Brighton have made a habit of bringing in South American wonderkids under the radar in the January transfer window who then become some the most coveted players in Europe within a couple of years.
In 2020, it was Alexis Mac Allister from Argentinos Juniors for £7m. In 2021, Moises Caicedo from Independiente del Valle for £5m. And in 2023, it is Argentine number ten Facundo Buonanotte who arrives at the Amex for £10m from Rosario Central, the biggest outlay the Seagulls have spent on a player from a continent they have become the experts at mining.
We say arrive, because the deal bringing Buonanotte to England was actually announced in November following the completion of the 2022 domestic season in Argentina. This explains why Buonanotte has gone almost unnoticed in the context of a January signing. And at 18 years old, most Brighton fans assumed he would remain unknown for some time yet, following the Seagulls’ tried and tested path of slow integration for young players from South America.
Mac Allister had to wait a year between becoming an Albion player and his Premier League debut. For Caicedo, it was 18 months.
When it came to Buonanotte, however, Roberto De Zerbi had other ideas.
The teenager was thrown on as as a second half sub against Bournemouth with the game locked at 0-0 and Brighton desperately chasing a goal, just one week after he first showed up at the Amex. De Zerbi clearly has a huge amount of faith in Buonanotte and his talents. The decision paid off as a Kaoru Mitoma goal in the 87th minute gave the Albion a 1-0 win.
With Buonanotte seemingly for the here and now rather than the future, do not be surprised if by the summer of 2025 he becomes the next Brighton player the big six end up fighting over. Already, he has been fast tracked into the Argentina Under-20s squad and been compared to Lionel Messi by no lesser judge than Carlos Tevez, his manager at Rosario Central.
Manchester City, Liverpool, Spurs, Juventus, Inter, Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund were all said to be interested before the Albion made their move.
Most of those clubs – including Brighton – had Buoanotte on their radar even before he had made his senior debut for Rosario Central. That came in the Copa de la Liga Profesional in February 2022 when he was only 17. Buonanotte spent the next four months in and out of a struggling team who worked their way through two managers before the June appointment of Tevez, which is when his fledgling career really took off.
Tevez started with Buonanotte on the bench for his first two games at the helm. In his third, the former Manchester United and Manchester City forward promoted Buonanotte into the starting XI. Buonanotte responded with the only goal of the game in a 1-0 win over Club Atletico Sarmiento, giving Tevez his maiden victory as a manager.
From that point on, Buonanotte started every match he was fit and available for. His work rate and football intelligence were highlighted as crucial to the aggressive pressing style introduced by Tevez. He is versatile too, having been deployed as a number 8, wide on the right, wide on the left and in the number 10 role, which is arguably his best position.
And what of those comparisons to Argentina’s World Cup winning captain? Tevez’s public declaration of Buonanotte as the next Messi came after a mesmerising goal scoring display in a 3-1 victory over Barracas Central.
Speaking to Rosario3, Tevez said: “When he brakes and accelerates he reminds me of Messi. I haven’t seen a boy play like that for a long time, that gives me so much pleasure, and I watch a lot of football.”
“Facu has a great mentality, he doesn’t seem to be 17 years old. He is at a very high level, one thinks that he has no ceiling, it is wherever he wants to go,” Tevez added.
That high level returned a total of four goals and two assists for Rosario Central in 34 appearances; good numbers for a teenager in their first season in a top side, even more so when you consider he was playing in a team who finished 20th out of 28 in the Primera Division. He had almost become their talisman by the end.
In terms of attributes, Buonanotte’s strongest traits are dribbling with the ball, beating players and finding ways out of tight spaces – very Messi-like. He likes nothing more than drifting wide, cutting inside and shooting from outside the box. The form of Solly March and Mitoma under Roberto De Zerbi along with the fast-paced football and press deployed by Brighton’s charismatic Italian head coach makes Buonanotte appear perfectly suited to to what will be expected of him at the Albion.
And just like how the Seagulls have perfectly utilised the talents of Mac Allister, Caicedo, Pervis Estupinan, Jeremy Sarmiento and to a lesser extent Julio Enciso, that will spell trouble for the rest of the Premier League. Buonanotte is here and all the signs point to another South American superstar about to burst into the scene at the Amex. Watch this space.