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Scouting Europe: Santiago Gimenez

After firing Feyenoord to Eredivisie glory last term, Santiago Gimenez has taken his game to new heights and is forging a reputation as one of the most prolific strikers in Europe.

Starting his journey with Cruz Azul, the club where his father enjoyed the twilight years of his career, Gimenez made the bold decision to switch continents and join Feyenoord.

Adapting to the significant change in culture and expectations required time but once Gimenez had acclimatised, Arne Slot provided him with a chance and the forward has not looked back since.

The 22-year-old scored 15 goals in his debut Eredivisie season as the Rotterdam club lifted their first league title in six years.

And Gimenez’s astronomical rise has continued. With 18 goals so far this term, the prolific frontman broke Luis Suarez’s record for most Eredivisie goals in a calendar year.

Having captured the attention of the world’s biggest clubs, we examine Gimenez in the latest of our Scouting Europe series.

Feyenoord

European dream

Football is in Gimenez’s DNA.

Born in Buenos Aires, he moved to Mexico at the age of three after his father, Christian, was signed by Mexican Primera Division side Veracruz.

Relocating to Mexico City when Gimenez senior joined Cruz Azul, Santiago was on the books at his father’s club from the age of 13.

He made his first appearance for La Máquina in a friendly against Pumas where, somewhat remarkably, he shared the pitch with his father. In arguably the most bizarre script ever written, Gimenez won a penalty, suffered an injury in the process and was unable to take it. His father stepped up and, you guessed it… missed the penalty.

Gimenez senior, one of the many talented exports of the Boca Juniors academy, eventually retired in the summer of 2018 and it was at that point his son was making his ascent through the youth ranks at both club and international level.

His breakthrough came aged 19 with Gimenez featuring prominently for Cruz Azul, scoring six goals as the club ended their 24-year drought by winning the Primera Division title.

While Gimenez wasn't lighting up the goalscoring charts in Liga MX, his performances caught the attention of Gerardo Martino and in October 2021, the striker made his international debut for Mexico.

The international exposure raised his profile to the extent that a collection of European clubs had taken notice. When Gimenez started the 2022/23 campaign with five goals in his opening four appearances, Feyenoord jumped to the front of the queue.

Gimenez wasn't convinced of the transfer at first, but his father, who never had the chance to ply his trade in Europe, reiterated that a move across the Atlantic was necessary to fulfil his potential.

Frank Arnesen, Feyenoord's former sporting director, proposed a four-year contract. It was a show of faith that reassured Gimenez that a venture to Rotterdam was the right move.

Taking his chance

Restricted to a series of substitute appearances at the start of his Feyenoord career, Gimenez announced himself before De Trots van Zuid with a goal and an assist off the bench in a 4-0 win over FC Emmen.

He impacted from the bench again a fortnight later, scoring a brace inside 27 minutes in a 4-2 defeat to Lazio in the Europa League.

Despite his contributions in front of goal, Slot was yet to be convinced that Gimenez was ready for a starting role.

The Dutch tactician highlighted the defensive output required to execute his leading role and Gimenez reacted impressively, determined to adapt to the demands of his manager and the Eredivisie.

His big break came in the New Year when he was entrusted to lead Feyenoord’s line in a home win against NEC Nijmegen. Prior to that he’d only made five starts in all competitions but from thereon in, he started in all of Feyenoord’s remaining fixtures.

AZ Alkmaar, PSV Eindhoven, FC Twente and Ajax were all in hot pursuit of the Rotterdam club, but Gimenez’s introduction to the starting XI helped the team to 14 consecutive league wins.

He chalked up 13 league goals from January onwards to finish the campaign on 15; only four shy of top scorers Xavi Simons and Anastasios Douvikas, despite only starting 21 matches.

Eredivisie 2022/23: npxG (Non-Penalty xG)

Luuk de Jong (PSV Eindhoven)15.6
Santiago Gimenez (Feyenoord)14.7
Brian Brobbey (Ajax)14.4
Xavi Simons (PSV Eindhoven)13.3
Sydney van Hooijdonk (NAC Breda)13.1

*Statistics sourced via FBref.com and Opta

Scoring in eight consecutive league games, Gimenez’s form propelled Feyenoord to only their second Eredivisie title of the century, wrapping up the Dutch championship with two games to spare.

Adulation for Gimenez by now had soared; De Kuip was littered with sombreros, Mexican flags and fans donning replica shirts adorning his name.

At home at De Kuip

It could have been easy for a player of Gimenez’s age to get carried away with his exceptional form and demand a move elsewhere.

We’ve witnessed it on many occasion where a player, off the back of one good season, pursues a new challenge with a bigger club only to see their career stall.

With the right people accompanying him, Gimenez knew that repaying Feyenoord’s loyalty and staying with the Dutch giants would best serve his development.

Banishing speculation of a future away from De Kuip by signing a new deal with the club until 2027, Gimenez started the season in emphatic fashion.

His flurry of goals began in the Rotterdam derby, inspiring Feyenoord to a point against Sparta before notching up back-to-back braces in wins over Almere City and FC Utrecht.

Gimenez’s form evolved from impressive to downright ridiculous. Dutch media were in awe as the Mexican netted 13 goals in eight Eredivisie matches, a phenomenal stretch encapsulated by a devastating performance in Der Klassieker at the Johan Cruijff Arena.

