The best South Americans in the EPL

The continent has produced some of the most skillful players of our time yet it is only recently that they have succeeded in the English top division.

In previous decades players like Ricky Villa and Ossie Ardiles were a rarity while others such as Austin Delgado were cult, fan favourites rather than roaring success stories.

The first South American to really set the heather alight was Juninho in 1995 who swapped Sao Paulo for the north of England and Middlesborough. At the time Bryan Robson was creating a mini-revolution and recruited Juninho along with countryman Emerson and the Italian striker Ravenelli.

Although the experiment was ultimately a failure leading to Borough’s relegation Juninho was a shining light. His marauding runs and intricate skill reminded of Peter Beardsley in his pomp.

Since then the fortunes of South America have been mixed. With as many impressing as fading into the shadows.

At present the South American footballers are excelling like never before and more and more clubs and managers are putting their faith them.

 

Current top 11 South Americans in England:

 

Dream Team 4-1-3-2 football formation

GOALKEEPER

Despite being roundly criticized in his first few games (anything to do with replacing England’s Robert Green?) Julio Cesar has gone on to become arguably the best goal keeper in the division. After Inter Milan many thought his career was dwindling into obscurity but his transfer to QPR is looking like a success. So much so that he has been re-called to the Brazilian national team and attracting attention form bigger EPL teams.

 

DEFENCE

At left back I have Ecuador’s Antonio Valencia. Last year Valencia was named Man United’s player of the year and inherited the historical No.7 jersey. He is a versatile and useful player down the left hand side popping up with the odd goal but creating more for his team-mates for club and country.

On the right hand side I have Argentinean, Pablo Zabaleta who plays for Man City in England. Zabaleta is a main stay for Man City and was an instrumental figure in City’s title win last year garnering much praise for his committed attitude and lung bursting runs down the wing.

In the centre of defence I have opted for David Luiz and Fabio Colloccini. Both players are prone to the odd mistake, especially when to they try and out smart midfielders and end up fooling themselves. However, both are adept defenders and would compliment each with Luiz being more attacking minded and a link to midfield.

MIDFIELD

Lucas has only recently returned to Liverpool’s midfield but already his influence is telling. Despite not having the attacking instincts of other Brazilians he is an excellent central-defensive midfielder.

On the left wing I have chosen Jonas Gutierrez of Newcastle and Argentina. A firm fans favourite at St James since arriving in 2008 the silky winger has racked up near to 200 appearances in 4 years creating bucket loads of chances for his attackers.

In the middle is Ramires of Chelsea and Brazil. The tough tackling little midfielder is comfortable as defensive cover or in attack. He is known  for his acceleration, dribbling and ability to open up the tightest of defences.

Since is record move to Southampton Ramirez has impressed all in difficult circumstances. He could play as a second striker but seems better as a right hand sided midfielder. I would not be surprised if the Uruguayan was pinched by a bigger team at this seasons end.

 

ATTACK

Although not the tallest nor biggest both Kun Arguero and Luis Suarez would be a match for any defence. What they lack in height they more than make up for in speed, guile and tenacity. The English press have been fairly unfair to Uruguayan, Suarez since his move from Ajax to Anfield. Although his comments to Evra were unsavoury the assorted hacks have been quick to pounce on any little mistake or error while absolving their own of same indiscretions. He is an amazing player with the ball at his feet and starting to match his Ajax goal form

Arguero wrote his name into history with his last day, last second title clinching goal. The little Uruguayan has been a revelation in the EPL and a integral cog in the Sky Blues machine. His goals are often acrobatic, impressive and vital.

Predictions for COMNEBOL Friday fixtures

Colombia 1 Uruguay 1

Based on Colombia’s last outing and the fact that Falcoa never replicates his Atletico Madrid form I can’t see Colombia winning against a strong Uruguay side.

Ecuador 3 Bolivia 1

Even without Christain Benitez Ecuador should have enough to overcome Bolivia.

Argentina 4 Paraguay 1

Much like Ecuador I think will suffer a heavy tonking in Buenos Aires. Paraguay are struggling and no match for the likes of Messi, Arguero,Di Maria etc.

Peru 1 Venezuela 2

Venezuela should have enough to overcome Peru by the odd goal.

Diego Maradona in his own words

 

Those who hate Diego Maradona will point to the “Hand of God”, his addiction to cocaine and his disqualification form USA 1994.

Those who love him shall point to his goal just after the “Hand of God”, his performances for Barcelona, Boca Juniors, Napoli and Argentina, his goals, his fights, his mazy runs and unmatched skill,  his honesty and his quotes ;

 

 

On the doubters and nay sayers;

“To those who did not believe: now suck my d**k – I’m sorry ladies for my words – and keep on sucking it. I am either white or black. I will never be grey in my life. You treated me as you did. Now keep on sucking d**ks. I am grateful to my players and to the Argentinian people. I thank no one but them. The rest, keep on sucking d**ks.”

On Scotland ;

“It was nice to get my first goal here in Scotland and it was very special. I feel great. I’m very happy to be back here after all this time and I’m proud to be heading the Argentina national side. I’m very much aware of how popular I apparently am in Scotland. It’s nice to see that I have made people happy and if I could do it again then it would be marvellous.

On Pele ;

“Pele should go back to the museum.”

On football organisation ;

Many people agree with me that many things are not clear in football these days and it is not something people who watch football deserve. The situation will be the same while football is run by people who do not understand football.

