Ranos the Rising Star


According to Tim Vickery, the great British chronicler of South American football, the best thing about being a football journalist is spotting a rising star.

Ranos the Rising Star.

In his case, witnessing a teenage Lionel Messi explode for Argentina in the 2005 World Youth Cup in Holland remains the highlight of his journalistic career.

It is always exciting to spy an unheralded hero in the early days of their career. What is sad is that they often fail to shine as expected as the years pass. Some footballers just peak too early.

With that always in mind, one player and one result really caught my eye in this week's round of UEFA Euro 2024 qualifiers.

Last Friday, Armenia, a nation of only three million people that has never qualified for a finals and is ranked 93rd in the FIFA World Rankings, beat Wales, of a similar population but who did play at Qatar 2022, 4-2 away.

For their Ukrainian coach Oleksandr Petrakov, who at the helm saw his homeland's World Cup dream drown in the rain at the same stadium to the same opposition a year earlier, it must have been a wonderfully redemptive moment.

The most Armenia have done since their birth in 1992 is finish third in qualification for Euro 2012 and produce Henrikh Mkhitaryan, their record goalscorer, who retired from the national team last year but still plays for Inter, most recently in the Champions League final. His participation in Manchester United's 2017 Europa League final win over Ajax was the first time an Armenian had won a continental trophy.

In the tenth minute in Cardiff,  the Welsh took an early lead and the red wall settled down for an expected goal-fest. But nine minutes later, Lucas Zelarayan, a 31-year-old Argentine-born striker for MLS's Columbus Crew, thrashed in a shot to leave the Welsh capital stunned, his first of two goals on the night.

By the half-hour mark, Armenia led when Grant-Leon Ranos, a German-born 19-year-old who so far has not played higher than the fourth tier with Bayern Munich reserves, lost his sluggish markers to beat goalkeeper Danny Ward with a textbook header to the floor.

In the 66th Ranos added his second and Armenia's third with an exquisite half-volley expertly guided into the bottom corner, a goal of Bergkamp-esque precision. After two goals for Armenia on his debut against Cyprus, he had bagged a brace in his second match,

In the 73rd minute he lost his markers again and steadied himself to score but hit the post, missing the chance of a hat-trick. All his goals displayed a strong positional sense and sharp technique. With his black hair and slender frame, he inevitably brings Robert Lewandowksi to mind.

Had we just witnessed the birth of a new Euro star? Alas Ranos, or Yeranosyan as his Armenian father spelled his name, could not add to his tally on Monday, although Armenia won again, 2-1 against Latvia, to maintain their voyage to Germany 2024.

Still, four goals in your first three games for your national team is pretty good. After experience in the youth systems of Hannover, Borussia Dortmund and finally Bayern Munich, where he scored 20 goals in 36 games for their U-23 side last season, he has finally bagged a move to the Bundesliga and Borussia Moenchengladbach, whom he joins next month on a free transfer.

"Grant-Leon is a very interesting and talented player who can play both as a number nine and in attacking midfield," said Moenchengladbach's sporting director Roland Virkus. "He has had a very impressive season in the Regionalliga and wants to prove himself at a higher level."

On this early evidence, Ranos is surely a name to watch out for.

Soccer player.
Grant-Leon Ranos, Armenian wunderkind

Without the retired Gareth Bale, Wales had started impressively with a 1-1 draw in Croatia, but consecutive defeats have doused the dragons' fire. 

The Croats, most recently World Cup semi-finalists and Nations League finalists, remain the favourites for first place in Group D, but for the second automatic qualification spot, little Armenia could well give the Turks a run for their money.

Armenia sit second in Group D behind Turkey but ahead of Croatia, who have a game in hand and visit Yerevan in September.

Their world ranking of 93 is set to shoot up next month, as is Ranos' transfer value of €325,000.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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