South American Footballers: 'Coming over here, winning our Premier League'
It seems a lifetime ago when English top flight football were uncharted waters for South American players. A mere 36 years ago, when I was doing a different type of dribbling, two Spurs signings; Ossie Ardiles and Ricardo Villa were truly ahead of the times. Like two little ducklings they slotted into a tough Tottenham side that had been promoted back into the top flight after a season's absence.
The year was 1978 and Argentina had won the World Cup on home soil. Step forward Keith Burkinshaw. Keith Who? He was the Spurs manager who became a visionary & a risk taker in signing Ossie Ardiles. Naturally as Ossie considered the daunting move thousands of miles away, he asked one question: Could his mate Ricky join him.(?) The following day the Spurs manager met Ricky and within 5 minutes of meeting, Ricardo Villa signed a form and officially became a Tottenham player. Easy peasy. All in 1978 before Mark Zuckerberg was even born. Considering faxes were hardly in use and Facebook not in existence, this was a landmark moment.
Oddly enough those historic signings never caught on or even translated into a trend. After Ossie and Ricky, players from the continent of "flair football" completely flatlined. After all, this was the age before Sky Sports, internet and the explosion in football revenues. The same old reasons were often wheeled out within the football fraternity: Oh South Americans can't handle our physical style of play, they don't like the weather or they aren't independent enough to live and play here without a support network.
I personally think the reasons were far simpler. Managers were too wary and sceptical towards this breed of player and clubs were not equipped with really basic stuff; Translators and player liaison officers, who today, arrange wifi, plumbers and good steak. The late 70's and 80's was an age where drinking and smoking was still part of the football playing culture and brut strength was king. Diets and sports scientists were fictional and more likely to appear in a Rocky movie assisting a giant Russian character beat up Stallone.
However, this all changed with the arrival of European footballers and their secret weapon, pasta. A professional approach and dietary planning slowly infiltrated the game and the spectacle of South American footballers flourishing at other European clubs eventually paved the way for these flair players to consider the EPL as a potential home.
Just ask Suarez who recently complained jokingly that he can't understand his daughter when she speaks scouse. A decent Champion's League run for Liverpool next season, plus top 4 status and Suarez could be staying for a long, long while.
Suarez will have noted the absolute blind admiration, respect and awe the fans and club have for both Daglish and him.
When millionaire players have everything, this commodity of adulation becomes priceless and powerful. Just as it can inspire the creation and construction of a footballing dynasty, just ask Yaya Toure if it can destroy the stability of a Premier League winning team when there's a lack of it.
The EPL in 2014 would be unimaginable without the level of South American players keeping us firmly on the edge of our seats week in week out. From Uruguay's Suarez terrorising defenders, to Argentina's Aguero bursting into a lightening sprint and Brazil's Oscar majestically outshining the previous Chelsea Player of the Year, Juan Mata.
South American players are enjoying bullish times here in England and are going nowhere.
Even a certain "Godly" Gus whose created miracles in the North East is now part of Mackem folklore. Very different and exciting times compared to the fairly recent era which saw South American duds in Crespo, Robinho and Juan Veron attempted to ply their trade on these shores. Where is Crespo anyway, AC?
The current batch are the real deal and will undoubtedly become future legends of English clubs. Similarly to how the illustrious list of players like: Maradona, Ronaldo, Ronaldhino, Kaka, Batistuta, Zanetti and Messi became legends in Italy and Spain, this current batch have shown the EPL to be a place where reputations and legacies can be made.
This season we saw the current Premier League champions Manchester City use 4 South American regularly in their starting team when all fit. Two defenders (Demichelis & Zabaleta), a central midfielder (Fernandinho) and a striker (Aguero). This is 36.3% of their strongest lineup. Add a Chilean Manager to the mix and it becomes all too clear that the Latinos have arrived.
Whether its for the good of the English game or English players in the EPL, that's a whole different debate for another day. What is certain is South American players will only improve in the EPL due to a greater work ethic being thrust upon them and adopting a defensive mindset to their natural game. As Mourinho will contest, defending is now part of the modern game.
With a record 6 South American countries representing the continent in Brazil next month we're likely to see unprecedented transfers of their players to the EPL and European clubs. As the world watches this summer, clubs will be fighting for the signatures for those who prove to be game changers, industrious and creative.
So, unlike 36 years ago when Keith Berkinshaw took a huge gamble, with a healthy amount of key international South American players at English clubs, the waters here are uncharted no more. Unlike Ossie and Ricky who were ducklings in a brave new world. The next wave of players will continue to impress and take to the EPL like ducks to water. Watch this space.
Related Manchester City News