The summer transfer market is in full flow and, as ever, South American players are among the hottest commodities. What’s more, with the World Cup just one year away, there is an added incentive for those players looking to secure their place in the national team as well as those making a late push for a call-up. Making the right move has never been more essential.
The bar was set high early. Months, years even, of speculation ended with the announcement at the tail end of May that Barcelona had captured the services of Brazilian boy wonder Neymar for €57m. A tearful goodbye in the Mane Garrincha stadium was then followed by scintillating displays during the Confederations Cup, leaving even his most ardent detractors back peddling whilst also providing the Blaugrana faithful with a tantalising taste of what to expect from him next term.
Doubts remain: Can he temper his theatrical simulation? Will he need to bulk up his wiry frame? How will he handle defences that afford him less space? What is certain though is that, while still not at Lionel Messi’s level of consistent brilliance, Neymar will bring a different dimension and unpredictability to a Barcelona attack that at times has been accused of over-reliance on their talismanic Argentine. And how quickly Neymar adapts to European football will have a direct impact upon the narratives of both Barcelona’s attempt to win back their aura of invincibility and Brazil’s chances of a sixth World Cup next summer. It promises to be a fascinating year for the 21-year-old.
Equally interesting will be the arrival of another South American in Catalonia. Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino arrives with less fanfare, but his first foray into European management will be just as crucial to Barcelona’s success.
Having won many admirers for his impressive spells with Paraguay and more recently Argentine outfit Newell’s Old Boys, who he transformed from relegation candidates to title winners, Martino’s style and studied approach seem a good fit. Inevitable similarities with Marcelo Bielsa have been drawn but are somewhat misleading, with Martino less tied to an ideological doctrine and thus more flexible – a ‘pragmatic Bielsista’.
While South American managers have not always achieved instant success following moves to Europe – Manuel Pellegrini, Oscar Tabarez and Hector Cuper being notable exceptions – Martino has a talented squad at his disposal and, provided Barcelona bolster their defence, has all the qualities for a seamless and successful transition.
Eclipsing even Neymar’s hefty sum, France’s Ligue 1 has provided the two most expensive transfers of the summer so far, both coming in the form of other prolific South American strikers. The €60m plus that nouveau-riche Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain respectively, paid for Radamel Falcao and Edinson Cavani rankled many an onlooker, but nevertheless represents a sign of intent from the Gallic duo. Phenomenal records at their former clubs mean ‘El Tigre’ and ‘El Matador’ will no doubt cause defences in France real trouble.
Another exciting addition through Monaco’s spending spree sees James Rodriguez join his Colombian compatriot on the Cote D’Azur. Presumably the extra game time together with Falcao should bode well for the Cafateros, who are already all but qualified for Brazil and many people’s dark horses. Similarly, PSG’s outlay of €35m for teenage Brazilian centre-back sensation Marquinhos could give Selecao coach Luiz Felipe Scolari further options in the heart of defence, as the 19-year-old trains with and learns from Brazil captain Thiago Silva on a regular basis. Though it would be a big ask to dislodge David Luiz and Dante in the next twelve months, Marquinhos is definitely one to keep an eye on.
Closer to home, the Premier League has also seen an influx of South American talent. The pick of the bunch has been Tottenham Hotspur’s capture of all-action midfielder Paulinho from Corinthians. Integral to the Timao’s Copa Libertadores win last year, he enhanced his reputation further with some stellar displays during Brazil’s Confederations Cup triumph. Perfectly suited to the Premier League, Paulinho will slot in alongside the excellent Moussa Dembele and fellow countryman Sandro to form perhaps the most exciting midfield in England.
Opting for more youthful additions, Manchester United swooped for Uruguayan right-back prospect Guillermo Varela, while Chelsea snapped up Chilean youngster Cristian Cuevas after both impressed at international Under-20 level. Elsewhere, Sunderland looked on the verge of sealing Argentinian international Gino Peruzzi for a bargain price until a failed medical scuppered a move for the highly rated full-back, though no such complications prevented Manchester City adding a Brazilian to their ranks in the form of Fernandinho from Shakhtar Donetsk. Agile, dynamic and importantly versatile, he will improve the Citizens midfield even if at €30m they may have paid over the odds, especially in comparison to Paulinho.
Shakhtar Donetsk’s shrewd business sense has also been highlighted by how they have reinvested their money in promising new investments. Joining the already sizeable Brazilian contingent in the Ukraine are exciting winger Wellington Nem from Fluminense (€9m), Gremio’s defensive midfielder Fernando (€11m), quick, skilful Internacional midfielder Fred (€15m), as well as young Argentinian striking prospect Facundo Ferreyra (€7m) from Velez Sarsfield. All are hugely gifted and Shakhtar Donetsk can expect to make a tidy profit in the not too distant future.
FC Porto, a side just as well versed in unearthing diamonds from Latin America, have also picked up some impressive talents this summer. Mexican duo Diego Reyes and Hector Herrera have signed for the Dragons, as well as Colombian Juan Fernando Quintero. The young playmaker absolutely sparkled at the Under-20 World Cup this summer, displaying a dazzling array of skill, sublime technique and brilliant vision, and should fill the hole left by Rodriguez’s departure. Rivals Benfica have been busy too, bringing in Luis Farina from Racing, Jorge Rojas from Cerro Porteno and Lisandro Lopez from Arsenal de Sarandi, the latter being a tailor-made replacement for Ezequiel Garay should he depart the Estadio da Luz.
Over the border in Spain, Real Betis have been the club to most successfully tap the South American leagues with Rafaela goalkeeper Guillermo Sara and impressive Chileans Lorenzo Reyes and Braian Rodriguez also joining Pepe Mel’s promising project. Likewise, the transfers of Peruvian striker Yordy Reyna to Austrian giants Red Bull Salzburg and Colombian centre-back Pedro Franco to Istanbul outfit Besiktas represent great value for money and are worth paying close attention to. In Italy’s Serie A, Gonzalo Higuain’s bumper €37m switch to Napoli dominates the transfer dealings, while it will also be interesting to see how youngsters Jadson and Felipe Anderson do at Udinese and Lazio respectively.
With over a month to go before the window slams firmly shut, there are likely to be plenty more deals with South Americans as the main protagonists. The futures of Luis Suarez and Thiago Silva will no doubt be highly scrutinised, while the likes of Bernard, Leandro Damiao and Luciano Vietto could yet be plying their trade in Europe come September. A big year beckons for South America and its biggest names.
Like to bet on football? Pay Inside Bet a visit!