Chelsea snap up Argentina's latest 'Maradona'

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Juan Roman Riquelme, Aimar, Javier Saviola, Ariel Ortega, Carlos Tevez, Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero. The label "the next Diego Maradona" has been applied to virtually every clever forward to emerge from Argentina since the maestro's decline left a vacancy.

There is something different about the 18-year-old tiro Chelsea signed yesterday. For a start, Franco Di Santo is 6ft 4in, which makes him the tallest "next Maradona" by far. One respected observer suggested he is more like "the next Roque Santa Cruz".

He also arrives in Europe without having played a senior match in Argentina. After starting out in youth football in his native country he moved to Chile, where he has been playing for Audax Italiano.

Based in the capital, Santiago, Audax are a small club whose ground holds just 8,500 fans and who last won the title half a century ago. Di Santo's achievement in scoring 13 goals in 35 starts have thus caught the eye as it appears to confirm the promise he has shown for Argentine international youth teams.

He was omitted from Argentina's squad for last summer's Under-20 World Youth Cup but a transfer scramble nevertheless developed with Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal among the clubs involved. Chelsea, who are investing heavily in young talent, beat them all, paying an estimated £3.4m, plus a cut of any future transfer.

Di Santo, who has signed a deal until summer 2012, holds an Italian passport, which avoids any work permit issues, but he will need time to settle in England before being involved with the first team.

The player's delight at the move was evident when he said, as it was being finalised: "My agent told me not to talk about this, but the truth is I won't go on playing at Audax. Playing at Chelsea would be very nice. It would be fantastic."

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