Buendia's Argentina call-up leaves Canaries in unfamiliar territory

Emiliano Buendia of Norwich with the EFL Championship trophy at the end of the Sky Bet Championship

Emi Buendia wrapped an Argentina flag around him as Norwich City were handed the Championship trophy at Oakwell - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

The position of Emi Buendia’s name on the Argentina squad list couldn’t have been any better. There he was, right next to arguably the greatest footballer ever: Lionel Messi. 

It was just a fortunate coincidence on an alphabetised online list but it immediately added to an already great sense of pride as Norwich City supporters experienced a new sensation. 

The Canaries have had many international players through the years. Teemu Pukki is a national icon in Finland and Tim Krul is in contention to be Holland’s number one at the Euros, where Grant Hanley and Przemek Placheta are set to be in action as well for Scotland and Poland respectively. 

The club has had various representatives of non-European nations as well. Onel Hernandez was the most recent with Cuba but Simeon Jackson (Canada), Youssef Safri (Morocco) and Efan Ekoku (Nigeria) are among those to represent City on the international stage. 

Buendia is the first to get a call-up to one of the South American powerhouses though. 

Argentina, the home of Messi and the legendary Diego Maradona, a country that has celebrated World Cup jubilation twice and heartbreak in the final on three occasions.  

For a club the size of Norwich City to have a player called up by one of the giants of world football is a huge sign of the impressive progress made in recent years under head coach Daniel Farke and sporting director Stuart Webber. 

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Buendia has been at the heart of two Championship title triumphs, book-ending a frustrating Premier League failure both collectively and individually for the former Real Madrid trainee, when his hugely impressive creative statistics failed to produce the numbers which mattered. 

Even after a majestic campaign that saw the 24-year-old named Player of the Season by the EFL and Norwich supporters, second-tier players don’t tend to get call-ups from Argentina. 

Fabricio Coloccini received a couple of when Newcastle were in the Championship in 2009-10 but, perhaps like Buendia this season, the Magpies were only really on loan from the Premier League. 

The tenacious midfielder was too good for his opponents and although he picked up two harsh - but naïve - red cards during the journey, any doubts about the class of the man City signed from Getafe for an initial £1.5million have surely now dissipated. 

Just look through that Argentina squad. You’ve got Messi, the hero of Barcelona and six-time Ballon d’Or winner. There’s departing Manchester City superstar Sergio Aguero, the fourth-highest scorer in Premier League history. 

Or you’ve got Angel Di Maria, coming towards the end of a trophy-laden career with Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain, and Lautaro Martinez, fresh from helping Inter Milan win their first Serie A title since 2010. 

Buendia also meets up with Atletico Madrid ace Angel Correa, whom he played alongside at the U20 World Cup in 2015, and has history with Messi too.

The Barca talisman urged him to choose Argentina ahead of that youth tournament, as Getafe were getting a 6-0 thrashing at the Nou Camp in April 2015, because Buendia had been capped by Spain twice at under-19 level earlier that season. His idol spoke and he listened.

Argentina's Lionel Messi celebrates after the final whistle during the FIFA World Cup Group D match

The cameras follow Argentina and Barcelona star Lionel Messi's every move - Credit: PA

Atletico Madrid, Porto, Ajax and Sevilla are all represented in Lionel Scaloni’s latest squad, chosen ahead of World Cup qualifiers against Chile and Colombia, to be followed by the Copa America which is being played in Argentina and Colombia this summer – with that tournament squad still to be confirmed. 

It’s unfamiliar territory for City, so what does it mean for the hopes of keeping hold of a player who could well prove the difference as Farke and Webber strive for a squad capable of Premier League survival? 

It undoubtedly boosts Buendia’s profile, particularly if he makes his debut and goes on to produce one of his magic moments in the process, to launch his name onto the global stage.

However, after 15 goals and 16 assists from 39 appearances in a hugely competitive league like the Championship, the Mar del Plata maestro will already be on the radar of scouting departments at many of the big clubs across Europe. 

A valuation of around £40million may be extraordinary in the world of Norwich City but it’s the going rate for a forward player being signed by a top-level European club - at least it was before the coronavirus pandemic. 

We already know that City would dearly love to keep hold of their star man but that if such a huge bid were to arrive, with a significant step up the ladder, then Buendia is likely to get the opportunity to explore his options. 

Max Aarons and Todd Cantwell are in similar situations, with James Maddison and Ben Godfrey among the examples of player development being crucial to the Canaries’ self-sustainable model. 

But Buendia has a contract until 2024, is enjoying his football, is idolised in Norfolk and has two young sons and a partner settled in the area. He has also just been shown that international recognition is possible as a City player so the decision ahead of the Premier League season may not be as straightforward as some expect. 

The feisty midfielder’s call-up comes not only as a major moment personally but as a significant coup for the Canaries, providing further proof of the coaching excellence of Farke and the club’s progressive standards overall. 

Maddison has become an England international and has just won the FA Cup with Leicester, Godfrey looks on course for England recognition and is being talked about as Everton’s Player of the Season and both Aarons and Cantwell continued as England U21 internationals despite City being in the Championship. 

Emiliano Buendia of Norwich celebrates winning the championship with the traveling Norwich fans at t

Emi Buendia celebrated Norwich City's title triumph at Villa Park in 2019 with an Argentina flag - Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd

At this stage, Buendia doesn’t even know where he’ll be playing next season. For now, he gets to enjoy a little bit of rest and reflection of a job particularly well done, before setting his sights on taking his career to the next level. 

Norwich fans hope they get to enjoy their slice of ‘football heaven’ for a little while longer yet but have known throughout the current campaign that they need to enjoy him while he’s still around.  

If Buendia has played his last game in the yellow and green of Norwich City, then it’s over to Webber and Farke to find the next hero and to maximise the opportunity to create foundations for a Premier League future where Canaries players featuring for top international teams becomes the norm. 

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