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Colombia's rising stars and lost potential

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Tim Vickery | 09:57 UK time, Monday, 31 October 2011

Like watching a sneak preview of future blockbuster films, the best thing about South American football is the chance to catch remarkable talent on the way up.

Barcelona's Argentine Lionel Messi tops the list but I have lost count of the extraordinary players whose early professional steps I have been lucky enough to witness.

Inevitably, plenty fall short of fulfilling their potential.

At the 2003 South American Under-20 Championships, I picked out a list of the most interesting players on show for World Soccer magazine. Carlos Tevez would have been on it - but I had already written about him months earlier. His team-mate Javier Mascherano was on my list, along with Brazil's attacking right-back Daniel Alves. And there was a Colombian I was excited about called Avimiled Rivas.

I wrote: "[He is] A midfielder who can be highly strung but looks a genuine thoroughbred. Tall, quick, strong and dynamic, he plays on the left but likes to cut inside to use his thumping right foot to switch play or shoot."

He is still doing it but not at the level that once seemed likely. Rivas was promoted to Colombia's senior squad and made a couple of appearances as a substitute. But a move to Real Sociedad in Spain did not work out. He was loaned out to lower-division clubs in Spain before returning home and bouncing around from club to club in Colombia.

Avimiled Rivas playing for Colombia in 2003

Avimiled Rivas, who appeared for Colombia in 2003, possesses masses of unrealised talent. Photo: Getty

This year he has been more settled, establishing himself as an important player with Colombian club Boyaca Chico in Tunja. It is a small well-run club founded in 2002 - but they are punching above their weight in sixth place, just two points off the top of Colombia's Primera A.

Last week I saw Rivas play in the second leg of the Colombian cup final. Chico had lost 1-0 at home to Millonarios and needed something special in the return match in Bogota.
It was tight and Rivas played his part as his side threatened to open the scoring. But, inside the last 20 minutes, he got himself sent off. The second yellow was harsh, more of a tangle than a foul, although Rivas did not touch the ball. This made his protest somewhat hollow when he picked up the ball and showed it to the referee - then downright outrageous when he thrust it into the ref's face before running off the field.
At 27, Avimiled Rivas is still highly strung.

The playmaker on the opposing side was Mayer Candelo. With a sweet left foot and a capacity to generate ideas, Candelo was a great hope when he emerged towards the end of the 1990s.

Some saw him as the successor to the fuzzy-haired Colombian Carlos Valderrama - the midfielder, now 50, who played 111 times for his country between 1985 and 1998.

It never happened for Candelo. At the top level he was found wanting. Now 34, Candelo has had an interesting career all over South America - most notably in Peru - but he proved unable to fulfil those early hopes.

A few minutes after Rivas saw red, Candelo had the chance to clinch the cup when he stepped up to take a penalty. Teenage goalkeeper Cristian Bonilla, a Colombia Under-20 international, dived right to make the save.

I sat thinking this was almost a metaphor for the moment of Colombian football - Candelo, the eternal nearly man, blowing it again, while Bonilla showed that the future lies with a new generation.

...And then the keeper made complete hash of a clearance, kicking straight to Candelo, who glided past the last defender and flicked his shot into the corner to confirm Millonarios as champions.

This, I suppose, is a better symbol of Colombia and its football - beguiling, frustrating, surprising.

After Brazil's near-200m population, Colombia's 50m is the largest in South America. It has a variety of urban centres and a football-crazy public. And yet they have failed to reach the last three World Cups.

In part this can be explained by the trauma of the 1994 World Cup, when their very good team collapsed under intense pressure as ambassadors for a country that was falling apart. The murder of centre-back Andres Escobar after that exit made the issues evident to all. The short passing style of the 1994 team seemed discredited by association and no big collective idea came along to replace it.

But it also seems clear there have been individual problems. A significant amount of South American talent that falls by the wayside seems to be Colombian.

Local journalists tell me many careers go astray from the moment when the youngster signs his first big contract. Lacking the maturity to cope with sudden wealth and fame, the journey from zero to hero is too quick for the player to assimilate the changes. Then there is the threat of a premature move to Europe where the youngster fails to get a regular game.

Brazil winning the Under-20 World Cup

How many stars of the future won the FIFA Under-20 World Cup for Brazil in August? Photo: AFP

Staying or going, both routes have their problems.

The record shows the best move would seem to be southwards. Argentine football functions as a finishing school for some of the best Colombians, toughening them up for the challenges ahead.

