Leicester City and Watford are bound by more than their remarkable 2013 Championship playoff semi-final. Both clubs have a knack for unearthing gems and Gonzalo Plata could be the latest.
According to Record, both are eying Sporting‘s 19-year-old winger. Indeed, Leicester have been admirers for some time. They aren't the only ones. AS claim Spanish giants Barcelona have also shown an interest in Plata but are concerned by his ‘unpredictable temperament' and ‘erratic nature'.
Plata's agent, Manuel Sierra, has confirmed interest in his client but would not name any clubs.
“They have asked me about Plata. Clubs want to know what the situation is with Independiente. Because of his qualities as a footballer, he could complete his training in Europe. There's nothing concrete. I would be excited for him to go to Barcelona.”
Plata added: “There are rumours. The possibility of going to Barcelona is being talked about. There was a scout from the club who saw me play, and he liked my game.”
Who is Plata?
Despite making just four Liga NOS starts, Plata has already caught the eye. But Sporting won't sell for less than the attacker's £45million release clause and are even trying to raise that figure to £88million, per A Bola.
Born in Guayaquil in Ecuador, the 5ft 10in winger started his career with one of his homeland's most famous sides, LDU Quito. He moved to Independiente del Valle in 2012 and spent six years in their youth set-up before turning professional.
After just 13 appearances and a single goal for Independiente, Plata was scouted by Sporting. In January 2019, the Leões made their move, securing the young forward in a deal worth £1million.
Plata had already earned national attention in Ecuador by this stage, excelling in the Under-20 Copa Libertadores and for his country at youth level. He was named the third-best player at the Under-20 FIFA World Cup in Poland in 2019 and La Tricolor finished third too – their best performance ever.
Having waited patiently for his debut, Plata came off the bench in stoppage time of the 3-2 defeat to Rio Ave in game week four of the Portuguese season. He hasn't looked back since.
What sort of player is Plata?
Put simply, Plata is the kind of player who gets bums off seats. Deployed in a number of positions by Sporting this season but chiefly on the right side of attack, the teenager has been a rare bright spot in a season which sees the Leões in fourth, scrapping to qualify for the Champions League.
Plata is blessed with electric acceleration and pace. When he hits top speed he can maintain it, meaning he regularly leaves defenders for dust. His tight close control and two-footedness make him a threat in all directions.
Though primarily right-footed, he's no stranger to cutting inside onto his left and trying his luck by going infield.
With so few minutes in Liga NOS this season (454), Plata just sneaks inside the threshold (432) to rank for the season. He has attempted 4.96 take-ons (per 90), completing 2.58. For those metrics, he ranks eighth and 11th respectively against every other player in Portugal's top-flight.
There's an end product to his game, too, creating 0.4 Big Chances (per 90), though his relative lack of minutes go some way to prejudicing his per-90 statistics.
Where must Plata improve?
In terms of his technical skillset, crossing is an area to work on. Plata's delivery can be erratic and this is backed up by the fact he's completed just 0.59 of the 4.56 crosses he has attempted per 90.
However, the fact he is genuinely comfortable pelting down the line to the byline to cross with his right, or checking back and lofting one in on his left, gives him variety.
It's no surprise that as a young player in his position he loses possession relatively frequently. An average of 20.02 possession losses (per 90) ranks 20th across all players in Liga NOS, but better decision making will come with age.
That said, beating Plata's innate ability to run at defenders out of him would compromise him as a player. There will always be an unpredictability to his game but that is the largest part of his appeal.
Where next for Plata?
Few Premier League clubs – if any – cast the net as far and wide as Watford. The club's owners, the Pozzo family, are renowned for their truly global scouting network. Leicester, too, have had a number of success stories in recent years, turning up the likes of N'Golo Kanté, Riyad Mahrez and Wilfred Ndidi.
Plata is unlikely to feature regularly for either side immediately. Watford could be playing Championship football next season. Leicester, meanwhile, are hoping to secure a UEFA Champions League spot for the first time since 2016. Plata would have to get past Harvey Barnes or Ayozé Pérez to start for City.
On that basis, it's probably a case of which pathway to the first-team looks more likely.
Watford have a history of sending players out on loan without ever breaking through. Another South American prospect, Adalberto Peñaranda, was signed in January 2016, but the Venezuelan has made just three first-team appearances as a Hornet. Whereas Leicester sent the aforementioned Barnes to West Bromwich Albion for half a season before he became a mainstay in the Foxes side.
One thing is for sure, though. If Plata carries on serving up mesmerising displays, his options will continue to grow.