Universidad de Chile can make a very strong case that they have the best youth academy in Chile at the moment. Multi-million Euro transfers await senior Chilean internationals Dario Osorio and Lucas Assadi, but Jeison Fuentealba might be the next gem to emerge from U de Chile. The 19-year-old Chilean midfielder is a U de Chile academy product and is on loan at Deportes La Serena in the Chilean Premier League. A versatile attacking midfielder, Fuentealba can play as an 8, 10, striker and left winger but his skillset and style of play best suit a central midfield role.
All professional football players are elite sportspeople by definition. But not all are elite athletes. Fuentealba is a player that could be overlooked due to his 170 cm height or slight and skinny build. Such a diminutive player isn’t that strong either. Fuentealba used his body to get between the opponent and the ball so he could shield it and maintain possession, but he lost most of his 50/50s. He has some strength, but it was apparent that even at the U20 level he could benefit from some more work in the gym. It’s not all bad news though, as Fuentealba was quick and had an impressive burst of pace to get away from opponents. His speed was even more effective as Fuentealba was very agile, so he could potentially develop into a very dangerous attacking midfielder.
Although football is a contact sport and physical qualities are important, it’s what one can do on the ball that is most crucial. Especially for attacking midfielders like Fuentealba. Thankfully, this is where he shone. His first touch, with feet or chest, was excellent and he showed himself to be a secure passing option as he rarely lost the ball. When he did, it was more often than not because he had been fouled. Fuentealba won several free kicks from dangerous positions and then took them himself as he was the designated set piece taker. Once he struck the ball, it became clear why. Fuentealba has great technique and took very accurate and dangerous indirect free kicks. His corners, from both sides, always beat the first man and caused a lot of problems for Brazil. The third Chilean goal in the first match came as a result of his right-footed corner being headed in by Paolo Guajardo. Fuentealba is right-footed and his left wasn’t bad, but he can work on improving it. His passing was technically very good but he under-hit his passes at times and sometimes he lacked a bit of decisiveness. There is room for improvement there too but his technical floor was great so I think his passing could become a very dangerous weapon. One of the reasons why Fuentealba could be more suited to a deeper role is that his shooting was poor, especially for someone with his great technique. The few shots he took went way off target. Overall, he seemed like more of a creator than a goalscorer to me.
The little passing issues that Fuentealba had were pretty minor, all mental and I believe they could be fixed with coaching. He can be a little indecisive at times and under-hit his passes, but I am sure that there are coaches and sports psychologists who can help with this as he is a great technical player. The other thing to note is that although he is small and weak, he was tenacious, worked hard and wasn’t afraid of a 50/50. Apart from that, everything else is positive. His resilience and drive were impressive. Fuentealba was very composed throughout, so much so that he used his good decision-making and strong vision to control the tempo of the match. He understood space well and floated around playing mostly accurate passes. His quick reactions added to his impressive agility while Fuentealba’s awareness and regular scanning made him a sound choice for the role of primary midfield playmaker in a trio. While it is pleasing that Fuentealba can play in a variety of different positions, and that adds to his game intelligence, the role of an 8 suits him best. Fuentealba has some things to work on, sure. But he’s only 19 and should get better as he matures and gains more experience.
Johan Cruyff ended La Masia’s minimum height restrictions for entry and it led to the development of players such as Xavi Hernández and Andréa Iniesta. Not all attacking midfielders have to be giants like Sergej Milinković-Savić or Paul Pogba. I don’t think Fuentealba will be as good as those Barcelona icons, but I do think he can overcome his physical shortcomings and become a high-quality player. He needs to refine and polish his craft but he has the makings of a talented attacking midfielder. If Chile keeps playing their 4-3-3 system then he should be able to battle with Chile’s other talented midfielders for a starting spot. I think European clubs with excellent youth development programmes that play attacking, possession-based football should