Few up-and-coming forwards in European club soccer are as promising as 22-year-old Santiago Giménez.
In 2023, the Argentine-born Mexico international set a record for Eredivisie goals (31) in a calendar year, helped secure a league title in his first season with Feyenoord, and became the first Mexican to score twice on his UEFA Champions League debut.
Named as 2023’s Player of the Year by Dutch soccer magazine Voetbal International, the prolific striker has seen his stock rise exponentially as plenty of high-profile clubs across Europe have shown reported interest in his talents.
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And if you don’t believe the hype, just ask Feyenoord themselves, who already produced a documentary about the young player who arrived from Liga MX’s Cruz Azul less than two years ago.
𝐎𝐟𝐟𝐢𝐜𝐢𝐚𝐥 𝐭𝐫𝐚𝐢𝐥𝐞𝐫: GIMENEZ
11.01.2024 Feyenoord ONE
También en PPV en México a partir del 1 de febrero pic.twitter.com/0attRgMi7m
— Feyenoord Rotterdam (@Feyenoord) January 10, 2024
Gimenez is looking like he could be the next big thing from the Concacaf region, but back home, worries are beginning to grow from Mexican national team fans who are all asking the same question: Why isn’t he finding the back of the net for his country?
With only four goals in 24 Mexico appearances since his 2021 international debut and just two goals from 15 appearances last year, why hasn’t Gimenez scored at the same rate with El Tri?
Using data provided to ESPN from TruMedia/StatsPerform, we’ll attempt to answer that question using statistical and contextual background on Gimenez in 2023. Looking ahead, we’ll also analyze if worries should continue in the new year and highlight how things could change for the better with Mexico.
Note: Touch-by-touch data for the single-leg Johan Cruyff Shield (Dutch Super Cup) is not available.
Goal machine for club, but for country
Here’s a quick recap and summary of how things went goal-scoring-wise for Gimenez with Feyenoord and Mexico in 2023.
With Feyenoord, as mentioned earlier with what he’s contributed and accomplished, no complaints could be made about the striker that scored 37 times in 49 appearances from all competitions. In the 2023-24 Eredivisie season, the player was lights out during the first half of the tournament, providing 18 goals in 16 regular season matches in 2023.
Mexico though? The same can’t be said with two goals in his 15 international appearances. While he averaged a goal every 101.9 minutes with Feyenoord in 2023, with Mexico, that ratio of goals was significantly different at a rate of one per 344.5 minutes with El Tri.
Notably, he didn’t score in his last six national team appearances either, leading to the frustration that has been building with Mexico’s fans who have watched him miss crucial opportunities in the final third, which includes a failure to score two penalties last year.
It’s understandable why anxiety is growing when simply looking at whether he has scored or not, but it’s also important to understand the deeper context of Gimenez’s goal-scoring issues with the national team.
Location, location, location
When poring over the club vs. country data on Gimenez, such as a similarity in touches (once every 2.9 minutes with Feyenoord, once every 2.8 minutes with Mexico), what stood out was where exactly the striker tends to be situated on the pitch.
In a Feyenoord system where it’s a priority for him to be up top as much as possible, Gimenez had 8.2 touches in the opposition box per 90 minutes with his club, while with Mexico he averaged 6.0 touches.
Looking deeper down the field in a Mexico setup, where he was expected to be more involved in the buildup of plays, Gimenez averaged more touches in the defensive third of the field (once every 49.2 minutes with Mexico, vs. once every 61.8 minutes with Feyenoord), and the middle third (once every 6.4 minutes with Mexico, vs. once every 8.9 minutes with Feyenoord).
Unsurprisingly, this means that in the attacking third he’s averaged more touches for club (once every 4.7 minutes with Feyenoord) than for country (once every 5.9 minutes with Mexico). Taking a wider perspective, Feyenoord also had more of the ball in the 18-yard box in 2023, averaging 37.4 touches in the opposition’s box per game, as opposed to Mexico averaging 26.5.
Keeping all that in mind, this could explain why his average shot rate is slightly higher for club (one shot every 23.0 minutes with Feyenoord) over country (one shot every 29.9 minutes with Mexico). Expending more energy in the build-up and with fewer touches in the opposition box could also highlight why he hit the target less often with Mexico (34.8%) than with Feyenoord (44.7%).
Keep on keeping on
If El Tri manager Jaime “Jimmy” Lozano is seeking to get the best of his striker, there’s the option of letting Gimenez play higher up the field with Mexico and attempting to work the ball more often into the 18-yard box, but the real answer might not be the most exciting one: Just keep going.
Gimenez is still putting himself in decent positions with his shot rate, which points to him likely finding the back of the net more often with Mexico. At the national team level, goalkeepers also seem to be doing a better job shutting down the player, as opposed to the Eredivisie and European club goalkeepers that have had a role in Gimenez’s +5.6 Goals Above Expected tally (37 goals scored, 31.4 xG in 2023) with Feyenoord.
With Mexico, his Goals Above Expected tally was at -3.1 (2 goals scored, 5.1 xG in 2023). The context of Gimenez, a 22-year-old with only 24 international caps, is also important to note.
In a post-Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez era for the Mexican national team, Gimenez has been part of a rotating cast of No. 9’s for El Tri that has included Fulham’s Raúl Jiménez and Club America’s Henry Martín. His Mexico teammates have begun to finally adjust to him in recent months, and as for Lozano, the head coach has needed an adjustment period after earning the position last summer.
Also, had Gimenez scored the two penalties that he missed in 2023, there probably wouldn’t have been any real controversy or serious worries about the striker who would have then doubled his goal tally last year.
At the risk of possibly belittling the statistical information that has been analyzed and pored over, there’s also the elephant in the room regarding all this information, which is sample size. It’s likely unfair to make sweeping statements about Gimenez based on a small total of 689 minutes of play in 2023 for Mexico. Were we to divide that up by 90-minute periods, we’re essentially looking at data from 7.65 matches from the striker.
And in his defense, when we’ve been given more data to analyze in his club appearances (3,769 minutes with Feyenoord in 2023), the wider information has shown that it’s likely only a matter of time before more goals follow for one of the most brilliant young strikers in world soccer.