Nicolás Miremont –
Darío Benedetto has been a man possessed for Boca Juniors this season. The striker made headlines for scoring plenty of goals, being called up to the national team and also sadly for suffering a horrible injury.
Since the arrival of the evil-looking Barros Schelotto twins Guillermo and Gustavo to Boca Juniors, the local competitions in Argentina have become practically a monologue by the Xeneizes. As a result of some great work by the technical duo, Boca have been the side to beat in Argentina for the past two years. High-pressing football is their mark of distinction, thus monopolising the ball and becoming overwhelming for any rival. This hegemony established by the club from the southern part of the Capital Federal revolves around two factors: the lack of international competition during 2017 and Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s policy of supporting specific players whom he believes have a great future ahead of them if encouraged. He was not wrong, Boca have been top of the league for an entire year now, combining the 2016-17 season and the first portion of the one currently underway.
Several players stand out in the twins’ system. Cristian Pavón presumed Arsenal target and Rodrigo Bentancur, the elegant Uruguayan midfielder already exported to Juventus are two examples. However, none of them can compare to the meteoric rise of Darío Benedetto.
After a slow start which earned him many enemies, the forward managed to release the handbrake and turn into the face of Boca Juniors’ last ever Primera División title, now replaced by the Argentine Superliga. Gifted with a cannon of a right foot and with an exceptional understanding of the game, his input has surpassed the limits of his task as a striker by often playing with the movement of the rival to create chances for his teammates. During 2017, Benedetto scored 23 goals in 25 games (0.92), making him the deadliest striker in South America. This efficiency, combined with his prolific attitude earned him his first call-up for the national team back in October 2017, where he played alongside Lionel Messi and company in the agonic triumph against Ecuador which earned Argentina a ticket to Russia.
Had it not been for his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury in November last year, two things are for certain: he would continue to make the front pages match after match, and many European clubs would have attempted to acquire his services. Nevertheless, Benedetto smiles every time he is put in front of a camera while he recovers, confident and also hungry for more. His experience at the top is only in its most early stages.
It is because of our faith in the striker’s conditions that we believe his return will be even better than all of the previous performances combined. This is why it is time to take a look at what is behind the most efficient striker since the Martín Palermo era.
From Sarandí to Mexico via Jujuy
Born in the borough of Berazategui, Darío Benedetto’s childhood was influenced mainly by football. Due to his geographical condition, the Independiente de Avellaneda youth facilities were almost a necessary stage in life in a city where most children aspire to become professional footballers. It was here that Benedetto took his early steps in the world of football.
His Primera División debut, however, would be much closely linked with Arsenal de Sarandí, the club founded by Argentine football godfather Julio Grondona. It was in Arsenal where Benedetto began to show all he was capable of. Since the day he turned up for his first test, the scouts noticed he already knew what he was supposed to do to perfection, unlike the rest of the aspirants. Impressed by the kid’s performance, they insisted on signing him for the club’s youth ranks despite his skinny shape. Come 2008; a young Benedetto would play his first minutes as a professional in one of the most competitive leagues in the world against Boca Juniors. During the first part of that season, he was mainly used as a substitute late in games and logically his numbers were not the best. After the break that same year, he was barely seen on the pitch until he was sent on loan to Defensa y Justicia in the summer, a move that would shape his career considerably.
Already in the harsh and unforgiving B Nacional, the year-long format of the championship allowed Benedetto to get playing time more often even making it to the starting eleven from time to time. His form once again was not the best, but he earned some valuable experience due to the tricky characteristics of the league. A year later, he was sent on loan again, this time to Gimnasia y Esgrima from the boreal province of Jujuy. It was here that our hero could prove what he was made of. Under the right tactical guidance, the fans witnessed the best version of Benedetto: quick, lethal and resourceful. In Jujuy, Benedetto scored 11 goals in 19 games for el Lobo jujeño, which earned him a second chance at Arsenal.
At the beginning of the 2011-12 season, Benedetto was already back at his alma mater, although it was not until April that he earned some consistent playing time. Curiously enough, Benedetto was an integral part of the Arsenal side that won the Torneo Final 2012, Supercopa 2013 and the Copa Argentina 2013. Such feat was something many had to rub their eyes before believing and indeed a fascinating story in the entire professional era. Managed by Gustavo Alfaro, a living legend for Arsenal who has fond memories of the striker, Benedetto scored ten goals in 34 games across three competitions, kissed his first trophies and became a person of interest for the wealthy Mexican market.
The 2013-14 season finds our hero much further up north in the globe, particularly in Tijuana. Over the course of 50 games, Benedetto hit the back of the net 23 times and assisted ten, although not winning titles what resulted in him being transferred to the mighty Club América halfway through the season. With las Águilas Benedetto would reach the best form of his career – up to this point.