Defenders Mario Yepes (now at AC Milan), Luis Amaranto Perea (Atletico Madrid) and Ivan Cordoba (Inter Milan) plus strikers Juan Pablo Angel (ex-Aston Villa) and Radamel Falcao Garcia (Atletico Madrid) are recent examples of players who went to Argentina before moving to Europe.

As Colombia strive to improve on their Copa America displays, where they were solid but lacking spark, they are counting on two Argentine-trained talents.

Involvement in the World Youth Cup kept Porto's James Rodriguez, 20, out of the Copa. The left-footed midfielder, who made his name in Argentina with Banfield, was outstanding three weeks ago as Colombia began their World Cup qualification campaign with a 2-1 away win over Bolivia.

In the coming rounds he should be joined in the team by Giovanny Moreno, 25, a languid, silkily talented playmaker/support striker with a wonderful left foot who plays in Argentina with Racing.

After recovering from a serious knee injury, Moreno hopes to be more than a younger version of Meyer Candelo - the really man rather than the nearly man. He should be able to make his case at home to Argentina on 15 November.

Comment on the piece in the space provided. Email questions on South American football to and I'll pick out a couple for next week.

From last week's postbag:

Q) After reading on the BBC website about the Premier League ban on third-party ownership of players to "protect the integrity of competition", I'd like to know your opinion of third-party ownership and what harm it might do to clubs?
Edmund Allen

There are two complaints. One you mentioned - the possibility of outside forces having an effect on sporting outcomes, even without necessarily meaning to.

My main concern is that I see it as a form of asset-stripping. Advocates talk of it allowing clubs to have players they might not otherwise be able to afford - but this is only because some other club (probably South American) has lost the player and received considerably less than his full worth.

The central contradiction is that much of South American football runs at a loss but produces some of the most-promising players. Investors take advantage of the weak financial position of the clubs to acquire a stake in the best players. The clubs often need cash urgently to meet their wage bill, so the investor can buy a share in the prospect for a good price. It turns the player into a commodity - something to be sold, not necessarily at the right time or to the right club. It means that, when he is sold, some of that transfer fee is lost to football.

Q) I have been following the Brazilian Championship this year and been really shocked by the dreadful performances of Cruzeiro. They sit just above the relegation zone and are in serious danger of going down. I know they have had managerial changes and injuries to key players such as Leo and Wallyson - but do their problems run deeper than that?
Tom Webber

In the first few months of the year they looked like the best team in the continent! After one bad night and elimination from the Libertadores, the house of cards came crashing down.

Possible reasons are the bizarre coaching changes, while the injury to Wallyson and the sale of Thiago Ribeiro to Cagliari in Italy have left them without goal power.

But there is another factor. The big stadium they use, the Mineirao, is closed for World Cup works and the city's other stadium (where England lost to the USA in 1950) is also closed. So they have to travel out of Belo Horizonte for all their home games. This is clearly not ideal. Just 37 goals in 32 games means they will probably have to sweat until the final round to see if they stay up.


  • Comment number 1.

    Tim, whats your opinion on the midfielder Fernando from Grêmio? And Mário Fernandes? I expected Mário to fall down after his weird case with the brazilian national team, but he is even playing better! Does Gilberto Silva has anything to teach Fernando?

  • Comment number 2.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 3.

    Hi Tim -- great, refreshing blog as usual -- when you say "toughening them up", is that in regards to their footballing education, as Argentinian league football is of a higher standard, or their all round education, ie, moving away from home but still being in an environment that is not completely alien to them (am presuming the move from Colombia to Argentina is alot less daunting than one straight to Europe at a young age). ? The examples you give certainly back up your arguement well.

    ps; think it was meant as 200 million and 50 million for the populations of Brazil and Colombia -- we knew what was meant though.

  • Comment number 4.

    Nice article Tim, as usual.

    I also think you outline various good points on where a lot of players seem fall by the wayside and seem to become forgotten men. I feel a lot is down to the hype surrounding some of these players who move for considerable transfer fees yet, who cannot seem to progress when provided the opportunity to move a European club.

    Do you think there could be anything done in order to improve the success rate of those players who do move abroad?

    Also, although just nit-picking here, but Brazil and Colombia's population's may need to have an extra "000" added to each, making them almost 200million and 50million, respectively, as opposed to 200,000 & 50,000. Just thought I'd point it out earlier rather than have half a dozen pointing out the same fact.

