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Premier danger for South America

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Tim Vickery | 09:10 UK time, Monday, 21 September 2009

Regulators can try to push the world in a certain direction. But there is never a guarantee that forces in society will embrace the spirit as well as the letter of rule changes.

A case in point could be the 'home-grown player' clause that the Premier League clubs have just agreed. The original intention is presumably to ensure opportunities for local talent. A quota of eight squad players will need to have been developed by the club for three years between the ages of 16 and 21. But since no mention is or can be made to nationality, the dangers of an own goal are clear.

The change gives a powerful incentive to a process that the big English clubs have already embraced - that of global cradle snatching, players brought across to Europe before they have even debuted professionally in South America or Africa.

From the perspective of South American football, this is not a welcome trend. It is one thing if the South American club have the use of the player they developed for a few years, and then sell him when he is an established star.

This way they have the player for a while, and then they have the money. But when the starlets are snatched so early the local clubs lose the player before enjoying the benefits of his services, and the fee for a mere promise is much lower than for a reality.

Inevitably there are casualties among the youngsters who move so early. Some people are not made for living abroad at any age - many more will find it an extra problem in their teenage years, when mind and body are going through such changes.

For the South American national teams there is an added danger. Being lured away so young would seem to make players vulnerable to represent their adopted country rather than the land of their birth.

Some 15 years ago Jose Pekerman saw these trends clearly. He was a rank outsider when the position of supremo of Argentina's youth teams became vacant. But he won the position with the clarity of his project.

Our club football is going to lose players at an increasingly younger age, he argued. The only way that we can counter this development is to use the youth structure to secure our promising youngsters for the long term future of the senior national team.

Pekerman scoured the country for talented players, brought them into his structure and gave them a crash course in the identity of Argentine football. He initiated a process which has seen Argentina win five of the last seven World Youth Cups, for players of 20 and under.

But more importantly, it has helped produce a stream of players for the senior side - indeed, without such a structure in place it would have been far easier for the
Spanish to persuade Lionel Messi that his national team future should be in the red shirt and not the blue and white.


The 2009 World Youth Cup kicks off in Egypt on Thursday. Argentina will not be there. Captained by Liverpool's Emiliano Insua, they had a dreadful time in qualification and failed to make it.

This need not be a tragedy. True, a generation will miss out on the experience of the tournament in Egypt. But if the disappointment of not qualifying causes them to re-evaluate and work harder at their game it will not have been in vain. Youth development is all about the long-term.

This is a lesson that Uruguay seem to have absorbed. With a population of just over three million, there is simply no way that their clubs can hold on to their best players. The best response is with a Pekerman-style project - a nationwide search for technically gifted players, given experience in the national youth sides on their way to wearing the sky blue shirt at senior level.

Uruguay will be in Egypt. They came third in South America's qualifying tournament, but with coach Diego Aguirre rotating the squad to give everyone playing time, they played some of the most attractive football. They will be very interesting opponents for England in Saturday's opening group game.

The squad is packed with promise - raiding right-backs Adrian Gunino and Matias Aguirregaray, interesting centre-backs in the classy Roberto Herrera, the rugged Martin Silva and the gangling Sebastian Coates and a tall, commanding left-back in Leandro Cabrera.

In central midfield Diego Rodriguez has passing skills and Maxi Calzada is combative. On the flanks Tabare Viudez and Jonathan Urretaviscaya glide past their markers with real talent.

Up front Santiago Garcia has menacing power and Abel Hernandez has touches of left-footed class. And in attacking midfield is the brightest of them all, South American football revelation of the year, stocky left- footed Nicolas Lodeiro, a player who has the gift of making the game flow because he usually knows what he wants to do with the ball before he receives it.

Two of these players were already based abroad before January's qualifying tournament. Three others have subsequently joined them, and more will surely follow.

But win, lose or draw in Egypt, the experience they acquire in top class competition against England, Uzbekistan and Ghana should be good news for the long-term future of the senior Uruguayan national team.

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

From last week's postbag:

Q) How good you think Estudiantes de la Plata's midfielder Enzo Perez is/can be? From the, admittedly brief, footage I have seen of him, he seems to be a sharp, incisive little player, with a wicked cross and a cool head in front of goal? Could he be the short, and long-term, solution to Argentina's right-wing?
Toby Millard

A) A very interesting little player - I picked him out in World Soccer magazine as one of the stars of this year's Libertadores - over both legs of the final I don't think there was anyone better. In terms of Argentina's immediate future, I'm a bit dubious about the 'call up the home based players' line - sounds like a load of nationalist nonsense to me. But it doesn't make much sense to leave Perez out, call up his clubmate Veron and then, as happened for the last one-and-a-half games, play Veron in Perez's position wide right. So Argentina could certainly do worse.