 

On politics ; 

“I believe in Hugo Chávez, I am Chavista. Everything Fidel does, everything Chávez does, for me is the best.”

 

On himself ;

 “I worked hard all my life for this. Those who say I don’t deserve anything, that it all came easy, can kiss my ass.”

More than a Fro – CARLOS “El Pibe” VALDERRAMA

Few people would have forgotten Carlos Valderrama and his appearance in 3 World Cups for Colombia. His trademark blonde afro made him one of the most recognisable World footballers in the 1990’s but his extravagant appearance belied his immense footballing ability.

Valderrama captained Colombia during their golden period in which they qualified for 3 World Cups (1994, 1998 and 2000) and boosted their FIFA rankings to as high as 4rth place in 1996. In this time Columbia also claimed two 3rd places in the Copa America and qualified in 1st place in the CONMEBAL 1994 World Cup qualifiers (courtesy of a historic 5-0 triumph over Argentina, in Buenos Aires).

This was in no small part due to their captain who had the ability to control the midfield with skill and inventiveness rather than violence and aggression. His lilting runs and deft passes opened many defences and supplied chances to the likes of Valencia and Asprilla. Although not a proficient goal-scorer Valderrama was also an accomplished free kick taker and assisted many of Colombia’s and his various domestic team’s goals.

You can watch Valderrama’s labyrinthine displays on youtube, where with deft touches he seems to glide past midfielders and defenders alike. For me he was similar to Ruud Gullit all being with a more languid, relaxed style and usually positioned in a deeper lying position. He also appeared to be strong in possession and difficult to harass.

However it was his passing ability that really attracted admiration. His slide rule short layoffs and through balls to the attack were executed with pin point precision. He seemed to be the creative focus of the team with the entire attacking force flowing throw his neat interlinking one twos.

During his lengthy career he blessed pitches in South America, where he won South American player of the year twice (1987, 1993), Europe (Montpellier) and a fledgling MLS (Tampa Bay, Colorado Rapids) but it is with Colombia that he is best remembered.

Although christened “El Pibe” or the Kid, Valderrama was not a child prodigy and had to wait until he was 24 for his first cap. Even then it was in a 2-0 defeat to Paraguay. Despite this inauspicious start Valderrama quickly cemented his place in the squad and later became captain at age 26. Under his command Colombia claimed 3rd place in the Copa America in 1987 then qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1962.

Colombia were grouped with the United Arab Emirates, Yugoslavia and West Germany and were not expected to progress out of the group. They started their tournament with a 2-0 defeat of a limited but determined UAE. Valderrama had controlled the midfield without impressing or meeting his pre-tournament expectations. In 85 minutes he finally announced his attendance with measured shot from 30 yards low past the stretching Arabian keeper to double his countries lead.

A disappointing 1-0 defeat to Yugoslavia meant that Colombia were looking at an early flight home unless they could muster a result against a strong West Germany. Colombia struggled against a typically pragmatic and defensive German side but matched them until 88 minutes when Pierre Littbarksi smashed past a confused Rene Higuita. As the game tailed to the final whistle Valderrama conjured up one final piece of magic to slide through to Freddy Rincon who nutmegged Bodo Ilgner for the equaliser. It was a vital goal as the extra point ensured Colombia’s progress as a best 3rd place qualifier.

Their reward was a last 16 match against Cameroon and Roger Milla. Again Colombia suffered from their goalkeeper’s slackness when “El Loco” was robbed of possession far from his goal. Milla needed only to roll the ball into a gaping net to secure the win and the Columbian’s elimination.

Columbia’s World Cup 1994 will always be remembered for the death of Andres Escobar as a supposed punishment for his own goal against the United States. It is still unclear whether his assailant had sick retribution in mind when he gunned down Escobar or if it was more a reflection of the Uber- violent times of a post Pablo Escobar Colombia.

Nevertheless, the death of his close friend had a profound effect on Valderrama who later said;

“It’s very difficult for me to talk about him, ‘It’s very painful. He was very close to me. We were very good friends, very good friends. That has been my worst experience playing the sport.”

Colombia 1994 World Cup team

The World Cup USA was a disaster for Colombia. Before the tournament they were being touted as genuine favourites especially as they had topped the CONMEBAL qualifying table above Argentina. But they failed to meet expectations.

A 3-1 humbling to Romania was followed by the 2-1 loss the USA and while they beat Switzerland 2-0 it was not enough and they were eliminated bottom of Group A.

France 98 was to prove not much better for Valderrama. At 37 and now plying his trade for Miami Fusion in the MLS “El Pibe” was in the twilight of his career along with many of his team-mates. The Colombian squad look aged, tired and probably still shaken from the Andres Escobar experience in France.

As captain of his national team in 3 World Cups Valderrama could count himself with a very elite group of men but even this could not inspire his team to success.  Again Romania triumphed over Colombia, although this time 1-0, and an unimpressive 1-0 victory over Tunisia left Columbia needing to beat England to claim 2nd place.

Despite only needing a draw the English easily overcame the Colombians 2-0 through Anderton and Beckham sending Colombia home again at the group stage and ending Carlos Valderrama’s international career.

With 111 games (11 goals) he became Colombia’s most capped and greatest ever player and his career was further recognised in 1998 when Pele named him as one of the top players of the century and FIFA.

Valderrama ended his competitive playing career in 2004 with a star-studded tribute match that included the likes of Enzo Francescoli, Diego Maradona, Eric Cantona, Jorge Campos, and Iván Zamorano.