    Interesting article and I look forward to reading your next one. Cheers for the insight!

  • Comment number 5.

    @ 2. The Tenth Beetle - Falcao is quality

  • Comment number 6.

    Tim, thanks for your usual excellent expose of SA football. I was lost until I found your blog. On the subject of Colombia’s undulating football fortunes, I recall a documentary called “The two Escobars” which encapsulated all that was (and still is) wrong with Colombia in general, and its football culture in particular.

    Pablo Escobar’s drug fortune funded football development across the country and fuelled the rise of the over-rated and over-hyped 90’s team. They had excellent attacking players, average midfielders, and sub-par defenders. Drug money paid excessive wages to local and foreign footballers which the economy could not sustain. In the end, Escobar’s death and the fragmented structure of most drugs gangs (in Colombia and elsewhere) have resulted in increased violence, heightened poverty, and a massive under-investment in people and social infrastructure. Mexico is similar basket case.

    Sadly, football, like other avenues of social expression, will remain a victim of Colombia’s geo-political fissures for some time to come.

  • Comment number 7.

    I think you're starting to see a change also in when Colombian young players make the leap to Europe. Instead of at the very risky age of 20 +-, they are moving as youngsters and going into the youth squads and being loaned out, before expecting to play a part on the men's squad.

    My wife is from Colombia and from my talks with her family and friends, they blame the coaching. Whether or not that's true, I can't tell having just started following the team. What I can say is both national teams fell victim to their own hype last year. The u20 team were strolling at the World Cup before over hype cost them when arrogance took over from pride. And again at the Copa afterward, after an unremarkable group, they emerged as "dark horses", they fell apart.

    From my viewing, both teams could create - their striker just were left wanting. Falcao has been excellent for club, but for country he has disappeared and missed sitter from my two years of viewing. Against Bolivia he finally stood up and made the game his own. But the drop off after Falcao is significant - Wigan's Rodellega isn't up to the mark on the international level and he's now injured.

    But if we look at the u20 team, we do see some bright spots. Luis Muriel competed well, being the top scorer if I remember correctly. James has already made the jump to the full Colombian team. Ospina looked a tidy defender, Castillo, although he didn't get many minutes is meant to be a future player. He currently plies his trade in the US. Zapta was another tidy striker.

    Tim - What are your thoughts on the large numbers of Colombians now playing in the US? As well as heading south to Argentina and Brazil, is heading north to MLS a good way to develop in a quiet football culture? Is there a bias against players playing in the US as I've heard some fans say when talking about the likes of Union's Valdez?

  • Comment number 8.

    I have often wondered why so many talented players never reach the heights they should have scaled.

    In the case of South American players, I can imagine that the quality of life in big European leagues can be a huge distraction - as it would be for any late teens / early 20's lad; the sudden wealth, the exciting big city, surrounded by fans and big name players.

    Too often, managers don't seem to provide the father figure to these youngsters (even if it isn't themselves), and they fail to take action as the player goes off the rails.

    Of course, the opportunity is there for the player themselves, but only a relative few will actually take it unaided - like kids going to university.

    The biggest shame for me was Denilson, followed closely by Aimar. Did they lack, or were they badly handled? I fear the latter.

  • Comment number 9.

    You also have to take into account the varying standards in different countries. A superstar dribbler/speedster in Colombia can look very ordinary in a tougher league where space in tight, teams better organised, and defenders more aggressive. I have witnessed so many players from NA, SA, Africa and minor European countries who were sensational in their home countries but did make it once they moved abroad. Distractions (women, nightlife, gambling), isolation, loneliness, fitness all play a role, but in my view, the tactical constraints and physical demands of the European game are the greatest impediments. I remember a 16 year old Bolivian immigrant who used to glide and float past much older/experienced players in Santiago (Chile) a few years ago, but could not find space in the rough and tumble of the English lower leagues. He soon ended up in Greece, via Portugal and Holland, with sub-zero confidence. Lonliness drove him back home.

    As Tim pointed out, it is best to make a gradual transition e.g. via Argentina, Brazil, or Mexico, before going into the cauldron of the 5 main Euro leagues.

  • Comment number 10.

    Its very true, some leagues will suit some players much better than others. Kaka would never have been the player he was for Milan, in England. Hence so many end up there (and i'm sure not just for the weather).

    But players can learn to adapt their skills to the location, if they're given time and support, rather than thrown straight in. The Portugese Ronaldo did...

