Cristian Medina: Boca Juniors’ rabona-loving wonderkid earning European interest
Making the grade at a club the size of Boca Juniors is a difficult enough task in itself, with only the very best able to force their way into the first-team picture at La Bombonera.
So for a player who only turned 19 in June to have 37 senior Boca appearances to his name already suggests that he has the potential to become something special.
Those statistics belong to Cristian Medina, who has emerged as a shining light in Buenos Aires over the course of 2021, with many onlookers hopeful that he will go on to become the future of Argentina’s midfield.
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He has already taken a step closer to doing that, too, after he was one of a handful of teenagers to be called up by Albiceleste boss Lionel Scaloni to his squad for November’s World Cup qualifiers.
Alongside the likes of club mate Exequiel Zeballos and promising Juventus forward Matias Soule, Medina got the chance to train with the likes of Lionel Messi, Paulo Dybala and Lautaro Martinez, as well as the player he models his game on, Paris Saint-Germain’s Leandro Paredes.
“I watched him when he was at Boca,” Medina said. “I looked at the passing ability he had, which was very strong. I really like that about him.
“He also has good positional sense and is calm. I pay attention to that a lot.”
Though Paredes may not strike everyone as the most inspiring of footballing idols, Medina has certainly used the lessons he learned from watching the former Roma man to good effect so far.
A Buenos Aires native, Medina was enrolled into the Boca academy at the age of 10 after impressing scouts at a trial held at his local club, El Rayo.
Medina was one of around 2,000 boys who took part in the trial, and it was clear to those watching that he was above the rest in terms of both his ability and his character.
“He had a lot of individual technique, great one-v-one skills, speed, and he dribbled past everyone,” Diego Mazzilli, who was one of the Boca scouts watching that day, tells Goal.
“He was very elegant in his play, and strong too, withstanding kicks from boys who timed their tackles badly when they tried to get the ball from him.”
Medina originally started life at Boca as a winger playing off the right side, but was gradually moved more centrally, with that knowledge of different positions on the pitch having helped him build excellent positional awareness, both for himself and his teammates.
“I feel comfortable playing as a number eight, five or 10. It is indistinct for me,” the teenager said in a recent interview, with Medina having played the bulk of his matches in the first team as a box-to-box central midfielder.
He was regularly likened to fellow Boca academy graduates and Argentina midfielders Fernando Gago and Ever Banega when coming through the ranks, and Medina has already tasted success on the international stage having been part of the Argentina squad that won both the 2017 South American U15 Championships and the U17 equivalent two years later.
“He is very thoughtful, he gives the team that moment to pause with his movement,” explained former Argentina U20s coach Fernando Batista. “He is the player who looks for those free and intelligent spaces on the field.”
Medina’s professional debut came in February 2021 as a 70th-minute substitute against Gimnasia, though he did not truly begin to earn rave reviews until a strong showing in just his fourth start against River Plate in March’s Superclasico.
Medina certainly seems to enjoy playing against Boca’s hated rivals from across the Argentine capital, as he also provided an assist for Carlos Tevez when the teams met in May, while back in 2018 the youngster scored a stunning rabona in a youth-team match between the clubs — a skill he has tried to replicate on occasion during his first months at senior level.
He backed up his strong early performances in the first team by scoring his first professional goal against Atletico Tucuman in April, before putting in a Man of the Match-worthy display on his Copa Libertadores debut against The Strongest four days later, completing 100 percent of his passes at over 3,500 metres above sea level in Bolivia.
At the time, he formed one third of a midfield trio that had Boca fans purring, as Medina joined fellow homegrown youngsters Alan Valera and Agustin Almendra in what was christened “the MVA.”
And though his minutes during the second half of the season have dropped somewhat, there is no doubt that Medina has made an excellent impression during his first season as a pro.
“He is now very intelligent in the way he plays,” Mazzilli says. “He knows when to take just one touch or when he can start carrying the ball vertically so as to break the lines of the opposition.
“He takes good care of the ball and has a very good and varied passing range.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, rumours of offers from European clubs have begun to emerge, with PSV and Zenit — whom Paredes played for between 2017-19 — having been mooted as being interested in the 19-year-old.
The Russian outfit have reportedly even made an offer of just over €6 million (£5 million/$7 million) for Medina, but Boca are holding out for more than double that, with their asking price closer to €13m (£11 million/$15 million).
It seems inevitable, however, that Medina will become the latest in a long line of midfield talents to fly the Boca nest in the not-too-distant future.
He has already proven himself worthy of walking in the footsteps of some of the club’s very best academy graduates — now he is ready to take the next step.
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