Q) I wanted to ask you about Brazil's problematic left-back position. It seems Dunga has decided to stick with Andre Santos, and has tried Kleber out in that position too. I was just wondering why Maxwell of Barcelona has not been given a chance. I have seen him play a few times and he has always impressed me, and with the experience of playing for Ajax, Internazionale and Barcelona surely it is about time he was give his chance?
Adam Burn

A) It's the one place in the team that still seems up for grabs. Maxwell moved abroad very early, so he hasn't got a huge constituency back in Brazil - though that's not a factor that's likely to worry Dunga too much.

He was called up for the Olympic qualifiers at the start of 2004 - and he had an absolute mare! Couldn't attack or defend. I was sitting with the Brazilian press contingent and they were all shaking their heads saying 'he must be better than this.'

He was the only left-back in the squad - but he was playing so badly they had to drop him. So maybe that's harmed his prospects. But with Barcelona he's now got a real platform to show what he can do - and if he, or Fabio Aurelio can get some form going then they must be in with a chance. Brazil name a squad for next month's World Cup qualifiers on Thursday. Now they've booked their place there could be some interesting experiments.


  • Comment number 1.

    Great blog as usual Tim, be sure to keep us up to date with the World Youth Cup!

  • Comment number 2.

    With all due respect to Argentina, it is the job of the (or any) FA to ensure that the game and talent is developed in the locality and for local players (preferably those born and brought up in the respective country).
    As you mention Messi, look at Barcelona, they don't have to be forced to use locals, they do so voluntarily, and it has brought them huge benefits.
    If this under 18 transfer ban is brought in then clubs will not be able to sign players (children) of 14/15/16 years old.
    What people seem to forget is that players are handled like goods these days and cannot just (like any other employee/thanks to FIFA btw) walk away from their job and work for another club, if they do FIFA and the club sanction them (how the EU hasn't stopped this is beyond me).
    It's time that this sort of practice was stopped, btw the transfer window, another of Blatter's grand ideas has inflated the market prices enormously, so for Blatter to barrack the clubs is all well and good but a bit hippocritical.

  • Comment number 3.

    Very interesting, I hope that the competition is covered on tv.

    About Uruguay Tim, just how do they manage to produce these young players?

    I'm aware of the problems within their domestic game and from my understanding, the league is dominated by Penarol, Nacional and Danubio. Is it just that these three main clubs have a good youth set up or is there a pattern of well organised throughout Uruguay, including the smaller neighbouring clubs?

  • Comment number 4.

    It is interesting to note that while we hear many people going on (and on) about the importance of developing young talent Argentina have failed to convert their Youth Cup victories into proper World Cup success. Any explanations?

  • Comment number 5.

    If this crop of Senior Argentina players has been told about the pride of wearing the white and blue, and the young talent were found from far and wide across Argentina, why do think a team of world class players are sruggling badly in Wordl Cup qualification?

    Brazil have IMO less talented players but are breezing through qualification. Ironically, they are playing for one of Brazil's best ever captains and one of their most respected players, but you'd think that the Argentine players would be equally as fervant about playing for Maradonna, as he is an idol not only in brazil, but throughout the world..?

  • Comment number 6.

    Looking forward to watching the U20 World Cup, which South American players should we look out for? Douglas Costa obviously but where is Walter??

    And also what do you think of Real Madrid's Marcelo? I really rate him and for me he is the heir to Carlos, needs to improve his defending but attacking wise he is brilliant and started to add goals to his game at the end of last season.

  • Comment number 7.

    Good article as per usual Tim. As a fan of Bologna in Italy I have watched many of the Uruguay under 20 team come through our books this last year. Britos, Rodriguez and Cohelio last year and Giminez this year. The biggest flop was Diego Rodriguez. He couldnt string 2 passes together so it was a surprise to see your comment. He was let go but Bologna after one season and has since returned home. Must say that they were like headless chickens when playing in Serie A.

    Britos has turned out good and Giminez is yet to play. But in relation to making the step from South American leagues to Serie A, they guys really struggled. There seems to be a big gap between Argentine/Brazilian leagues and Uruguaian.

  • Comment number 8.

    good point well made Tim - i too have been thinking that all the rule actually encourages is that every European club will now have 5 brazilians in their squads that are all under the age of 21... and seeing as 21 is actually quite "old" in football development terms - the clubs can easily cherry pick 18 year olds with a view to having them for 3 years upto the age of 21...

    the argument is a difficult one however as when i was 16-18 if i was offered a contract to go to Barcelona, and my parents would come too, and get a house, and we'd be having a "better standard of living", and i'd effectively become a guaranteed rich man/boy/kid... then i think it takes some reasoning to say that the "offending club" is actually doing anything wrong....