  • Comment number 11.

    Hi Tim,

    Went to Boca Juniors 3-1 win over A. Rafaela last night, got to say the fans are unbelievable and the best experience I've ever had at a football match!
    Also went to Velez game earlier in the week, the one thing I noticed from both games was the lack of talent in defence! What has happened to the top class defenders?Argentina has produced some great ones over the years!

  • Comment number 12.

    thanks for the article.
    candelo certainly has the swagger, vision and left foot of a maestro. with the bald spot you could at times confuse him with zizou! he´s a class above most in the colombian league when he´s on form but his lack of pace and the fact he goes missing for long periods might explain a somewhat chequered career, needless to say i was happy for both him and millos last week.
    it will be interesting to see how james copes in the coming months and years, he has the ability to be a top star and has started the season well at porto and as you said in the game against bolivia.
    giovanni too is a very talented player but i´m not so sure they will both be accomodated, maybe in the home games?

  • Comment number 13.

    A lot of young Colombian talent now seems to heading to Major League Soccer. Is this starting to be considered a better road to getting noticed by European clubs?

    The likes of Fredy Montero, Fabian Castillo, Diego Chara, etc... are certainly doing well. There's a fair amount of Colombian's in MLS now and MLS clubs are spending, relatively, large amounts to secure their services.

  • Comment number 14.

    Hi Tim,
    I've read in your blog about the hype surrounding Santos's Neymar. I've been living in Sao Paulo, and it's a rare day when his face doesn't appear in the newspaper, despite him having an ordinary league season so far. He had around 5 goals, while his teammate Borges had bagged 20 and was streets ahead in the leading league scorers. Neymar sank 4 on the weekend in an admittely good performance, so if the fires were at all diminishing, the press has stoked them up to an inferno, showing him on the weekend paper along with Messi and Ronaldo as the best players in the world. Borges, meanwhile, never gets a mention in side rich with Neymar, Ganso, and Elano. Have you had a chance to have a look at Borges, Tim? What do you make of him?

  • Comment number 15.

    7 - I think you should watch Colombia's games for yourself, and not just listen to the missus! If you watched Colombia play, you would know that Falcao did not "make the game his own" - in fact he only played the final 20 minutes as Teofilio Gutierrez was preferred as he provides more all-round play, which was very important when Colombia had to work so hard in the altitude of La Paz. I also totally disagree with you when you say there are no good strikers - Falcao and Gutierrez are backed by the likes of Rodallega and (one of my favourites from his time with D.I.M.) Jackson Martinez. For me the problem in recent years has been a lack of true creativity in midfield, although with Guarin and, a little further forward, James Rodriguez and Giovanni Moreno, the future looks a lot better. I will agree with your in-laws on the coaching - the difference under Leonel Alvarez is obvious to many and there is a sense of true hope for the future of Colombian football.

    Problems remain, especially in the domestic football - I have to say I have become disillusioned by the domestic game as the likelihood of a team winning, and in particular my team D.I.M. (Deportivo Independiente Medellin), is much more about whether the players have been paid or not, rather than their abilities or efforts on the pitch.

    Tim - what do you know about the 'behind-the-scenes" problems that exist in Colombian football? For me, too often have I seen dodgy refereeing and strange attitudes from teams and players that suggest the underside of Colombia remains - a throwback to the 90s problems that you mention.

    P.S. As a Brit living in Colombia, I should point out that the problems of violence and drugs, whilst not having been completely irradicated, are far less than is portrayed in the international media and it is a stunningly beautiful and wonderful country to live in - I recommend it as a holiday destination to all!

  • Comment number 16.

    I disagree with THE TENTH BETTLE'S COMMENT that Colombia has not produced any world class players. If you look at Cordoba, Yepes or Falcao they have/ are world class players. What has affected the Colombian team in the past, in my view, has been the instability in the team in terms of coaches and players. The name Reinaldo Rueda comes to mind. At the start of the 2006 Germany World Cup campaign the veteran Maturana was sacked after some very disappointing results and us lying bottom of the table with almost no hope of qualifying. Reinaldo Rueda succeeded him winning more than half of the matches he was in charge of and missing the World Cup by a single goal. He was unfairly dismissed and he then lead Honduras to the most recent World Cup. Also, this constant tinkering with the team every match has not done very much for our chances of success. This instability in the national team has lead to us underperforming I believe but now I think we have a good shout for Brazil 2014. With Alvarez at the helm of the national team and having worked with our current crop of players for the last 2 years I think he has had that continuity which will only benefit us. If you throw into the mix players like guarin, james rodriguez and falcao I think this is our best shot in qualifying for a World Cup since 1998. That blend of youth and experience will help us along the way and Alvarez having that connection with the players will give them belief

  • Comment number 17.

