As Australian goalkeeper Mathew Ryan tried to gather a touch from a back pass, 22-year-old Argentine forward Julián Álvarez quickly took possession of the ball to net Argentina’s second goal in their round of 16 encounter at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium on Saturday night. It was a swift move by the Argentine and it did remind football fans of his nickname ‘La Arana’ meaning Little Spider.
While Argentina managed to hold off a late Australian challenge to win the match 2-1, Álvarez was hailed by many in the Argentine camp along with captain Lionel Messi, who scored in his 1000th match as a professional.
Born in the village of Calchin in the Córdoba province in Argentina, a young Álvarez played for the local club Atletico Calchin. With his father Gustavo working in a cereal factory and mother Mariana being a kindergarten teacher, Álvarez also spent time playing with his brothers Rafael and Agustin in the village. “It was a very small village and we always played together ever since I was very young. We shared the same group of friends. We would meet up on a small pitch that we had in the village and spent many, many hours just playing football together. It was just something that came to me when I was a little kid, no older than four, playing football with my brothers. One day, my brother said, “look at him, like a little spider. It just stuck and when you get older, you don’t give it up. I like it, it’s a great name,” Álvarez once told Sky Sports about his nickname in an interview.
Álvarez’ parents too remember the time in the village of 2,000, where he spent his time playing football and would also play inside their home. “We had to take care of the television and the paintings. And then on to the football pitch in front of the house always since you were three-years-old,”
Álvarez’s father Gustavo told Manchester City website last year.
As an 11-year-old, Álvarez gave trials with Boca Juniors and Real Madrid and would score a brace in Real Madrid’s title win in a youth tournament. With Spain having age restrictions in signing youngsters below 13 for their clubs, a young Álvarez joined River Plate in 2016. His five-year long stay at the club saw him being elevated to the senior team in 2018 with manager Marcelo Gallardo giving him the number nine shirt.
Álvarez who scored his maiden goal for River Plate against Independiente in 2019, went on to become Primera Division’s top scorer with 20 goals in 35 games in 2021 and had a total of 54 goals in 122 matches for the club. He was also named as the South American Footballer of the year.
“I remember one goal, when he was about eight or nine, when he beat four or five rivals and scored a rabona goal. That’s when I realised we had a different kind of player, who could be a world star. I was not his teacher. How can you teach a player like Julian? You can only advise.” Alvaraz’s first coach Rafael Varas had told Manchester City website.
In 2019, the youngster played for the Argentina U-20 side in the U-20 World Cup where Argentina lost to Mali on penalties. He would turn out for the Argentine U-23 team apart from spending time with Manchester City legend Sergio Aguero and Lionel Messi at Argentina’s training base in Moscow in the 2018 World Cup.
The youngster was handed his senior Argentina debut in June last year in a World Cup qualifier against Chile and scored his first international goal for Argentina against Ecuador in a 1-1 draw in March early this year. Prior to his signing by Manchester United, Álvarez also became only the second player to score six goals in a Copa Libertadores group match for River Plate in their 8-1 win over Alianza Lima matching the record made by Juan Carlos Sanchez in 1985.
While the South American has scored 26 goals in 49 matches combined for Argentina, River Plate and Manchester City this year, the youngster also scored in Argentina’s 2-0 win over Poland in the team’s last group encounter. In Qatar, Álvarez is accompanied by his parents as well as two brothers. Earlier this year, he also spent some time watching his two brothers Rafael and Agustin play for Manchester team Abbey Hey in the North West Counties League First Division South, a tenth-tier league in English football and the team’s chairman said how the team will miss the services of the two brothers in the league with the family going to Qatar to watch Álvarez and Argentina play.
“It will be a bit of a blow really. It is what it is. Ultimately, they (Rafael and Agustin) are here (in Manchester) because of their brother. We’ve been the beneficiaries of Julian signing for City, because we’ve had two extra signings.” Jason Dunford, Abbey chairman had told The Athletic prior to the World Cup.
In the past, Álvarez has talked about how time stopped in his house when Argentina played. “In my house, the world stopped when the national team played. The whole family turned on the TV, in the arm-chair at home, and not a fly would fly,” Álvarez told Manchester City website early this year.
Come December 18, if Messi’s team wins the World Cup, the Álvarez family would be cheering him at the Lusail stadium.