Editor's Note: Sam Kelly is a Buenos Aires-based Englishman who's covered Argentine soccer for more than a decade. He founded Hasta El Gol Siempre, a blog covering all things Argentine soccer, in 2007 and in addition to his web work, hosts Hand of Pod, billed as the only English-language Argentine soccer podcast in the world. He's had a front-row seat to Kaku's rise with Huracan, and is here to give us the low-down on the Red Bulls' newest star signing.
After a drawn out and arduous process over the past couple of months, the New York Red Bulls have finally landed their man from Argentina. They’re bringing 23-year-old Alejandro Romero Gamarra in from the club who see themselves as Argentina’s "sixth big club" (after the country’s traditional Big Five), Huracán.
What type of player is he?
A tricky playmaker, Romero Gamarra has tended this season to start on the left of a midfield four for Huracán, where he’s made good use of wide spaces and his bursts of off-the-ball pace as the team counterattack. When the game slows down and he has possession, though, he’s equally capable of picking a pass, and is very fond of a nutmeg. Drifting inside to help build the play frequently, he’s not an out-and-out winger, but his crossing is one of his strongest suits. Making his first team debut at the age of 18, he’s already played over 100 matches for the club, and only turned 23 last month – in that time he’s also won the coveted No. 10 shirt, which is rarely given out to just anyone in any country – but even less so in Argentina.
What’s his best position?
Out wide. Huracán have tended to deploy either a 4-4-2 or a 4-4-1-1 this season, and Romero Gamarra starts on the left wing, although he’s given license to drift and frequently switches flanks to pop up on the right. Central playmaking duties have perhaps been denied him by the nous and experience of veteran Patricio Toranzo, but the high-tempo style of Huracán’s counterattacking means his presence on the wing hasn’t just been a token case of putting him just anywhere so that he can play. In MLS, particularly against teams who afford him more space than the majority of sides in Argentina have done, he could do a job in the middle – but at heart, he’s a creative winger.
What’s his potential?
At 23 (if only just; his birthday was in mid-January), Romero Gamarra isn’t a child prodigy with the same ceiling as Atlanta United’s recent MLS record signingEzequiel Barco. Given Argentina’s constant attacking riches, it’s hard to see a significant national team future for him. But the fact that Mexican giants Cruz Azul were interested last year, and that Huracán have only let him go after receiving a very substantial offer by Argentine standards, underlines that this is a player with a future. It would be surprising if he ever plays for a superclub, but if he pops up in one of the big European leagues in a few years’ time he will not look out of place. The main question mark is over his adaptation: Having been born and raised in Buenos Aires, and being a one-club man up to this point, adapting to New York and learning English could prove to be as important, in the long run, as getting to know his new teammates.
How will he fit into a team using a high press?
This is a very good question. Romero Gamarra broke through while Huracán were in Argentina’s second tier, and helped them to promotion after his first couple of campaigns – so most of his subsequent time has been spent at a club who aren’t among the strongest in the league, and who haven’t tended to go out to stifle opponents in their own half of the pitch. Since then, he has largely played in a counterattacking side, which suggests that this will be another process of adaptation for him. On the flip side, the Argentine league is a lot more physical than many foreign fans think, so he should at least have the stamina to close opponents down when asked – and we already know he has the pace.
"Kaku"? What does that nickname mean?
Asked about this recently on TV, he laughed and explained that when he was a young kid, one of his youth coaches kept calling him Kaká, in reference to the former Orlando City SC and Brazilian star, and that as a young boy he struggled to say the name properly. So, does he match up to Kaká? Well, he’s likely not going to win the World Cup or the Ballon d’Or, so quality-wise, no. But stylistically, he’s not dissimilar: pace and an easy dribbling style, a good eye for a pass and the ability to just occasionally score a cracker from long range.