    16 - I totally agree! If Colombia do not qualify this time then I will be absolutely amazed - all the ingredients seem to be there and surely there can be no excuses now!

    .......but I'm sure I don't need to remind you of how Colombia have been here before in the years since 1994 with hope and possibilty, only to end in defeat and disappointment.

  • Comment number 18.

    12 - I think there's every chance of Rodriguez and G Moreno together in the team - in the home games at least.
    In the first games played under Alvarez, friendlies in September, he came off 4-1-4-1 to play two up top, Gutierrez paired with either Martinez or Falcao Garcia.
    To my mind it would be preferable to have Gio Moreno in the hole behind Gutierrez, in a 4-4-1-1, with Rodriguez left side of midfield (in fact with him there and Pabon/Dayro Moreno wide right it becomes very similar to a 4-2-3-1.
    Presumably Sanchez drops out, which does put a strain on the marking of Aguilar. It could be that Aguilar and Guarin are not up to playing this way, but I think it's worth a try.

  • Comment number 19.

    15 - i've always thoroughly enjoyed trips to Colombia - it was a revelation to me when I went up there for the first time for the 2001 Copa.

    Comments on the financial crisis of Colombian clubs - how true. any solutions lying around?

  • Comment number 20.

    Tim 19 - the first thing that needs to be done in my opinion is to sort out the third-party agents, and your points in your response to Edmund Allen's question seem to be very true. Far too often, players are signed by an agent very early and then future transfer fees go to the agents not to the clubs, thus deterring the clubs from developing their youth to its full potential. one only need look at Falcao or Jackson Martinez to see how the domestic clubs benefit very little from the development of players. Also, far too many others are poached and sold too young and often only for the fee with little care for the development of the player, as you say.

  • Comment number 21.

    Tim 18 - so you would not play Falcao at all, only as an impact sub? I understood the logic in La Paz as Teofilio Gutierrez works harder for the team and his all-round game is better than Falcao's, much needed attributes in La Paz when the team has to work so hard. But, in any other game Falcao has to start for me - he is the one player of true world-class quality.

  • Comment number 22.

    can we have a link to the list you made

  • Comment number 23.

    I think what Colombia lacked in the past decade was a true team, the calls for the national team were different each time, the managers changed in the middle of the qualifiers, among other aspects; which was a shame for some top quality players as Angel, Yepes and Cordoba which I believe are going to be too old for the 2014 WC.

    Now you can see a consistent team, most of the players are playing in Europe, like Guarin and James(Porto), Armero(Udinese), Zuniga(Napoli), Falcao and Perea(Atletico Madrid), Zapata(Villarreal), Soto(Mainz 05), Yepes(AC Milan), Ospina(GK for Nice) and Rodallega(Wigan). I think this is Colombia's chance to be on a World Cup once again.

    Regarding the colombian league, in the 50's(El Dorado era) they attracted the best players from the continent as there were "lock-outs" in countries like Argentina. For example, Di Stefano played in Millonarios and then he went to play at Real Madrid. In the late 70's and 80's, drug money polluted the top teams in the league (Millonarios, America and Nacional) which allowed them to have excellent players and be among the top teams of the continent, often reaching the finals and semi-finals of the Libertadores. Once the drug cartels were exterminated, all that money stopped flowing into football.

  • Comment number 24.

    I think porto pair james rodriguez and freddy guarin, villareal centre-back zapata and udinese left-back pablo armero will be going to places. They are excellent players. I also like the Nice keeper ospina. I think after so many years, now Colombia has a very strong squad again.

  • Comment number 25.

    Great blog Tim. Do you think Columbia will make an impression in the qualifiers for Brazil 2014 then? I've read that they have some exciting talents at their disposal now.

    For anyone interested here's a link to my blog regarding my October awards, player of the month, manager of the month etc...

    hope you enjoy!

  • Comment number 26.

    Thanks your answer to my question.

    Colombia is a weird situation some many talented young players yet fail to fulfill that potential. hopefully they can follow urgauy and rise again. in 1990's they added alot colour to football with passing and attitude also valderamas hair. that is sorely missed. i hope he has kept most of that hair.

