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Gianluca Prestianni: Argentina's teenage record-breaker earning Messi comparisons

9:00 pm AEST 26/7/22
Gianluca Prestianni NXGN GFX

Lionel Messi is as unique a footballer as you can get. His genius is basically unmatched within the modern game, and it will take a truly special player to replicate the individual prizes he has accumulated over his career. But there is one thing he shares with a number of other players, particularly those in his native Argentina: his nickname.

Messi has been known as 'La Pulga (The Flea)' since he was coming through the ranks at Newell's Old Boys before joining Barcelona. It is a common name given to players in South America, used to describe small, skilful and elusive forwards whose movements are almost indecipherable.

And the latest player to be bestowed the moniker could well end up wearing Messi's famous No.10 shirt for the Argentina national side in the years to come.

Despite having only just turned 16 in January, Gianluca Prestianni has already been linked with a host of Europe's biggest clubs, including Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea and AC Milan.

The youngest player in Velez Sarsfield history when he came off the bench to make his debut in the Copa Libertadores against Estudiantes in May, Prestianni has it all to become a true superstar.

Born in the city of Ciudadela in Greater Buenos Aires, Prestianni began his footballing education at his local youth side before being spotted at a young age by Velez scouts.

Enrolled into the same academy system that produced the likes of Diego Simeone, Nicolas Otamendi and Jonas Gutierrez, it soon became clear that Prestianni was too good to play alongside boys of his own age.

He would dominate matches playing off the left-hand side, thriving in tight spaces while cutting inside to pose a goal threat, and was soon making his way into the club's reserve side.

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It is with that reserve side that he currently spends most of his time, despite having impressed during his three first-team appearances to date, and barely a week goes by where he does not find the net at least once for Velez's back-ups.

"We raise them so that they can keep exceeding expectations," Guillermo Morigi, Velez's youth coordinator, told Ole when discussing Prestianni's development.

"In the case of Gianluca, we saw he was physically up to the task of playing in the reserves, and he was performing well, so it was an interesting idea. He has carried on like that, though he still has a lot to learn, and is willing to do so."

One of the things Prestianni may need to work on more than most is controlling his temper.

Having starred for Argentina's Under-17s in their run to the final of the prestigious 2022 Montiagu Tournament in France, Prestianni and his team-mates were beaten in the final by a Brazil side boasting Palmeiras wonderkids Endrick and Luis Guilherme.

At full-time, the latter could be seen in a heated discussion with Prestianni, that boiled over into a full-scale brawl between the opposing teams that required interventions from both sets of coaches to stop.

As pictures of the fight made their way online, Prestianni was criticised for his involvement, and ensuring something similar does not happen again is all part of his development into a professional.

Technically, Prestianni is already a professional, having signed his first contract in April, though becoming a regular first-team player is a little way off yet, even with Velez being a club that leans more heavily on its academy talent than many others in South America.

One thing that is for certain, though, is that the teenager has the ability to make it to the very top once he does complete that breakout into the senior ranks.

"He is fast, powerful and has a very good understanding of the game," Morigi said. "Where he differs from the rest and is special is with his ability in one-on-one situations."

Sounds a lot like the most famous 'La Pulga' in Argentine football history. No player can truly be Messi's heir, but Prestianni has the chance to get as close as anyone.

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