A left-footed finish, a right-footed finish and an assist for Igor Paixao put Feyenoord 3-0 up inside 37 minutes against Ajax. It was a contest that made the headlines for all the wrong reasons after fan trouble resulted in the match being abandoned. When the fixture resumed three days later behind closed doors, Gimenez wasted little time in sealing his first hat-trick for Feyenoord.

Positioned perfectly inside the penalty area, the 22-year-old punished Ajax for their loose defending and dispatched with aplomb.

Confidence coursing through his veins, Gimenez then carried his goalscoring frenzy onto the European stage. Suspended for Feyenoord’s opening two group stage fixtures, he grabbed a brace on Champions League debut to inspire his side to victory against Lazio.

Santiago Gimenez - Eredivisie 2023/24

Goals18 (=1st)
Goals per 901.26 (1st)
Goals + Assists22 (1st)
xG14.2 (1st)
npxG12.7 (1st)
Shots61 (1st)

*Statistics sourced via FBref.com and Opta

His second hat-trick of the campaign arrived against local rivals Excelsior and Gimenez now had a groundbreaking record in his sights.

On 29 goals for the calendar year, the forward was one shy of the Eredivisie record set by Luis Suarez in 2009 and he immediately set about etching his name into the history books.

Equalling the tally in a 2-1 defeat to PSV Eindhoven, Gimenez broke the record in dramatic circumstances just four days later, scoring a 94th minute header to snatch victory against FC Volendam and cement his name amongst esteemed company.

Santiago Gimenez (2023)35 matches31 goalsGoal every 89.6 minutes
Luis Suarez (2009)32 matches 30 goalsGoal every 95.6 minutes

Given the unstoppable rate of his goalscoring, it would come as no surprise to see Gimenez shatter further records in the Netherlands’ second city.

Big clubs lurking

Players that consistently score goals seem an increasingly rare commodity nowadays and with an abundance of goals in his locker, Gimenez is a priceless asset for Feyenoord.

How can you put a figure on someone with an unrelenting appetite for putting the ball in the back of the net? From Real Madrid to Arsenal, a healthy contingent of Europe’s elite clubs with deep pockets have already began to circle, ready to test Feyenoord’s resolve.

It’s only a matter of time before Gimenez moves on to pastures new and the clubs that are interested are aware that there’s more to the El Tri international than his ability to score goals.

His movement is exceptional. He catches the eye with his impeccable timing, demonstrating the blindside run to full effect and exhibiting the intelligence to pick off opposition defences.

Whether it’s a run to the near post, drifting towards the back stick or dropping to a pocket of space on the edge, Gimenez displays great variation with his activity in the final third and it’s been rewarded with his volume of goals.

He’s particularly effective on transition, completing 1.89 progressive carries and receiving 8.04 progressive passes per match in the Eredivisie. He doesn’t possess overwhelming speed but with a sharp burst of acceleration and strong frame, he’s able to create half-a-yard of space from which he can pass and shoot.

And boy does Gimenez loves to shoot. Averaging 4.27 shots per game, he’s able to fashion opportunities of his own accord, manipulating the ball to create shooting angles and work the goalkeeper from unsuspecting positions.

He’s a selfless individual, one who’s aware of how his role off the ball can manufacture spaces for teammates and he can link-up with those around him intricately. 

On top of his ability to finish with both feet, he can be a commanding aerial presence in the penalty area, capable of generating power and accuracy with his head. Encouraged to drop deep and engage with build-up, Gimenez is capable if utilised as a target man.

Slot, who has earned rave reviews for his successful stint at Feyenoord so far, has been key in moulding Gimenez into a multi-faceted threat.

But above all else, Slot has been able to keep Gimenez firmly grounded.

Having gone four matches without a goal from the end of October - a barren run by Gimenez’s standards – Slot didn’t mince his words when discussing the recent showings of his star forward.

Santi has saved us plenty of times during the last year and a half, but he’s not been good in the last two games. We’ll have a conversation about that.

Arne Slot, Feyenoord manager - November 2023

If Slot was looking for a response, he got the perfect answer; Gimenez was back on the goal trail again, netting a hat-trick in the next fixture against Excelsior.

A week later, he had the record for most Eredivisie goals in a calendar year.

Feyenoord 2023/24 Latest Odds

Eredivisie:

To Win Outright - 8/1

Santiago Gimenez 2023/24 Latest Odds

Eredivisie:

Top Goalscorer - 8/13

Mexico's future

For Mexico, the last World Cup in Qatar brought a great deal of scrutiny.

Saudi Arabia's 95th minute consolation goal signalled the end of a disappointing campaign as they succumbed to a group stage exit. Guillermo Ochoa, a stalwart of tournaments gone by, played his final World Cup match and concerns over the future of the national team had started to linger.

What they needed was a successful CONCACAF Gold Cup campaign and, with thanks to Gimenez, they got exactly that.

Gimenez was overlooked for the 2022 World Cup but his form for Feyenoord couldn't be ignored heading into the summer. 

With Gerardo Martino preferring Club America's Henry Martin ahead of him, Gimenez was unable to set the tournament alight through a string of substitute appearances, but he was on the pitch for long enough in the final against Panama to make an impact.

Introduced in the 85th minute, he was wheeling away in celebration just three minutes later. Scorer of the only goal in the game, the Feyenoord frontman had sealed a record-extending ninth title for Mexico and reminded everyone - not least Martino - that he will be the focal point of Mexico's attack for many years to come.

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