  • Comment number 27.

    I can't wait for the next round of qualifiers. Argentina at home and then a local derby with Venezuela, also at home. Should tell us a little of how Colombia might cope with the pressures of this golden opportunity to qualify without Brazil in the group. Still, it's a long slog and the next round of matches isn't until next summer, away in Lima and Quito. To have both high altitude away matches out of the way before round 5 is certainly handy, for a team that is predominantly based in Europe.

  • Comment number 28.

    Tim, what do you think of Internacional's Oscar?

    I think he is a typical player that would play better under European football and tactics. He has all the characteristics of a good Winger or wide midfielder who can track back, like C.Ronaldo. But in Brazil he bizarrely has been played very deep, which don't match his body characteristics at all, I think he should be played where he can use his speed that all coaches talk about, and where he can shoot to the goal. He is very similar to a young C.Ronaldo but less flashy and more direct. Agree? I think his inconsistency is because of Brazilian tactics, under a more rigid tactical system with wide midfielders he would do good.

    That brings me to another subject. There is obviously a good side of players staying more time here. But I think European football indubitably makes Brazilians players better. So I like to see them in our league, but I really wanna see how Oscar, Lucas, Elkeson (another player I'm very excited about) evolve in an European league, and how they physically and tactically improve, to help us win the 2014 cup

  • Comment number 29.

    28 - these are great points Joao, and I've been thinking along these lines. But can I ask you for some patience. This debate is worth an entire blog - I think in December and January we should have plenty of space to discuss it.

  • Comment number 30.

    I've watched a lot of domestic football in the past 4 years as I now live here, and from what I've seen I think that the players , don't have basic skills, trapping the ball, etc, also there are a lot of glory hunters, team ethics just don't seem to apply. I would agree with previous comments however on the state of the game off the pitch, players not being paid is all too common.

    As for players for the future, Tim, I´m surprised you didn't mention Michael the playmaker for the sub 20's, for me he was the star of the sub 20's and not Jaime Rodrieguez. Also the sub 20 centre forward who plays in Italy (sorry can't remember his name)

  • Comment number 31.

    Don't know about lost potential, but the future for Colombia looks bright... his name is Edwin Cardona –– from Atlético Nacional... if you're not a fan, you will be in 2 years.

  • Comment number 32.

    Hi time, 1st time posting a comment although follow your blogs every week.
    anyway on the subject of colombians, remember Wilson Cuero. hyped up as the next big striker to come out of colombia after the under 17 world cup in 2009. shortly after signed for udinese in italy i think, 2 years later has practically vanished into football obscurity. is he just another statistic that prematurely moved to europe too quickly and didnt have the maturity to cope? Or was he just over-hyped? think he should have made the move to argentina?
    fair enough he stil is only about 19 but most football talents are knocking at the 1st team by that age. do u reckon he might be 1 of those players who mature late and spring out of nowhere in a couple/few years time?

  • Comment number 33.

    Great blog. Love them all, but always nice to my adopted Colombia get a mention!

    I was in El Campin stadium on Thusrday night to see Millos beat Chico. Not a classic by any means, but some moments of high drama, none more so than when Mayer missed his penalty. Great scenes after the match - the first time Millos have done a vuelta olimpica in El Campin since 1987!

    And herein lies a seldom mentioned problem of Colombian football in my opinion...

    Bogota has a population of close to ten million and should provide a huge chunk of the country's footballing talent. Yet so few gifted Colombian players come from the capital. From the last ten decades I can only really think of Fabian Vargas, Andres Perez, Andres Chitiva... hardly world beaters! This dearth of talent from the capital surely goes some way to explaining the fact that neither of Bogota's two big clubs, Millos and Santa Fe, have won a league title since 1988. This is unthinkable in all other countries in South America. Consider the number of titles and players that come from Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paula, Santiago, Lima, La Paz, Montevideo, Asuncion etc etc. Why is this not the case in Bogota?

    Fortunately, as Tim says, Colombia has a number of important urban centres which do produce large numbers of top class players.

    Medellin, Cali and the coastal regions have all produced ten times the number of players as Bogota.