His time at América can be described as bittersweet. In his first semester at the club not only did he play 15 Clausura games and scored five goals but he also was vital in América’s CONCACAF Champions League campaign, in which he scored seven goals in three games. First, he put four past Herediano and assisted once to turn around the adverse result of a 3-0 in the semifinal in Costa Rica. Then he scored a hat-trick in the memorable final against the Montreal Impact, who were giving América a hard time until Benedetto came to the rescue. The following season kicked off right as it had ended for the Argentine, recording eight goals in 13 Apertura games. Going into 2016, however, his level of form dropped considerably and so did his presence in the starting eleven. Lack of goals, injuries and the stigma of not winning a single Liga MX title diminished his contribution to the team and slowly ended up damaging his relationship with the fans.
By the end of the 2016 Apertura, it was clear that Benedetto’s days at América were numbered. In spite of this, he remained an important part of the team in particular instances like the final of that year’s CONCACAF Champions League, where he scored as América beat Tigres to lift their second trophy in as many years. Amazingly, even having won two continental titles and having registered 26 goals and 11 assists in 61 games, Benedetto’s time at América has been qualified as “failure”, “grey” and “disappointing”. This appreciation puts into evidence what the priorities are in Mexican football due to how effortlessly their teams have won the last twelve editions of the CONCACAF Champions League – four times with unbeaten records. The Liga MX title is not only more challenging but also more profitable, and winning it is a constant demand.
After his ambiguous experience in Mexico, Benedetto’s future looked uncertain until the club of his childhood Boca Juniors came in desperate need for a striker. He did not hesitate.
A dream come true: Esto es Boca
It is Benedetto’s fourth game as a Boca Juniors player, and he still cannot score at the mythical La Bombonera. The supporters are starting to worry, and the sceptical presume how right they were in the first place claiming the man was a fraud, questioning his unremarkable trajectory and suggesting that Boca’s shirt might be too big for him. As the chatter goes on, six minutes into the first half Boca are already advancing, and a low cross is sent from the left by Jonathan Silva. The ball somehow skips both attackers and defenders in the box and makes it to the right side of the pitch through everyone’s legs, where Gino Peruzzi makes use of inertia to power another low cross, this time in the opposite direction. The ball hit low and hard, travels at great speed until its trajectory is slightly deviated by one of Benedetto’s signature moves: the backheel. He turns around to check if this time things had turned out in his favour. After he realised that the ball had gone in, synchronised with the crowd’s sudden ‘GOL’ shout he runs in an uncertain direction looking for a way to release his euphoria. The first goal had come, and it would be the first of many.
Minutes later after the first goal, Quilmes equalise. The long faces make a return to the stands as the happiness of Benedetto’s curse ending had lasted less than ten minutes. Exactly five minutes after that, Boca launches a quick counterattack with a long pass towards Benedetto, who controls and turns towards the objective. He has got no-one near, and he is considerably far, away from goal, yet the closest defender is not close enough to stop him from lining up an incredibly powerful effort from 30 meters out. The ball is sent at full speed onto the top left corner. At the stadium, there is a moment of silence, and then it turns into a deafening scream. Benedetto’s goals had finally arrived plus interests.
Darío Benedetto’s debut goal would end in a fantastic hat-trick, but not before assisting Ricardo Centurión with a backheel inside the box.
After a difficult debut at one of the biggest clubs in the world, Benedetto was highly questioned by supporters and media alike. Even though the elimination against underdogs Independiente del Valle in the Copa Libertadores did not make things any easier, the truth is that his debut was not auspicious at all nor did it seem to justify the investment made for his services. Desperately in need of a number nine, Boca somehow managed to survive with improvised adaptations such as Carlos Tévez fighting all by himself up front while also trying to connect with the ball using his head. This situation could not go on for any longer, however, spending $5 million on a striker coming from Mexico raised several eyebrows – especially considering such sum constitutes a significant effort in South America. Of course, after that hat-trick, no one has ever dared to question Benedetto again. It was the beginning of a fantastic relationship between him and the scoresheet.
As said above, his relationship with the supporters went from cold to warm. Weekend after weekend Benedetto kept scoring and putting up fantastic performances for everyone to enjoy. Also, his attitude played a significant role in this reconciliation with the fans. You just cannot hate a man who has the crest tattooed on the side of his torso. “Esto es Boca”, the famous legend says. Indeed, this is Boca, but sometimes even that is not enough. The fact that Benedetto took a wage cut and put a million dollars in his pocket to make the transfer happen was very well received by those who did not believe in him at first. Soon, scoring in La Bombonera became a routine for him, although he celebrated every single goal as if it had been his first one. In this season and a half, Benedetto did things only confidence can make you try.
