positions for players in a style of football that is faster and more intense than that practised in South America. Mac Allister, for example, came as a player who liked to feature as a No. 10, but it was unlikely that he had the pace or physicality to fill the role in England. He was moved deeper, and to great effect.
So what will the club seek to do with Barco? The little flame-haired figure began his career as a left-back. Boca ended up moving him forward, and Brighton are likely to do the same, because it is hard to imagine him operating as an orthodox left-back in the Premier League — unless, he is set free, in the style that Ange Postecoglou is applying at Tottenham Hotspur.
Barco is an elusive player running with the ball. Boca ended up using him from the left wing rather than on it, capitalising on his capacity to cut infield and combine — and he forged an interesting relationship with veteran centre-forward Edinson Cavani. And his left foot is excellent, capable of generating surprising power, and an asset from set pieces.
There are, of course, considerable risks in this model of bringing young players across to England at such an early stage of their careers. It only took Barco a few weeks in 2022 to establish himself as one of the most important members of the Boca Juniors line-up.
Now, he will be one more in a deep squad, fighting for attention and with the risk of losing momentum if things do not go well. But the young man clearly believes in himself and his ability to dribble round the pitfalls and the icebergs of the frozen north. For Valentín Barco, it is full steam ahead.