    Just look at the players mentioned in this blog:

    Mayer Candelo, Avimiled Rivas, Yepes, all from Cali
    Juan Pablo Angel, Ivan Cordoba, Gio Moreno all from Medellin
    Radamel Falcao, from the coast

    Wasted talent is certainly a massive problem, but I can't help but feel that Colombia is missing a trick somewhere by not tapping into the resources the capital has to offer. And no-one's ever been able to explain this anomoly to me - lack of training facilities in the capital? nope. Different culture in capital where education is considered more important than sport? Just look at the parks in Bogota on a Sunday - full of kids playing football - and why should Bogota be any different from other capital cities in this regard?

    One final comment...

    Nice to see Rafael Robayo finally win a trophy as a reward for his loyalty to Millonarios, the club he has supported all his life. Nice to see a Bogotano come through. Not a world beater, but has attracted interest from many clubs and could certainly be earning more money abroad.

    Congrats Millos y vamos pa la 14!!!!!

  • Comment number 34.

    Above should read "From the last TWO decades..."

    I also agree with Tom Halstead that anyone considering coming to Colombia should go for it. A truly fantastic country!

  • Comment number 35.

    Exellent article. As colombian, it really hurts to confirm that our country keeps on wasting talent, not only in football or many other sports but in almost everything. Football managers that came after the Maturana/Bolillo era, also fall in the category. It is my humble opinion that we are not equipped to do the quantum leap of money, success and glory.

  • Comment number 36.

    I'm a miserable git, so when you blog about how Ronaldinho's making a comeback, or how Brasil's new passing style is going to do wonders for the national team etc I can't help but moan.
    This weeks blog was superb though, and exactly why I read, and exactly what makes you the best blogger on the website. A great insight into an area of the game we would have little knowledge about were it not for your work.
    Thanks for a great article this week Tim!

  • Comment number 37.

    I am also amazed by the number of talented Colombian players that slip through the net. Jerson Serrano is a young player who represented Colombia at U15 and U17. He was offered a contract with Deportivo Cali but chose to move to Spain. He has now disappeared off the radar. Unfortunately this is a familiar story

  • Comment number 38.

    First of all thanks Tim for the great post as always.
    Candelo Certainly have potential to be the next hero and his play with left foot is simply amazing. I think he deserve more.He is a classy and best among all the columbian league players.But he lacks in pace.I think he need some sort of motivation.Giaonni also have potential but dont know Can they become next superstars.
    motivational speaker

  • Comment number 39.

    Nice article Tim, as a Peruvian who lived for 6 months in Bogotá this year, I noticed how Colombian domestic football is much more entertaining, competitive and decentralized than my own country's. This helps them to always have a good number of high-profile players that can end up playing in Europe and provide many interesting options for the national team.

    Having said that, in the last decade it was very strange how Colombia always just failed to make it to the 3 WCs. I think this is in no small part due to the lack of clinical finishing of their strikers in all matches. This was clearly demonstrated in the 0-0 draw with Argentina in the Copa América, where they could have beaten the hosts by at least 2 goals. It was also clear when they played Peru (luckily for us) where they dominated the game but failed to score and ended up losing in ET.

    However, in this qualifying campaign things may yet change for the best as they showed that their finishing may have improved with 2 well-taken goals in that historic win in La Paz. Judging from what I said above, I would have put my money on that last-second Falcao goal to be missed but it wasn't and I think that, after such a tough win, now the only way is up. Oh and I really think they will beat VEN and ARG at home hands up.

    P.S.: Colombia's population is 46m, not 50m and Brazil's is 192m, not 200m. I guess it's close enough.

  • Comment number 40.

    Tim I was just wondering if you knew anything about the progress of Fredy Montero who I believe is now playing for Seattle in the MLS? I remember a few years ago he was hailed as a big player for the future and from what I had seen he seemed like a clever, guileful forward and now that he has had a few years of regular football in the MLS do you believe he has what it takes to step up to either European football or one of the big Brazilian teams? Also would he get a place in the Colombia squad with players like Falcao and Rodallega in there?

  • Comment number 41.

    @13 - I think its an historical niche. There has always been Colombians playing in the MLS. Carlos Valderrama (Miami + Tampa Bay), Adolfo Valencia (NY Metrostars), Leonel Alvarez (New England, Dallas) etc...

    I think once one player makes the breakthrough and establishes relations between the two nations it opens up more doors for agents and coaches etc. Perhaps also the historical and political ties between the US and Colombia helps as well...? Colombia is probably America's greatest ally in South America and things like major league baseball is very popular over there.

  • Comment number 42.