According to his managers from back in the day, “no one trains quite as hard as him”. Indeed the results are visible on the pitch. Over the course of 24 games, his 20 goals catapulted Boca Juniors to their 66th title, scoring in crucial matches where his goals made the difference, for example when he scored against Huracán and immediately turned to Carlos Tévez making an “I only needed one chance” gesture with his finger. Boca had played awfully that day and his goal made the, difference between victory and disappointment. As mentioned, the exotic frontman has a full set of resources at his disposal. Not only can he shoot from long range, but he can also control in tight spaces using both his feet and the defenders’ movement. Benedetto’s quality even allows him to be a man of the match without even scoring, something we do not see every day. With hard work and the proper motivation, he not only became the best striker in South America in 2017, but he also was the chosen one to play alongside Messi against Ecuador in the crucial final World Cup Qualifying round. Even though he could not score that day, many insist that his work as a reference up front as well as his dummy runs allowed Messi and company to display their football comfortably.
If you feel like watching eleven minutes of goals with commentators screaming, here are Benedetto’s 37 goals sporting the yellow stripe across his chest:
Tragedy and early retirement
Probably most of our readers have played football (or soccer) at least once. Football has the ability to open many doors upon adulthood. However, most of the times life goes on without significant obstacles that shape our path by force. This is not the case of Darío Benedetto, whose 12-year-old mind had to cope with the worst tragedy imaginable.
Back in 2002, a young Benedetto was still a small percentage of the man I am portraying with words today. Already with a winning mentality, his team had reached the final of the Evita National Games, an initiative started in 1948 designed to promote ethical values through individual and team-based sports, allowing children from 10 to 18 to participate all over the country. The big day had arrived, Darío was on the pitch and had brought with him an exceptional guest to witness the event: his mother, Alicia. Probably moments before winning the match, life made clear that it had other plans. Apparently, because of how nervous she was, Alicia suffered a cardiorespiratory infarction in the stands and passed away in hospital. It was a life-changing event for the young talent, who immediately quit football.
Four long years had to pass until Benedetto was convinced by his family to unbox his boots again. In the meantime, his life had been somewhat different to the presence of a typical teenager. After abandoning high school, his father taught him the value of the profession by taking him to the construction site where he earned his living as one of the many masons. When he was not laying bricks, Benedetto made his first incursions into the musical world with his brother. Together they were “Los del Pato”, a cumbia villera band – the typical genre originated in the slums of Argentina. With all these activities and responsibilities to keep him entertained, it would not have been strange if he never played football again. However, his ambitious mind and the memory of his mother apparently changed his mind, even against his will.
Pushed by his family formed by his father, his three siblings and a grandmother that fulfilled the role of a mother for years, Benedetto decided to give football another shot. It was not because he wanted to, but rather because it had been his mother’s dream to see him become the footballer he was always destined to be. It was because of this that he turned up at the Arsenal test that day twelve years ago.
His life has not been comfortable. Benedetto, from humble upbringing, had to cope with the loss of his mother and work from an early age. Still, he impressed from the beginning, even when his day was not exclusively available for football since he still had to help his father every now and then. With great effort, he managed to train efficiently despite being late for practice several times and even not turning up at all whenever he was needed at the construction sites. Today, every Boca Juniors fan is crossing the days off in the calendar until his return. Some dreams take a little longer to materialise, but with ambition, hard work (literally) and most importantly people who believe in you everyone has a chance.
What is next for Darío Benedetto?
His first season at his beloved club earned him a massive contract and an armoured release clause of 21 million dollars, devised by the club to keep the striker for at least one more year. Benedetto is Boca’s best weapon upon the start of the Copa Libertadores in February this year. Already a month into his rehabilitation, his return is not expected until March. The saddest part about this is that except a miracle happens, he is not even a candidate for the World Cup squad anymore. He might not be going to Russia, but surely life has something special prepared for him. After all, his dream of playing for Boca came at a late stage in his life. Benedetto’s career is far from over at his peak, and as far as I’m concerned, this will not be the last World Cup we get to enjoy.
Eventually, his European future will become impossible to postpone. Before his nasty injury, both Sevilla and Borussia Dortmund inquired about the 27-year-old. In the meantime, he must focus to recover as soon as possible to help Boca win the seventh Copa Libertadores, which will feature no less than sixteen former champions.
It is not the first time he has been put in an adverse situation during his professional career. Until now, he has always come out victorious against the wicked turns of his life. Whatever it is that the excellent order of things puts in front of him, Benedetto will answer with goals, never forgetting to take a couple of extra seconds from his celebration to look up to the skies of whatever city he scores in and send a kiss to the eternal memory of his mother who roots for him from above.
Nicolás Miremont is a student living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. As a football melancholic, Nico has a very fond memory of the simpler times in the game, resulting in a troubled relationship with the globalisation and capitalisation of the sport. Also a confessed football hipster, his heart is divided between Boca Juniors, the Seattle Sounders, Zenit Saint Petersburg and a few others. While he struggles to decide between pursuing civil engineering or social studies, he intends to publish original content on the more abstract side of Argentine and South American football that of feelings and social impact combining his three passions: football, politics and writing. Follow him on Twitter @Kerzhakovista.