Matías Kranevitter was born in San Miguel de Tucumán, a city located in the north of Argentina, where he began playing football as a youth for Club Atlético San Martín de Tucumán.
At this time he was also a keen golfer and would work as a caddy on the local courses to earn money for his family. He would also go out onto the course with family members, who include the PGA and European tour golfer Andrés Romero who is his cousin.
He could have chosen to pursue a career as a professional golfer, but when River Plate scouts came to watch him play football for San Martin under-15s, they saw enough in the youngster to offer him a place at their youth sides in the capital.
Moving to Buenos Aires, far from his home town, forced the young Kranevitter to adapt quickly, encouraging him take a professional approach to his new football life from the outset.
Coming from a poor family can add a weight of responsibility to a young footballer’s life, and It’s at this stage in a career when the first ‘now or never’ moments occur.
Kranevitter knuckled down and got on with the job he was brought to do, working his way up through the youth sides at River. He won the U20 Copa Libertadores with the youth team in 2012, which was the first of a collection of titles he would go on to win at the club.
He made his debut for the first team on December 2nd 2012 aged 19. It was a 1-0 win against Lanus at the Monumental, where he replaced Rodrigo Mora deep into injury time.
“I went on for a few minutes. I think even got to touch the ball. I was not nervous, but perhaps anxious.” said the midfielder of his debut.
The work ethic he’s displayed throughout his life is now built in, and follows him onto the football pitch. This trait is present in many South American players from poor working class backgrounds, and it’s embodied in Kranevitter.
When asked the question “how did Kranevitter play?” the answer is often the same: how Kranevitter always plays.
Even when his team play badly, you can usually bank on a decent performance from him. During Argentina U20s’ miserable display in the 2013 South American Youth Championships, he was one of the few steady players in the side, wearing the number 5 shirt he may well hold for the seniors in the future.
Luciano Vietto, Juan Iturbe, and Lucas Romero also played in this tournament, and may advance with him to the big time.
His style of play looks simple, but it’s effective. The role of defensive midfielder has become one which requires the ability of an all-rounder; someone who can defend and be physical, whilst also possessing the technique to pass and move within tight spaces. It’s not as easy as those who excel in the position make it look.
He’s willing to hold back and do the work whilst others take the glory, which may be one of the reasons he’s reached the age of 22 and is still in the Argentine league. He has the ability, mentality, and physical attributes to play in any of the European leagues, and some clubs might now be beginning to notice him.
It would be difficult to find a more tactically disciplined defensive midfielder, and at just 22-years-of-age Kranevitter has learnt quickly when it comes to this side of the game. The nice round zero in his goals scored column might almost be seen as an achievement rather than something to worry about.
He’ll make a foray up the field if his team are dominant in possession, moving forward to clean up scraps cleared by opposing defenders, or provide a fallback when his team are patiently building up an attack.
He’ll also advance when River’s opponents have the ball if he spots an opportunity to close down an unsuspecting midfielder. Even if he misses them first time he can usually recover his position and attempt to stop the attack for a second time.
The defensive side of his game relies on his good tackling, as well as the ability to anticipate opponents passing and seek out interceptions, as he patrols the space in front of the centre backs.
With the ball he can pass with his left foot as well as his stronger right, and moves into space to receive the ball again once he’s let it go to a team-mate. Coaches today talk about bravery on the ball being more important than bravery in the challenge, but Kranevitter has both.
He has cited some greats of the game when it comes to role models and players he’s watched and learnt from.
“I always admired Fernando Redondo. I also learned from Mascherano and Braña. Today I also look at Bastian Schweinsteiger of Bayern Munich. I try to look at them a lot and learn from them, noticing their touch, how to track back, and also how before receiving the ball they know where they will pass it next, because they have a picture of the whole field.”
Kranevitter has just won the 2015 Copa Libertadores with River Plate, adding South America’s biggest competition to his list of honours which includes a Copa Sudamericana title and a domestic Torneo Final win, both from 2014.
The next Mascherano or the next Redondo? It doesn’t matter. Kranevitter will always play how Kranevitter always plays, and the only thing that matters is that he’ll be Argentina’s next number five. In the future, football fans might be looking to River Plate to see who the next Matías Kranevitter will be.