It was the surname everybody wanted to see back in the Argentina set-up. The identity of its bearer, however, was rather unexpected.
While the Albiceleste faithful will have to wait some time longer to see Diego Simeone line up on the team’s bench as he continues to thrive at Atletico Madrid, his son Giovanni has completed a roundabout route to the national team that culminated in a thrilling headed debut goal for the young Fiorentina hotshot. Just 10 more to go and he will have equalled the record of his father in 106 Argentina appearances!
One might say that Gio had been groomed for success. Shortly after helping an experimental Argentina side – the likes of Lionel Messi, Nicolas Otamendi, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria were all left at home for this current FIFA window – under the gaze of interim coach Lionel Scaloni cruise to a 3-0 win over Guatemala, the striker shared a poignant family photo.
Not for the Simeones, of course, stock album pictures of chain restaurants, theme parks and days in the countryside. Gio featured out on the pitch with his illustrious father decked in the Argentina colours.
“How exciting! What can I say… just keep fighting for your dreams,” he wrote on Instagram in a tribute to his father on that most auspicious of days. It is not just El Cholo’s example as a warrior on the field that the new Argentina cap has followed. Simeone Jr. received his break in the River Plate academy back in 2008, when at the tender age of 13 he followed his father when the latter took up the coaching job at the Buenos Aires giant.
Any accusations of nepotism were quickly brushed aside. Diego lasted just 12 months in the River hotseat, leaving with the bizarre distinction of having finished in both first and last place in the same calendar year with the same club (the Argentine Primera Division at that time featuring two short tournaments of 19 games per season). Gio, however, stayed and fought for his place, and was handed his first-team debut just months after his 18th birthday in 2013 after shining throughout the club’s youth divisions.
Simeone’s time in the intensely competitive Argentine top flight was solid rather than spectacular. Starved of first-team football at River, after two years and just 35 games on the Millonario fringes he made the brave choice to kick-start his career at the less fashionable Banfield. Gio also laid down a marker in the 2015 South American Under-20 Championships, smashing nine goals in nine to lead Argentina to the crown – Angel Correa, now starring under Simeone Sr. at Atletico was another star of that side.
Still, and despite two decent terms with Banfield, when Genoa swooped for the youngster in 2016 it was still largely on his evident potential rather than his statistics in front of the net.
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Emocionante! Que decir…simplemente luchen por sus sueños! #debut @afaseleccion 🇦🇷⚽️
Happily, and just like the old man, he took to Serie A like a duck to water. Naturally rangy, almost waif-like in his six-foot build, Gio has worked incessantly to build himself up and avoid being bundled off the ball, a fate that blighted him all too often while still learning his trade in Argentina.
At Genoa and now Gabriel Batistuta’s old stamping ground of La Viola he averages a more than respectable goal every three games and so far in 2018-19 has beaten the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Icardi and Gonzalo Higuain in opening his Serie A account.
Could we one day see father and son team up at Atletico? Diego, sadly, believes not. “He is a kid who has what it takes to play with me, but unfortunately I will never take him with me,” the coach told COPE .
“I don’t want to say never, but… it is very difficult to have your son in the dressing room, for him and for the relationship. If in five or six years he earns a much higher profile than that which he has now then we are talking about something else. He is playing out his career in the best way possible.”
For Argentina, too, Gio faces an uphill battle to stay in the nation’s long-term plans. Sergio Aguero and Higuain are still around, proven scorers at the elite level, while among the next generation Icardi – preferred by Scaloni for the rather more competitive friendly on Tuesday against Colombia while Simeone made a late cameo off the bench – and his Inter partner Lautaro Martinez (ruled out of the US tour due to injury) are considered slightly ahead of Simeone, who cuts a more static traditional figure compared to that pair’s more dynamic skillset.
Still just 23 though, he has everything required to build on that positive debut and cause further headaches for the next Argentina coach when it comes to picking the Albiceleste’s centre-forward for the next four years ahead of Qatar 2022. And one thing is for certain: having grown up under the fiercely intense wing of father Diego, Gio will never lack the hunger and drive to succeed.