by Gordon Fleetwood
Each year a multitude of footballers from across South America take the worn path to Europe to seek fame and fortune. Some fail to settle and head back to the comforts of home after only a few months. Others stay and ply their trade far from the limelight for a number of years.
Then there are a select few who light up the European stage. Here are 5 new South American imports who could start making a name for themselves this season:
Marcelo Diaz (Chile/FC Basel)
Universidad de Chile has arguably been the best team in South American over the past year and a half. Without a doubt, they have certainly been the most entertaining to watch. The high tempo, intricate, passing football imposed by their coach Jorge Sampaoli—a disciple of Marcelo Bielsa—led La U to triumph in the 2011 Copa Sudamericana, the Copa Libertadores semifinals in 2012, and three consecutive Chilean Primera titles.
Among the maelstrom of passes and movement, Marcelo Diaz stood as the control room for all the on-field activity. The twenty-four year old sat just in front of the defense controlling the tempo of the game, playing delightful passes, and also standing as a calm buffer between the opposition and his own goal.
He’s also a superb set piece taker to boot. It’s little wonder that Diaz was labeled with the sobriquet the “Chilean Pirlo”. A move to Swiss champions Basel this summer came as a bit of a surprise. However, if he keeps up his form, there is little doubt that Diaz will soon be displaying his talents on a bigger stage.
Leandro Castan (Brazil/AS Roma)
Corinthians’ path to their long sought after maiden Copa Libertadores trophy was built on a defensive solidity that the Great Wall of China would envy. The Brazilian club conceded an historical low of four goals in the entire competition using a novel 4-2-4-0 formation.
Their triumph was attributed to the team’s collective sense of identity which compensated for their lack of star names. That being said, there were several excellent players in the side. A crucial component of the unit was center back Leandro Castan. The twenty-five year old is a late bloomer, but he has gone from seedling to tree at an accelerated rate.
Castan cuts a monstrous yet calm presence on the ground or in the air. His strength, superb tackling, and anticipation means that he has the assets needed to continue his growth into a top defender.
There is some concern over his adjusting to the European game after playing in such a defensive minded system. It’s a process that will be made even more difficult by his doing it under a coach like Zdenek Zeman whose football philosophy lies far from the one he’s accustomed to.
However, Castan has the quality to negotiate this tricky task, and he should be the key component of Roma’s backline this season. The early signs have been encouraging.
Dorlan Pabón (Colombia/Parma)
Atlético Nacional were the darlings of this year’s Copa Libertadores group stage as their games served the drama and excitement every football fans craves. The genesis of most of the team’s talisman eye-catching attacking play was Dorlan Pabón. The Colombian is nicknamed Memín after a popular Mexican cartoon character, but Speedy Gonzales would have been a more apt moniker.
Pabón is like a pocket rocket. He is short, stocky, and has the type speed and skill that gives defenders waking nightmares. Add a rocket shot, a wide passing range, and an unerring eye for goal, and you have yourself a one man army who can operate in a number of different attacking roles. He also takes wonderful free kicks.
Parma lost a key player in Sebastian Giovinco to Juventus this summer, but the signing of Pabón will definitely help fill the void. Once he adapts to Italian football, Memín will be poised to take Serie A by storm.
The name Oscar dos Santos Emboaba Júnior has hit the wider football world by storm in recent months. His rise over the past year and a half has been nothing short of meteoric.
From being a promising young player, Oscar matured quickly and became an integral part of his previous club side, Internacional. His club progress was also mirrored on the international platform, as he moved rapidly from starring at the under-20 level to seizing the role of main playmaker for the Brazilian senior national team with both hands.
Now the twenty year old faces the difficult challenge of making the transition from South American football to playing for a top European club.
It is a challenge that will be made easier by his playing style. Oscar is a paradigm of the modern playmaker. He is dynamic, links with others at pace, and shows the eagle-eyed vision required to play killer passes.
Oscar’s intelligence with respect to his awareness of space is excellent, and he has a penchant for backheels that is reminiscent of Sócrates. His versatility is another plus as he can play on the right hand side as well as centrally.
The defensive side of his game is also remarkably well developed for a young attacking player. The sight of him tracking back when the team losses possession is common.
Competition for places at Chelsea is stiff, but Oscar has the talent and the mental fortitude to deal with the demands that come with this situation. His complete acclimatization to European football will take some time. When it is complete, Oscar will be ready to begin his climb to the zenith of football.
Egidio Arévalo Rios (Uruguay/Palermo)
Arévalo Rios’ inclusion may differ from the age range of the previous players mentioned, but it’s difficult to leave him out. Along with Diego Pérez, he forms what is arguably the most intimidating and effective central midfield partnerships in international football.
The defensive midfielder has certainly been a key part of Uruguay’s resurgence in recent years under Òscar Wáshington Tábarez. Now, after twelve years of plying his trade in the Americas, he makes his first trip across the Atlantic to play in Europe.
El pequeño gigante (The Little Giant) may be close to reaching the wrong side of thirty, but he still has a lot to offer. What he lacks in technical ability, he more than compensates for in his standout traits: aggression, hard tackling, diligent marking, and copious amounts of garra charrúa. Palermo have picked up a bargain that will serve them well, not only this season, but in years to come.
Some other notable names: Rômulo (Brazil/Spartak Moscow), Paulo Dybala (Argentina/Palermo), Juan Fernando Quintero (Colombia/Pescara), Junior Fernandes (Chile/Bayer Leverkusen).
Gordon Fleetwood is a contributor to Just Football specialising in South American football. Follow him on Twitter @Gorayfle
(photo credits: Chelsea / Roma official sites)