Player departures undermine Copa
In last month's final against old rivals Alianza Lima, Nolberto Solano rolled home the penalty that confirmed a record 25th Peruvian title for Universitario and ensured the club's qualification for the Copa Libertadores, the South American equivalent of Europe's Champions League.
Last year they came very close to making the knockout stages of the competition but coach Juan Reynoso feels that his squad is stronger now. This, then, is an exiting moment for the club. Solano, though, has decided not to be a part of it.
After flirting with Colchester and offering himself to Newcastle, he has signed for Leicester. Solano, then would rather wind down his career in lower division English football than in his continent's premier club competition.
Uruguayan playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro, meanwhile, is in the early stages of what promises to be a magnificent career. The 20-year-old was South America's big revelation of 2009, making his name in his country's Under-20 side at the start of the year, and looking thoroughly at home in the senior side by the end of it.
He was also in excellent form in last year's Libertadores, scoring and setting up goals as Nacional became the first Uruguayan club to reach the semi finals in 20 years. They have brought back some experienced players in their bid to do even better in 2010 - but they will have to do it without Lodeiro, who last week signed for Ajax in Holland.
Lodeiro (right) will miss the Libertadores after leaving Nacional for Dutch football
Another loss that will be felt in the Libertadores is that of Colombian striker Teofilo Gutierrez. Strong and direct, he suddenly made the breakthrough last year at the age of 24, linking up well with veteran playmaker Giovanny Hernandez and scoring rivers of goals for Junior of Barranquilla.
This week, Junior are one of 12 sides in action in the Libertadores' brief qualifying round, chasing the final six slots in the group phase, which gets underway on 9 February. The Colombians are clear favourites to overcome tiny Racing of Uruguay, who are making their debut in the competition, and have a powerful incentive to do so as they will go into Group One, along with Corinthians of Brazil, who can boast Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos in their line-up.
It's glamorous stuff - but not enough to keep Gutierrez in Colombia. He has moved to Turkey to join Trabzonspor.
This constant selling undermines the Libertadores, especially with the January transfer window on the eve of the big kick-off. On the other hand, it does make the competition gloriously unpredictable. With even the biggest clubs continually waving off their best players the situation is very different from Europe, where the number of clubs capable of winning the Champions League has shrunk.
True, the Brazilian clubs, boosted by their huge internal market, are beginning to show signs of future domination - the country has provided seven of the last 10 finalists, but the title has eluded them in each of the last three years and part of the charm of the Libertadores is that there is always the chance of a surprise.
The 2010 winners, for example, could even be among the teams taking part in the qualifying round. That's what happened last year when Estudiantes of Argentina struggled mightily to reach the group phase, only getting past Peru's Sporting Cristal on the away goals rule. But during the course of the competition - in what was otherwise a dreadful year for Argentine clubs - Veron and co found the form that made them champions of the continent , and very nearly of the world.
Estudiantes defeated Cruzeiro of Brazil 2-1 in last year's Libertadores final
There is hope, then, for two other Argentine sides in this year's qualifying round. Colon of Santa Fe kick-off the action in a tricky tie against Chile's Univesidad Catolica, while an interesting Newells Old Boys team face Emelec of Ecuador.
Last year's beaten finalists, Cruzeiro of Brazil have to overcome the dreaded altitude to get past Real Potosi of Bolivia and there's an intriguing tie involving Juan Aurich, a little known team from Peru.
From the northern town of Chiclayo, Aurich were one of the first clubs to be included in the country's First Division when it finally decentralised in 1966. Until then, the league was restricted to Lima, the capital, and Callao, the neighbouring port.
In 1969, Aurich became the first provincial side to play in the Libertadores. Since then, though, the Northern Cyclone, as they are known, have blown hot and cold., with spells when they drifted out of professional football.
This is typical of provincial clubs in Peru and helps explain why the title has only ever left Lima/Callao on three occasions, and not since 1989. Now, though, Aurich are making a concerted attempt to establish themselves on a firmer footing.
Their coach has World Cup pedigree - Luis Fernando Suarez, the Colombian who took Ecuador to the last 16 in 2006. And in their squad, back from PSV in Holland, is Reimond Manco, a 19-year-old stocky support striker seen as one of the great hopes of Peruvian football.
Back in Lima, Alianza president Guillermo Alarcon has criticized Aurich as "irresponsible" for over-reaching themselves with financial commitments which are too heavy for the Peruvian market.
The stakes are high, then, when Aurich meet Estudiantes Tecos of Mexico in the Libertadores qualifying round. The Mexicans should be the better prepared side - this week's match is the first competitive game of the year for Aurich, while Estudiantes have been in action this month in the Mexican qualifying tournament.
But Aurich have the first leg advantage of a synthetic pitch in their Elias Aguirre stadium.
and coming out on top over the two legs will lead to at least six paydays for Aurich in the group phase - and they will also be in the same group as Alianza Lima, which after Alarcon's comments will surely set the sparks flying.
Comments on the piece in the space provided. Other questions on South American football to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag:
Q) My question is about Arsenal's recent signing Samuel Galindo from Bolivia. He seems the kind of midfielder that Wenger likes: very good technically on the ball, and has an eye for the killer pass from midfield. How do you rate him as a prospect, and how soon do you feel we could see him in England? At 6ft 2ins and only 17, I'd imagine he'll soon "fill out" soon enough to adapt to the physical nature of the Premier League.
A) There's talent there - elegant, languid (perhaps a bit too much for English football) with a left foot capable of playing some excellent 40 yard diagonal passes.
I saw a fair bit of him a year ago when he captain of Bolivia's Under-20s. This is very unusual for a 16 year old, and he later played in the South American Under-17 Championships as well.
Since then there have been allegations made that some of that Under-17 side were in their 20s. This can happen in South American football - Brazil and Ecuador have had most problems with it. It's been reported that the Bolivian FA have appointed someone to look into the allegations.
Hopefully there is nothing untoward with Galindo. I trust that Arsenal have carried out thorough research on their acquisition.
Q) I have a couple of questions about two players that I was really excited about a few years ago who have now gone off the radar. Firstly, Colombia's Johnnier Montano and secondly Argentina's Daniel Montenegro. I remember Montano having a couple of spells at Parma that didn't amount to much, why was this? Montenegro spent a little while at Marseille that also didn't amount to much and I recall him being linked with Manchester United in his early days before that move. Was he just another victim of the 'new Maradona' syndrome that has destroyed many Argentinean youngsters?
A) The pace of European football mean that the playmaker position can be hard for South Americans - they don't have the time on the ball that they'd like to choose their options. 'Rolfi' Montenegro perhaps suffered from an inflated reputation early in his career. There was a buzz around him with European agents that hadn't really been justified by anything he'd done. A good player, but never on course to be a great one - didn't do much in France, Spain or Russia and is now in Mexico with America.
In the case of Jhonnier Montano, I think the talent was there - he looked sensational at 16. I see him as a victim of the premature move syndrome - Parma came way too early, and at a time in his career when he really needed games, he was on the bench or in the stands. Short term loans never worked either, and he ended up losing momentum and motivation and gaining weight. He's done reasonably well in Peru over the last couple of years, and is now with Alianza Lima. But it's very little when compared with the promise that he was showing a decade ago.