Football | Playing against Giovani Lo Celso

Giovani Lo Celso is off the mark for Tottenham Hotspur.

The Argentina international celebrated his first start for the club with the opening goal in Spurs’ 4-0 win over Red Star Belgrade in Serbia.

In the 34th minute, Lo Celso hooked the ball into the roof of the net after Harry Kane and Son Heung-min  had both seen their efforts come back off the woodwork following a spell of what resembled ping-pong in the Red Star box.

Second half goals from Son (two) and Christian Eriksen sealed a comfortable victory for Spurs, who are now firmly on course to qualify for the knockout stages.

It was an accomplished performance from 23-year-old Lo Celso, who moved to Spurs on loan from Spanish side Real Betis in the summer after some eye-catching performances for Argentina at the Copa America. 

After protracted negotiations, Mauricio Pochettino finally got his man on an initial loan deal, with Spurs likely to have to fork out an enormous fee to retain his services thereafter.

Having been limited to six substitute appearances due to an ongoing hip injury, this was a sign of what is to come from the Rosario native, who sent Spurs on their way to their first away win in 183 days.

Lo Celso had more touches (102), made more tackles (five), made eight recoveries (2nd), completed 79 passes (3rd) and provided three crosses (1st) against Red Star.

One player who knows all about Lo Celso’s quality is Irish footballer Colm Carney.
 
26-year-old Carney shared a pitch with the Argentinian back in 2014, two years before Lo Celso eventually joined Paris Saint-Germain from Rosario Central.
 
But how did a student from Meath and a teenager from Rosario find themselves on the same pitch in France?
 
“I ended up playing in France during my Erasmus year,” Colm explains.
 
The Athboy native made the Universite de Saint-Quentin college soccer team after moving over to France for 12 months as part of his Arts degree in Maynooth, before his ability was then brought to the attention of local semi-professional club OSC Élancourt.
 
“I had met two friends in college, who played for the college team in the one game we had in Universite de Saint-Quentin,” he continues.
 
“They spoke to the manager who contacted me, although I was unaware of the level I was getting myself into until I arrived for training, as my friends hadn’t mentioned the level.”
 
Carney subsequently signed for Élancourt, which led to his encounter with Lo Celso.
 
“We had a winter friendly as clubs were resuming after the break. We were to play against PSG’s U19s.”
 
The challenge match was scheduled for February 12th, 2014.
 
Carney started the game on the bench for Élancourt, while playmaker Lo Celso was among the substitutes for PSG. Both players were introduced in the second half as PSG cruised to a 5-1 win.
 
“He came on in the second half just before I did,” Colm reveals.
 
“What stood out was the energy he brought, and the speed at which he moved the ball, and he was really confident on the ball. That said, he was quiet on the pitch, possibly not knowing French or his teammates well.”
 
Lo Celso was just 18 at the time, and far from a household name in Europe.
 
His trial period at PSG is not well-documented, despite the French club signing him on a five-year deal two years later before immediately loaning him back to Rosario Central.

“To be honest I hadn’t heard about Giovani Lo Celso until after the game, as he was still with an Argentinian youth club at the time, and nobody had spoken of him leading up to the game,” Colm admits.

“It transpired that he was on trial over the previous few weeks. After the game I made sure I knew who I played against, in case they went on to have a big career.” 

Lo Celso wasn’t the only eye-catching player on show in the friendly.

“There were some players who stood out just as much although they had probably been with the team a lot longer.”

Colm returned home to Ireland after his Erasmus to complete his college degree, and it would be almost four years before Lo Celso came onto his radar again.

By this time, Lo Celso had earned an excellent reputation after his breakthrough with Rosario Central, and it wasn’t long before PSG came knocking.

In 2016, the French giants signed the 20-year-old for a reported €10 million, before immediately loaning him back to the Argentinian club for the first half of the 2016/17 season.

Lo Celso made his PSG debut in a Coupe de France quarter final game against US Avranches in April 2017, coming off the bench to replace midfielder Adrien Rabiot.

On January 27th, 2018, Carney was over in Paris with friends to watch the French champions take on Montpellier in Ligue 1.

“I was checking the line-ups before a PSG game to see if Neymar was injured or would be playing,” Colm says.

“My friend noticed Lo Celso was also starting and reminded me that we played against him three years earlier.”

Wearing number 18 on his back, Lo Celso started in a team which boasted Neymar, Edinson Cavani, Thiago Silva and compatriot Angel Di María.

PSG won the game 4-0, with Cavani scoring the opening goal to become Paris St-Germain’s all-time top scorer.

Neymar made it 2-0 from the penalty spot after a handball by Pedro Mendes inside the area, with Di Maria adding to the hosts’ lead in the 70th minute.

Neymar added his second eight minutes from time to round off a routine 4-0 win for PSG, with Lo Celso playing the full 90 minutes.

“Although the game was easily won, he (Lo Celso) looked as accomplished on the ball as he did a few years ago, and (also) much stronger in his build,” Colm observes.

“It was just crazy to see him passing it wide to players such as Neymar or Di Maria now.”  

Three days later, Lo Celso bagged his first goal for the club in a 3–2 win over Rennes in the Coupe de la Ligue.

In total, the Argentinian midfielder made 54 appearances for the Ligue 1 club – scoring six goals – before being signed by Real Betis on loan (with an option to buy) in August ’18.

Lo Celso enjoyed a superb campaign with Betis in La Liga, scoring 17 goals in 46 appearances and earning admirers across Europe in the process.

His reputation was further enhanced by his excellent performances at the Copa America – where he lined out in the same team as the likes of Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuai – which resulted in his move to Pochettino’s Spurs.

Lo Celso has won 18 international caps to date, scoring two goals for Argentina.

He was an unused member of the South American country’s 2018 World Cup squad, but has become an important midfielder for the nation since then.

Not bad for a quiet 18-year-old triallist in France.

Carney – currently studying a Masters in Secondary Education at Maynooth – now plays his football with Trim Celtic, and made his debut with the Ireland Amateurs earlier this year.

He came off the bench to impress up front in the Amateurs’ 1-0 defeat to the Republic of Ireland U21’s in Stephen Kenny’s first game at the helm.

A winner of the FAI Junior Cup Goal of the Season in 2017, Carney was one of the Amateurs’ most lively players following his second half introduction, causing the U21’s defence plenty of problems.

The 26-year-old says he was most impressed by opponents Trevor Clarke and Neil Farrugia, who have joined Rotherham and Shamrock Rovers respectively since that challenge match in Dublin. 

“It was a great experience playing against Stephen Kenny’s U21 team in February, and also to see how they have developed over the last few months.”


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