Mexican Messi? - Leinez makes move to Spain | Eurasia Diary -

25 June, Tuesday

Mexican Messi? - Leinez makes move to Spain

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The 18-year-old helped Las Aguilas to a title before crossing the pond at an earlier age than most Mexican talents who have gone before him

Diego Lainez is heading to Europe, having signed with Real Betis on Thursday.

Club America sporting director Santiago Banos said earlier in the offseason that the player was close to a move and made it clear that the Liga MX side would not be standing in his way, with his word proving true as the La Liga side snapped up the promising youngster. 

The move is the completion of a dream for the 18-year-old.

"It's my dream," he told RadioMarca Claro of moving to a European league. "That's what the directors are looking at. My dream is very close. Hopefully, it comes together."

What will Betis be getting now that Lainez is signed? Will he be like Hirving Lozano and hit the ground running in Europe?

In contrast to Lozano, we've yet to see a full body of work from Lainez. His league debut came when he was just 16, quite literally by accident. America manager Ricardo La Volpe is used to giving minutes to young players and was looking to hand Costa Rican U-20 Gerson Torres some playing time in March of 2017 against Cruz Azul. He soon found out that Torres hadn't been registered with the senior team for that tournament and had to press Lainez into starting duty.  

Since then, he's been used sporadically by La Volpe and Miguel Herrera, his successor at America. The flashes he showed in 2018 with America, in his first two games with the Mexico senior national team and with youth national teams at both the Concacaf U-20 Championship and in the summer at the Toulon Tournament, have been enough for plenty to hype up Lainez as the long-awaited Mexican Messi. 

Lionel Messi has been an inspiration to hundreds of rising stars, and the number of players who look to imitate his playing style must be in the tens of thousands. Yet with Lainez, you actually can see the influence. It goes beyond simply being creative, small and left-footed.  

"I really identify with him," Lainez told Goal in 2016. "I really like his style of play, and I try to learn from him and do some of the things he does. I look to take players on a lot, play a lot of one-twos, but I also like to shoot from distance. 

"I can play behind the No. 9 or as a midfielder. Whatever is needed, I do it, and I can use both feet very well." 

It's an accurate self-assessment of his profile, and part of the reason that the specific club he goes to in Europe may be so critical to his future success. Lainez needs to find the right fit, a place where he can get regular minutes, and he will have to earn the trust of Betis boss Quique Setien to find that with the La Liga club. Even with America his playing time has not been regular. 

Lainez also will need to become a more physical player, though that will come with age and getting into a strength program at a top European club. Improving tracking back, getting more comfortable using his body, going against players bigger and tougher than him and fine-tuning a shot that is yet to yield an amazing goal haul will be the top priorities for Lainez as he starts his new journey. 

Essentially, the ceiling for Lainez is incredibly high. There is plenty of hype in Mexico that he's missing out on some of the issues that have dogged rising Mexican stars for so long, leaving now rather than sticking around Mexico City for another tournament or even another year. It's a trail blazed by Jesus "Tecatito" Corona, who pushed out of Monterrey at a young age, fought for a starting place in the Netherlands and now is starting with Porto in the Champions League. 

Despite the success of Corona and Lozano, there's no guarantee Lainez is on the path to stardom. Other America players who recently made the jump have struggled to find a place to call home, like Diego Reyes, or been late bloomers like Raul Jimenez. A move sooner than normal for a Mexican player will only allow Lainez to carve out a path as quickly as possible. 

His move to Europe should be seen as good news for Mexico national team fans, even if they never got to see his best up close with America. Lainez could leave a Liga MX champion and begin his journey to becoming an El Tri star.

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