VfB Stuttgart were only two points off qualifying for Europe last season having only won promotion the previous year. Mario Gomez got the goals; Benjamin Pavard subsequently won the World Cup, but Santiago Ascacibar was undeniably the beating heartbeat of the team.
Club: VfB Stuttgart
Position: Defensive midfielder
Country: Argentina (U20 cap)
Ascacibar joined Stuttgart from Estudiantes in his native Argentina last August saying that: "My dedication and will to win are part of South American culture." Those on the wrong side of one of his 285 challenges in 2017/18 would be hard pressed to disagree. Despite his tough, battling style, Ascacibar was only sent off once last term, and that for two yellow-card offences in the 2-0 win over Hoffenheim on the penultimate matchday. Standing at just 5’7”-tall, Ascacibar is difficult to budge off the ball. An Argentina U20 and Olympic U23 international, the 21-year-old hasn’t yet stepped up to the full national team, but another season like the last should see that change sooner rather than later.
Plays a bit like: Roy Keane
With his low centre of gravity and tenacity in winning back possession, Ascacibar bears a startling resemblance to former Manchester United star Roy Keane. Keane and his defensive midfield kin – think Edgar Davids and Gennaro Gatusso – had fast been fading from the collective footballing memory, with deep-lying playmakers very much in vogue. Ascacibar is something of a throwback, but it works.
Did you know?
Ascacibar may spend his time stopping opposition attacking midfielders in his tracks, but he nonetheless sports a tattoo of a certain Diego Maradona, perhaps the greatest creator of them all, on his right calf. "[Arturo] Vidal? He's the most complete player in his position," Ascacibar explained to sports daily kicker. "There are many strong players in this position, but he combines everything you could need in one player… my football idol is Maradona, though!"
What they're saying
"I remember that my teachers asked what I was going to be when I grew up and I answered them: 'a soccer player.' Some of them laughed." – Santiago Ascacibar on his childhood ambition
"Personally, I would love to see Santiago Ascacibar playing for Argentina. He's a kid who, when he eventually pulls on the jersey for the senior national side, is going to be a permanent fixture there." - former Argentina international midfielder and current Estudiantes de la Plata president Juan Sebastián Verón
"He's very fast on his feet, and is a good player with his compactness and his aggression." – former VfB Stuttgart coach Hannes Wolf