Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Exequiel Palacios has won the 2022 World Cup with Argentina. - © DFL
Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Exequiel Palacios has won the 2022 World Cup with Argentina. - © DFL

Exequiel Palacios: Who is the Bayer Leverkusen midfielder and 2022 World Cup winner with Argentina?


Exequiel Palacios has won the 2022 World Cup with Argentina. profiles the combative Bayer Leverkusen midfielder...

Exequiel Palacios

Age: 24
Bayer Leverkusen
Position: Central midfield
Country: Argentina (23 caps)

Key stats

Although born in Famailla, Tucuman in northern Argentina, Palacios moved to the capital Buenos Aires when he was just two months old. There, he came up through the youth ranks at national giants River Plate. He was part of the Argentina U17 squad that won silver at the 2014 South American games, before finishing runner-up again at the 2015 South American U17 Championship. Of the 22 players named in that 2015 Argentina squad, Palacios is the only one to have gone on and become a senior international.

The midfielder then went to the 2015 FIFA U17 World Cup. Upon his return, just a month after turning 17, he was handed his senior debut for River Plate, playing the second half of a 2-0 defeat to Newell’s Old Boys on the final day of the season. After just one league outing in 2016, Palacios started seeing more action in the second half of 2016/17, and likely would’ve featured more if not for his participation in the 2017 FIFA U20 World Cup in South Korea.

Palacios (r.) came through the ranks at boyhood club River Plate and won the 2018 Copa Libertadores against city rivals Boca Juniors in Madrid. - Daisuke Nakashima/imago/AFLOSPORT

However, his real breakthrough came as of the 2018/19 campaign, where he became a regular in midfield – playing anywhere from holding to attacking – and started every knockout match as River Plate won the 2018 Copa Libertadores against arch-rivals Boca Juniors. He was named in the 2018 Equipo Ideal de América by Uruguayan newspaper El País, who name the best XI of South American-based players each year.

A fractured fibula kept him out at the start of 2019 and reportedly also scuppered a move to Real Madrid, but ‘Tucu’ – as he’s affectionately known for his region of birth – recovered to also lift the Recopa Sudamericana against Athletico Paranaense in May. Although River failed to retain their Libertadores title, losing 2-1 to Flamengo in the final on 23 November, Palacios’s January 2020 transfer to Leverkusen on a five-year deal was announced just five days later. At that time, he topped the Argentinian Superliga for completed passes. His final game for the club saw him win the Copa Argentina – also being named in the team of the tournament – with a 3-0 victory over Central Cordoba. He left Buenos Aires having chalked up 10 goals and 11 assists in 77 competitive outings for Los Millonarios.

He played the full 90 minutes on his Werkself debut on 5 February as Peter Bosz’s side beat VfB Stuttgart in the DFB Cup last 16. His Bundesliga bow came a few weeks later as he again played through in a victory at home to Augsburg. However, injuries – including a fractured vertebra suffered on international duty against Paraguay that kept him out for three months – have often curtailed his progress in Germany.

Watch: The best of Palacios in the Bundesliga

Yet he has been backed by every coach he’s had at Leverkusen, making 65 appearances under Bosz, Hannes Wolf, Gerardo Seoane and now Xabi Alonso up to the 2022 winter break. Always willing to work as the engine room, covering an impressive 11.5 km per 90 minutes, he has also added a more robust element to his game. His success rate in challenges for 2022/23 is now up to 55 per cent, having been below half in his first two Bundesliga campaigns. The midfielder has so far scored four and provided as many assists for Die Werkself.

Palacios earned his maiden senior international call-up in new Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni’s first squad in September 2018, even getting an assist as he started on his debut in a 3-0 friendly victory over Guatemala. He has been a regular for Argentina since 2020, as part of the squad that won the 2021 Copa America against hosts Brazil – the Albiceleste’s first continental title since 1993 – and also the inaugural Finalissima against Italy at Wembley. The 24-year-old was then named in Argentina’s 26-man squad for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. He was handed the No.14 shirt previously worn by Diego Simeone and Javier Mascherano, appearing three times en route to lifting the trophy.

Palacios (with trophy) was part of the Argentina team led by Lionel Messi that won the 2021 Copa America. - MB Media via images/MB Media Solutions

Plays a bit like: Charles Aranguiz

Palacios is capable of operating anywhere in central midfield, whether more of a holding role, more attacking or box-to-box. Like Leverkusen teammate Aranguiz, he is not the tallest or bulkiest of players, but he more than makes up for it with his determination and combative nature. And, like Aranguiz, he has a great sense of timing for making late runs into the opposition area.

Palacios (r.) is seen as the long-term replacement for fellow South American Aranguiz (l.) at the BayArena. - UWE KRAFT via images/Uwe Kraft

Did you know?

Palacios is the third Argentine to don the Werkself jersey, following on from Diego Placente and Lucas Alario, with whom he’d also played together eight times at River Plate. The duo had also previously shared a pitch in Argentina’s 0-0 draw with Chile - against Aranguiz - in September 2019.

But the Bundesliga-River Plate links don’t end there. Palacios was also a teammate of Eintracht Frankfurt’s UEFA Europa League winner Rafael Borre. The only game of Palacios’s career where he has both scored and assisted was when he teed up the Colombian and then finished himself in a 2-0 league win at Racing Club in April 2018.

He is also only the second player to win the World Cup while on the books at Leverkusen, following in the footsteps of Brazilian defender Lucio back in 2002.

What they’re saying

“We’ve watched Exequiel Palacios for a long time and he’s really impressed us. Despite his young age he’s already achieved a great deal and in addition to his footballing qualities, he’s got a terrific mentality.” - Leverkusen sporting director Simon Rolfes on signing Palacios

“He’s the most Scaloni in the Scaloneta [literally ‘Scaloni van’, used to refer to Argentina’s team under Scaloni].” – Argentina head coach Lionel Scaloni

"It's great that we'll be able to welcome world champion to Leverkusen again in the coming year. Exequiel was an important part of the team, which obviously had its outstanding star in Lionel Messi. We're proud of Pala and what he's achieved." - Leverkusen CEO Fernando Carro