Football in Argentina inspires an almost religious devotion. Perhaps this is why you often hear talk, couched in Messianic terminology, of the 'new-one' coming out of the country. Messi was the new Maradona, Gago was the new Redondo and now young Ever Banega has now been hailed as the new Gago.
This somewhat contrived cycle of 'newness' brings a smile to young Banega's fresh face. "I'm not really the new Gago but just the same old Banega," he told FIFA.com about recent comparisons made between him and Gago, who was making his a mark at La Bombonera when Banega was just a schoolboy.
Though quick to side step such comparisons, Banega has a great respect for Gago - the newest in a long line of hot properties to head for big Europe (Real Madrid) from Buenos Aires. "I am thrilled that people would compare me with Gago," he says with an impish grin as the sky threatens rain outside Toronto's National Soccer Stadium following a tough training session. "He is a fantastic player, a fantastic person and a great friend. I only hope someday I can do as much in the game that they talk about me as much as they talk about him!"
If he keeps things going the way he has this year at club level, and indeed here in Canada, everyone will be talking about Banega and his silky distribution skills in the middle of the park. Fresh from breaking into the Boca Juniors first team this season after Gago's departure, the 19-year-old never missed a beat, helping the Xeneizes to a sixth Copa Libertadores title.
"Breaking into the Boca Juniors first team was a huge honour for me, of course. And winning a first Copa Libertadores was a great experience, but all of that is in the past now," the player remarked with an air of confidence and determination. "To play in a world cup and wear the Argentine shirt is the greatest honour and I am keen to make the most of it."
Long-time U-20 head coach and talent-spotter extraordinaire Hugo Tocalli sees similarities between Gago and his teenage sensation Banega, but is quick to point out he still has some learning to do. "He has a great future. He plays the same style as Gago and now needs to learn to play a little more with his mates...once he gets that, he will play in the senior national team and in Europe for sure."
Banega's contributions in Canada have been nothing short of huge - playing in all three games so far in the creator's position just behind the forwards - and he sees the upcoming game against Poland (who beat Argentina's archrivals Brazil in their opener) in the Round of 16 as a test no different than any other.
"Poland is just another team we have to play. If we prepare properly for them, we will win." he crowed. "I couldn't be more pleased with the way we've played so far, everything is going according to plan and we are getting tighter as a team with every game. We all came from our different clubs shortly before the tournament started, but we are beginning to understand each other more and more now."
Speaking of different clubs and Argentina, the question must be asked. Is it satisfying to see that no players from eternal city rivals River Plate are in the squad?
"Even without River players in the team, there's still always trash talking between the boys from rival clubs," he ducked the obvious attempt to bate him with a sly smile. "It's always going to be like this as long as there are Argentine national teams. But these jokes and the ribbing is part of the process of building stronger friendships and understanding in the team. No matter what club we come from we all have total trust in our team-mates."
Total trust, complete understanding, seven goals scored in the group stages and zero conceded, Banega and his bros are looking well favourite to best Poland and book a place in the quarter-finals.