by Justin Sousa
Editors note: this profile was originally published in February as part of our first ever print magazine, The Scouted Football Handbook 2019: Volume I. Though now sold out, you can grab a digital copy here. Alternatively, print editions of Volumes II & III are available here.
CAREER IN REVIEW
Regardless of the competition or age level, Diego Lainez consistently found ways to stand out amongst his team-mates and opponents throughout 2018. He played an integral role in Mexico’s journey to the finals of 2018’s Toulon Tournament. As the creative catalyst for El Tri, Lainez had a hand in everything positive that manifested in the final third. A spot in the tournament’s Best XI emphasised how well the Mexican performed amongst players two to three years his senior, but the awarding of Best Player cemented his position amongst the best talents of generation 2000. He later joined the U-20 squad in November for their time at the U-20 Concacaf Championship. Despite failing to score, the winger demonstrated that his technique, grace, and creativity were levels beyond most of his competition. He was rightfully named into the tournament’s Best XI but came one match short of a title once again after losing 2-0 to the United States in the finals.
In August 2018, at 18 years, 1 month and 24 days old, Diego Lainez became the youngest player in Club America’s history to score two goals in a single game
Following a disappointing Central American and Caribbean Games performance that saw Mexico's U-21 side crash out of the group stage, Lainez returned to club football with Club América. The winger transitioned from an impact substitute into a consistent part of the starting line-up throughout the Apertura. He took to important games with a special interest, specifically the semi-final match against Pumas that saw him score in both legs. His stellar form towards the end of the season was a key factor in America lifting their first Apertura title since 2014. The title came as a breath of relief for Lainez after his two previous shortcomings earlier in the year. It also provided the fairy-tale ending he needed in the lead up to his $14 million move to Real Betis in January. The transfer saw him become the youngest-ever player sold from Liga MX and the second most expensive Mexican player to transfer to a European club.
STYLE OF PLAY
Despite his limited time playing at senior level, Lainez’s call to fame was built upon the unpredictability and impressive maturity he showed in the final third. Blessed with a low centre of gravity, the diminutive winger’s fleet-footed grace while dribbling compliments his sharp bursts of pace brilliantly. His ability to change direction with the drop of a shoulder allows him to wriggle past defenders or tempt them into committing a foul. The often rough-and-tumble environment of Liga MX has also taught the 18-year-old how to persevere through challenges rather than look to go to ground at the slightest touch.
The most important asset to his skillset is his ability to play on either wing or at the ten position.
What makes him so effective in these roles is his general awareness of the entire pitch. On the wings, he only needs half a yard to get the jump on his defender. Conversely, when pinned into tight spaces near the sideline, he is capable of sneaking a pass through to team-mates to continue his side’s momentum.
He rarely directly contributes to goals or assists, but Lainez’s craftiness from any position takes care of the creative leg work for his team. The predisposed knowledge of his explosive pace often lures defenders into designating multiple men to slow down his forward progress. However, the Mexican has become an expert at exploiting his opposition’s overcompensation for the individual threat he poses.
While his lack of physical strength handicaps him in these situations, it only takes a slight lapse in concentration from his marker for him to find another team-mate in space. Lainez knows that if he is being double-teamed, one of his team-mates is free.
His lack of direct goal productivity leaves question marks around his ability to individually alter the shape of a match, but his attitude periodically provides the answers. Specifically throughout the Liguilla Apertura, Lainez would often be caught on screen with a wry smile on his face prior to, or after a fierce fight for possession with a defender. The joy he feels when playing under the pressure of big games and with high stakes often brings the best out him. The U-20 Concacaf Championship featured a tightly contested battle between the 18-year-old and an equally skilled defender in Sergino Dest throughout the match. Both players’ desires to outdo the other forced them to be perfect in everything they did. The slightest mistake by either would inevitably be mercilessly punished by the other.
FORECAST FOR THE FUTURE
Lainez becomes yet another exciting Mexican talent to take his abilities overseas following Hirving Lozano’s transfer to PSV Eindhoven. The added bonus of having fellow Mexican Andrés Guardado at Real Betis already will be a big help to the youngster as he tries to acclimate to his new surroundings mid-season. If the success of Lozano and Érick Gutiérrez in the Eredivisie is any barometer for what to expect from Lainez in his first few months in La Liga, Real Betis can expect to flip him for much more than the $14 million they paid in a few years.
His decision to move to Real Betis over Ajax will be instrumental to finding a gateway to bigger clubs as he progresses in his development. Though Ajax are renowned for developing young players, Betis have produced the likes of Dani Ceballos and Fabián Ruiz from their academy and sold them on for great profits.
Betis also provides Lainez with an opportunity to impress in a more competitive league and in front of higher profile clubs. The move has set the foundation for what looks to be a fruitful career for the 18-year-old in Spain and beyond for at least the next dozen years.
With the Concacaf Gold Cup scheduled to start the day after the U-20 World Cup ends, it seems the logical decision for Lainez would be to attend the latter tournament. Doing so would enable him to participate in a far more competitive international tournament as well as enjoy a full pre-season with Real Betis before the start of the 2019-20 season. Should Mexico fall out of the tournament early on, Lainez may get an opportunity to join the senior squad at the Gold Cup. In that instance, coming off the bench to avoid fatigue-related and other avoidable injuries may be advisable.
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