The South American U20 Championship often acts a springboard from which successful careers are launched and in this year’s edition few players enhanced their reputation more than Peru’s holding midfielder Rafael Guarderas.
Peru reached the final group stage of the competition for the first time since 1999 and were a whisker away from qualifying for their first ever U20 World Cup. Coached by the Argentinian Daniel Ahmed (who worked with Marcelo Bielsa during Bielsa’s time in charge of the Argentinian national team), they played positive, attacking football, with overlapping full-backs, lightning-quick strikers and a phalanx of tricky attacking midfielders.
But while full-backs Diego Chávez and Edwin Gómez, strikers Jean Deza and Yordy Reyna and attacking midfielders Edison Flores and Cristian Benavente impressed, Guarderas was, in his own quiet manner, perhaps Peru’s most accomplished performer.
In a dyadic defensive midfield alongside the more rugged Wilder Cartagena, Guarderas was a picture of assured excellence. Of lithe build, he relies on his excellent reading of the game and astute positional sense to spot danger and eradicate it swiftly and efficiently. Ahmed described him as the most tactically aware player in the squad.
In possession, Guarderas is neat and tidy, displaying good touch and awareness and looking to release within one or two touches. He proved proficient at linking a limited defence to the more technically adept forward players, combining particularly well with Flores and Benavente.
Despite his understated role, Guarderas caught the eye of watching scouts, with his club, Universitario, receiving five enquiries from foreign clubs, one of which is thought to have been from a high-profile German side. Universitario are, however, keen to keep hold of him and have confirmed that he will not be sold unless they receive a financially significant offer.
Guarderas has only made one appearance in the Universitario first team to date and even that came in strange circumstances. He was one of eleven reserve and youth team players selected for a 1-0 defeat to Inti Gas on the first day of the 2012 season, at a time when the club’s senior players and those of all Primera División clubs were striking in solidarity with others who had not received their salaries.
His path to the first team had been blocked by the tall, elegant midfielder Alvaro Ampuero, another product of the club’s youth academy and a near ever-present in 2012. Ampuero has now moved on to Europe with the Italian side Parma, clearing the way for Guarderas to make a first team spot his own.
Universitario are mired in financial crisis, but with a fruitful youth system that has in recent years also produced the likes of Andy Polo, Edison Flores and Raul Ruidiaz, appear confident of challenging at the top of the table in 2013. If they are to do so then Guarderas will surely have a big role to play.
Full Name: Rafael Nicanor Guarderas Saravia
Date of Birth: 23rd September 1993 (19 years old)
Place of Birth: Lima, Peru
Position: Defensive/Central Midfielder
Favoured Foot: Left
Youth Club(s): Universitario
Current Club: Universitario