Scouting South America: Finding the Continent’s Most Creative Young Players Using Data

6

South America has long been a hotspot for football talent. The passion for the game, combined with the climate and economic environment, contribute to creating almost the perfect melting pot for the development of exciting young football players. Indeed, some of the most creative players in World football now come from South America.

In this article, we will look to provide some insight into the next wave of South American youngsters. In order to create our three-man shortlist for this article, we have used a bespoke metric that is simply named ‘creativity’, which is found by weighting key creative data points from within the data provided by Wyscout. This includes the likes of xA per 90, key passes per 90 and through passes per 90, as well as a couple more. As with any data point, however, this only gives us an insight into where to look in terms of players, and any player who performs well in this metric will have to be watched more closely to assess ability and potential.  

We have deliberately stayed away from some of the better-known young players currently in South America in order to spotlight some interesting young talent that is somewhat less well-known. All of the players that we have identified for the basis of this article are still currently playing in South America, with two in Argentina and one in Brazil.

Hernan Lopez Munoz, 23 years old, Godoy Cruz and Argentina

The first player on our list is the 23-year-old Argentinean attacking midfielder Hernan Lopez Munoz of Godoy Cruz. The 23-year-old attacking player is a product of the youth academy at River Plate, and after a previous loan spell at Central Cordoba, he moved to Godoy Cruz on loan at the start of this season. While this loan spell was due to finish at the end of 2023, there is already a deal in place to take Munoz to Godoz Cruz on a permanent deal for a fee reported to be less than £1M.

Munoz is comfortable playing on either wing or as a 10, where he will tuck in behind the striker and act as a support player to the forward. As you can see from his pizza chart above, he is in the 95th percentile for dribbles per 90, which gives an immediate insight into his style of play and his tendencies in possession. He is an attacking player who thrives when he can take possession of the ball and drive at the opposition defenders. He is a player who is comfortable attacking opposition defenders on either the inside or the outside.

As you can see from the chart showing Munoz’s penetrating carries in the Argentinean top flight, he is perhaps more prone to carrying the ball from the right side of the pitch, and his positioning and ability to break through the opposition lines from the right half-space is extremely impressive.

As an attacking player, he tends to have a greater impact for his team in the final third. He has the ability to get possession and to beat a defender 1v1 to open out the game and create space. Still, he also has the vision and technical ability to break the line to put teammates into space behind the defensive line.

In this example, we see a typical example of the kind of position where Munoz tries to pick up possession of the ball. He is extremely dangerous in moments of transition like this because of his ability to carry the ball with power and pace. He tends to display a fundamental understanding of space, and here we see Munoz drive centrally as he attracts defenders towards the ball.

In these situations, one of the most impressive aspects of Munoz’s game is that he judges the point to release the pass well. He is a player who will typically look for a pass to put teammates through and into space.

We see that aspect of his game in this second match image as Munoz initially takes possession of the ball on the edge of the penalty area. As he engages the defender and drives into the penalty area, the space opens up, and he could well have taken on a shot himself. Instead, he drives to the space and then squares the ball across goal for an easy finish for his teammates.

The fact that Godoy Cruz have finalised the signing of Munoz for less than £1M should be something of a surprise for many. Munoz has the skill set to play in Europe, but in truth, he may well become one of those players who stays in Argentina for the bulk of his career and creates multiple chances for teammates.

Pedro de la Vega, 22 years old, Lanus and Argentina

Next up, we have another young attacking midfielder from the Argentinean top-flight in, the 22-year-old Pedro de la Vega of Lanus. While Munoz was more of an all-around attacking threat, he tended to drift De la Vega, which is more likely to be found playing out in the wide areas.

De la Vega is a product of the youth academy at Lanus, and he has represented Argentina up to U23 level. Interestingly, he also has an Italian passport, meaning he would not take a non-eu spot in a squad if he was to move to Europe and join an Italian team. As you can see from De la Vega’s pizza chart, he is well-balanced in terms of his profile. He is in the 81st percentile for dribbles per 90 and the 72nd percentile for shots per 90.

Once again, penetrating carries are an interesting visual metric when thinking about creatively attacking players. You can clearly see in this instance that De la Vega is a player who drifts from his position on the wing and who can take the ball from either flank to attack inside and into the penalty area.

De la Vega is an attacking player who can carry the ball from deeper areas. His ability to carry the ball and keep the ball close as he moves in possession allows him to attack deep into the opposition area.

De la Vega is an extremely dangerous ball carrier who has a turn of pace and the ability to slow the defender down before accelerating away into space. In this image, we see an example of that as De la Vega comes across to the near side to receive the ball from a teammate.

As he receives the ball wide in this example, he slows his movement down, forcing the immediate defender to slow down with him. The attacker then accelerates quickly through a dynamic movement and moves away down the wide space before crossing accurately into the area.

Once again, we see how dangerous De la Vega is when carrying the ball through the thirds of the pitch. He has taken possession deeper in this match before driving all of the way through to the edge of the opposition area. This causes opposition defenders to collapse on the ball as they look to stop the attacker from breaking through. De la Vega, however, has the quality to judge the correct moment to release the ball to a teammate in space.

There is every chance that De la Vega will make the move to Europe sooner rather than later. He has a profile that fits perfectly with the general style of play in Italy, and with his Italian passport, he will be even more valuable to teams in Serie A.

Gabriel Pec, 22 years old, Vasco da Gama and Brazil

The third and final player on our list is the 22-year-old Brazilian attacker Gabriel Pec of Vasco da Gama. The young attacker is a naturally left-footed winger comfortable playing from the right of the attack as he looks to receive the ball and then attack from outside to inside. Pec is a product of the youth academy of Vasco da Gama, and he has been involved with the Brazilian national setup at the U20 level, although he has yet to make an appearance for them.

Pec has an interesting profile, as you can see from his pizza chart. He is in the 72nd percentile for goal contributions, the 77th percentile for expected goal contributions and the 79th percentile for shots per 90. Interestingly, as you can see, he is also very active defensively, and he is in the 73rd percentile for defensive duels per 90 and the 77th percentile for defensive duel win %.

Once again we can use penetrating carries to visualise the level of danger that an attacking midfielder creates around the opposition goal. As you can see from this chart, Pec is more of a threat from the right side of the pitch, although there are times when he does switch across to play from the left side.

He is a dangerous ball carrier with good vision and the ability to find the final pass to put teammates through and behind the defensive line.

You see the vision on the ball from Pec in this example. Two defenders immediately face him up as they look to take away his ability to cut inside, and as he is faced up, it creates a chance for a teammate to run behind.

As the fullback makes this quick inverted movement, Pec flicks the ball over the defenders with a well-judged pass that releases his teammate into space to attack towards goal.

This time, we see Pec working on the near side, the left wing. As he drives in possession, he attracts defensive players towards him, and he ends up surrounded effectively by three defenders. As they look to get close, though, he produces a quick piece of skill to flick the ball between his legs and allow him to cut inside.

Pec is a player with a Portuguese passport, so he will not count as ‘non-EU’ should he make the move to Europe. He is a player who profiles as a good fit for a move to Spain or Portugal, and we would not be surprised to see him make that move sooner rather than later.

Conclusion

South America has always been one of the most talent-rich and diverse regions in terms of youth development. The continent produces players with flair and imagination, as well as those with the mentality of looking to take on and beat defenders repeatedly.

By using data, we can quickly identify players in markets like South America, allowing us to quickly start the scouting process.

Source: Total Football Analysis