Valentin Carboni: Argentina's 'next Dybala' rejected Liverpool and Juventus before starring at Inter

Valentin Carboni NXGN GFX
The 17-year-old forward has already played in Serie A and the Champions League, as well as having trained with the Albiceleste senior squad.

Lionel Messi stands on the verge of immortality. The seven-time Ballon d'Or winner is 90 minutes away from finally getting his hands on the World Cup, a trophy that should confirm his status as the greatest footballer to have ever played the game (for most people, anyway).

Of course, winning a World Cup final is never easy, and there is no certainty that Messi will be lifting the biggest prize in world football on Sunday given the strength of the France team his Argentina side will be facing.

What we do know for certain, though, is that the final will be Messi's final appearance at a World Cup, with the Paris Saint-Germain star having confirmed that he does not expect to play in the 2026 edition, during which he will celebrate his 39th birthday.

Thoughts will soon, then, turn to the future for the Albiceleste, and how they go about challenging for more silverware without their talisman.

A new generation will need to rise, and one of those around whom there is hope is Valentin Carboni, who has already had a taste of training alongside Messi for the national team.

Currently on the fringes of the Inter first team, Carboni has been spoken about as a potentially top talent for a few years at San Siro, and the hope is that he will be a household name by the time Argentina are next naming a World Cup squad.

But what makes the 17-year-old so special? Let NXGN explain...

  1. Where it all began

    The son of a footballer – former Red Bull Salzburg and Catania midfielder Ezequiel 'Kely' Carboni – Valentin was enrolled into the academy of another of his father's previous clubs, Lanus, at an early age.

    He was joined there by his older brother, Franco, who told NXGN of their upbringing: "My brother and I used to accompany my dad, who used to play there. We used to kick the ball in the stadium stands when we were kids, and then joined the academy.

    "When we were kids, we 'killed' each other in the living room in one-on-ones to see who won! I always won, but only because I was older."

    Valentin spent six years in the Lanus academy before in 2019, at the age of 14, he and his family left Argentina to move to Italy after his father accepted a coaching job back at Catania.

    That was not before he got the chance to meet Messi for the first time...

  2. The big break
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    The big break

    Valentin and Franco were both enrolled into the Catania academy following the move to Italy, and it was not long before the former was catching the eye of coaches and scouts alike.

    Speaking to NXGN, Catania's former chief scout, Mario Marino, recalls accompanying Carboni to the Coverciano Christmas Tournament, an annual competition that pitches the best Under-15s footballers in the country against one another: "In heavy rain, he really put on a show."

    Soon, both Carboni brothers were in demand, with clubs from around Europe showing an interest.

    “Liverpool were already following Valentin when he was in Argentina and they tried to sign him," Marino says. "They offered a lot of money to get him.

    "The family also rejected Juventus, who wanted both Valentin and Franco, and instead accepted Inter's offer.

    "There were many offers and we wanted to sell them as a pair. The presence of many Argentines at Inter influenced the decision, which was a choice made by the whole family."

    Inter paid a combined €300,000 (£260,000/$320,000) to bring the Carboni boys to Milan, and Valentin has gone from strength to strength since making the move.

  3. How it's going

    Carboni netted on his debut for Inter's U16s in a 4-0 win over Verona in October 2020, before scoring again the following week in the derby against AC Milan.

    It was not until the following season that he began to rise through the age-groups, however, as he started the campaign in the U17s before being promoted to the U18s and then the Primavera (U19s) team that went onto lift the national title.

    Carboni was voted the league's 'Revelation of the Year' by television channel SportItalia, while his form was rewarded with a surprise call-up to the senior Argentina squad in March 2022.

    Though he has 11 caps for Italy's U17s, the chance to potentially play for the country of his birth and train alongside the likes of Messi was too good an opportunity to turn down, and he joined a number of other teenage dual-nationals, including his brother Franco and Manchester United forward Alejandro Garnacho, in the squad.

    He has gone on to make his Argentina U20s debut, and is now a fully-fledged member of the Inter first-team squad, even if he drops down to the Primavera team so as to ensure he still gets minutes under his belt.

    Carboni made his Serie A debut in October as a late substitute against Roma, and backed that up by making his Champions League bow a month later when he was brought off the bench against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena.

  4. Biggest strengths
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    Biggest strengths

    A left-footed No.10, Carboni possesses superb close control, allowing him to operate between the lines and handle pressure from opposition defenders with relative ease.

    He has an excellent shot, while his eye for a pass is exceptional, allowing him to play searching through-balls and create goalscoring opportunities for his team-mates.

    He has also shown an ability to take on defenders in one-on-one situations, whether playing in his preferred central role or on the right-hand side, where he can be a real goal threat by cutting inside.

  5. Room for improvement

    Carboni can be a little one-footed at times, with his reluctance to use his right making him a little easier to defend against for more experienced players.

    Like most players of his age, he will likely need to improve physically too, though he does possess decent pace, even if it is far from his main attribute.

    There is also an argument that he needs to add more goals to his game, but given he is playing a couple of grades above his actual age, those numbers can be expected to go up in the coming years.

  6. The next... Paulo Dybala?

    The next... Paulo Dybala?

    While Argentina are on the lookout for players to step into Messi's shoes, perhaps the best comparison for Carboni is one of the little maestro's international team-mates.

    "He reminded me of Dybala, and a little bit of Messi, with his passion for assists," Marino explains. "He never finished on goal and I always questioned that, even in the reports I made about him.

    "He preferred to pass the ball with a delicious play rather than shoot on goal. But we were all convinced: 'He will play in Serie A.'"

    The comparison with Dybala does make sense. They play the same position, have similar physical make-ups and perhaps do not put up the kind of numbers in the final third that their talent suggests they should.

    Certainly, if Carboni can reach the same level as the Roma star, then he will be an Argentina international for a long time.

  7. What comes next?

    Carboni has grown close to compatriots Lautaro Martinez and Joaquin Correa at Inter, and the hope is that he will be able to learn under them and earn more first-team minutes during the second half of the season.

    The Nerazzurri are not short of attackers, with Romelu Lukaku and Edin Dzeko also available to Simone Inzaghi, but Carboni's talent should mean he gets the chance to prove himself over the coming months.

    He is under contract at San Siro for another three seasons, and though there have been reports that he could be sold to Brighton as a makeweight for his fellow Argentine Alexis Mac Allister to move in the other direction, there are plenty in Milan who want to see him succeed for Inter first.

    As for his international future, it seems almost certain that he will play for Argentina some day. Whether he can replace Messi is unlikely, but he could certainly play a role in helping to fill the void.

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