    "The biggest shame for me was Denilson, followed closely by Aimar. Did they lack, or were they badly handled? I fear the latter."

    you could hardly say either player lacked could you?

    remember a player who has numerous int caps numerous big money moves and a long career (in aimars case) can hardly be classed as failures in my book

  • Comment number 43.

    Really interesting blog as usual Tim, especially highlighting the trend of Colombian players using the Argentine league as a form of finishing school as you put it. Teo and Moreno seem to be doing well and i noticed that Zapata and Ospina have moved out there too. How are they getting on?

    I watched quite a bit of the Colombian side at the U20 world cup and was very impressed with a number of their players. James Rodriguez looks a great talent and i can see him going onto bigger things. I was also impressed with rampaging full backs Santiago Arias and Hector Quinones, captain Pedro Franco, diminutive playmaker Michael Ortega and Luis Muriel up front. Was wondering how you rate this potential 'golden generation'?

    One final thing... I was slightly surprising that Edwin Cardona wasn't included in that squad after having a decent South American qualifying tournament


  • Comment number 44.

    11- Against rafaela our defence had a bit of an off night, but this season Boca have only conceded 3 goals in 13 games. Not bad im sure you'll agree. Glad you enjoyed the experience, its a shame its so difficult to watch futbol argentino in england and that few people actually do.

  • Comment number 45.

    Picking up on question 1, after my experience in Brazil, I am horrified at the suggestion of 3rd parties being allowed ownership of players in the EPL, as this would spark a free-for-all that would be impossible to adequately monitor, much less control. Here in Brazil, I see clubs that don’t actually own any of their players, only a percentage of them that is frequently less than 50%. The clubs are places that develop players and give them a forum to display their skills, yet most agents use them as mere shop windows for their produce, because they are in it for the money, investing in potential talent the way an investor would put money into any other ‘commodity’ (I entirely agree with your comment “something to be sold, not necessarily at the right time or to the right club”). A lot is made of the conflict of interest that arises from owners controlling more than one club, especially if those clubs might meet in competition. How much worse, then, to have owners of different players at lots of different clubs? Whose instructions will the players obey: those of the manager of the club they play for, or those of the business that ‘owns’ them? There are so many potential hazards to this course of action that I just pray it never gets off the ground. far from helping the poorer clubs, it will lead to their demise as viable entities!

  • Comment number 46.

    It's good to read you for the first time. I'm not so sure if Colombia really has a higher percentage of promissing football players that end up as "just promisses" than other countries, my guess is it's the same. Anyways it's always interesting to read a foreigner's opinion on our football.

    For a long time many of us Colombians have shared your view that the Argentinian league is the best place to "mature" our young stars before the leap to Europe, but looking at it in depth I see it works more as a filter, sending back home the ones that do not live up to the expectations and delivering to europe the good stuff. It is anyways shocking how our players rarely jump to the very top teams of Europe as Argentinians or Brazilians do. I will never forget how Higuain was just a hint of what Falcao had shown and he climbed the ladder directly to Real where Falcao had to wait a few more years and score a ton more goals to find a deal with much humbler Porto and after getting bored to score goals there, just made it to Atletico!

    Besides the players mentioned in your article and others people comment like James Rodriguez, Giovanni Moreno, Edwin Cardona, Michael Ortega or Muriel I see another one that is worth following. It's attacking midfielder Victor Ibarbo who is now a sub in Cagliari but apparently has very good performances everytime he plays.

    From my point of view Colombia has now an overall good team, with much better chances of making it to the cup. We've had good enough teams to qualify in the previous three editions but we've failed to hire a world class coach. Look what Chile did in the South Africa with the same or even less.

    Our current weakest point are the lateral defenders, we are missing world class subs for both Armero and Zuñiga. In all other positions I think we have a fair amount of players for starters and subs.

    Have you seen Edwin Valencia in Fluminense? I have not had the chance to see him and have wondered for a while why has he not yet been called to the national team? This is another position (defending midfielder) in which our resources are not so abundant.

  • Comment number 47.

    I remember reading the article about Tevez moving to Brazil as a youngster that you wrote in 2003 and i've followed his career ever since.

  • Comment number 48.

    Tim, another fascinating article.

    My question isn't so much about South American football but more about you.

    Have you ever considered taking up a scouting role with a club? With the vast amount of knowledge in the region and a clear devotion to the sport i'm sure you'd be a great asset. Finding the next Ronaldo/Rivaldo/Carlos etc for a club would surely bring you a massive amount of pleasure.


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