  • Comment number 9.

    "homegrown' bit of an oxymoron.

    Let's get transfers of u 18's internationally, banned. I can't imagine many supporters having a problem with that. Most of these kids are sent home in the end anyway, so cut out the middle man. Would it be allowed in any other industry?

  • Comment number 10.

    If you are being courted by another establishment in any industry/country in the world cash or items of value can be used to be an incentive... As Boomshakalak mentions why is it so wrong for clubs to offer incentives to come.. clubs buy houses all the time for players but if you are under 21 it is suddenly breaking rules??.. I would be quite happy if I was a player and this was done for me..

  • Comment number 11.

    imagine lionel messi playing for the red of spain, probably win everything in sight!

    the world youth cups are great to watch, its like looking into the future of football.

  • Comment number 12.

    Tim, great bog as usual. Not your best it has to be said, but still a decent read. Better than Robbo Robson any day!

    Notice the blog's been a bit later in the day last couple of weeks aswell by the way, big Sunday night?

    Anyway, as we've seen with players like Messi, the da Silva twins and Stubbinho, the top clubs will always attract the best talent no matter how many rules need to be bypassed.

  • Comment number 13.

    no mention of Marcelo when talking about the Brazil left back slot - is he playing in midfield now?

    Seems obvious to me - Marcelo on the left, Dani Alves on the right with Lucio and AN Other in the centre.

    For me Brazil's problem area is like Man Utd - Centre Midfield

  • Comment number 14.

    Hi Tim,

    Will you be going to Egypt for the tournament? If so, or even if not who do you fancy to win it and are there any other emerging talents we should look out for? Lodeiro is one I asked about on here before but I wondered who else we should be looking out for when the competition begins.


  • Comment number 15.

    Your article is about European teams raiding South America and you show Leo Messi as an example of this. You do not note that Leo required extensive medical care when he was a child and no one was stepping up to the plate to pay for that care, expect Barcelona. They paid for his care and they developed the player into the star he is today. If it weren't for a European team, in this instance at least, Leo wouldn't be who he is today. So while generally taking the kids out of the country before they've had a chance to develop at home is probably not a good thing, Leo is certainly the wrong example of this concept. If it hadn't been for Barca, Leo wouldn't be where he is today, or playing for the Argentine National Team.

  • Comment number 16.

    Marcelo still lacks the positional sense and defensive ability to cut it at international level, he's improving but he's not ready, Real's defensive record so far this season backs that up. I'm sure Scolari would have him in there, but not the pragmatic Dunga.

    Brazil right now have a really good balance, they need someone in for Gilberto Silva, but otherwise they are looking good. Kaka and Fabiano's partnership can be scintillating at times. The only other question mark for me is, are the backup strikers good enough against top sides? Mind you, I'd prefer Nilmar, Baptista and Adriano to Heskey, Cole and Crouch.

  • Comment number 17.

    Brazil have qualified for the World Cup early and are looking solid, perhaps they lack a ball playing midfielder but you look at the sort of talent they don't play then you can't argue against them being a top side. I still think Elano is a touch of class, he'd walk into most other national teams. Melo looks a good holding midfielder, and Hernanes has looked brilliant both times I saw him play.

    I would be interested to know what the perception of Raffael is in Brazil as well? He has been Hertha Berlin's creative force for the last 18 months and looks dangerous every time he touches the ball.

  • Comment number 18.

    #6 Walter has been out this season due to a knee injury (ligaments 6 mo+). D. Costa has had a couple of opportunities at Gremio but hasn't really shown much (he's young though and still developing especially physically).

    Tim, interesting article, but on a brighter note, poaching youngsters bring additional risks. Buying or acquiring players before they mature on the field based on agent's videos is as far from a sure thing as it gets. In fact, the Brazilian clubs understand this all too well and expect only a fraction of their youth investment to come through.

    As a Gremio supporter I can attest to that; for every Ronaldinho, Anderon, or Lucas, there have been tens unknowns who could've, should've been the next big thing and yet for one reason or another they just could not make the transition from youth to senior.

  • Comment number 19.

    About Marcelo: according to the Brazilian press, Dunga thinks Marcelo is too immature, and gets too arrogant and/or cocky when with Brazil, that being one of the main reasons why he can't become a regular even though he has been called up many times.

    #16: Nilmar is a fantastic player, better than Robinho for certain, and in terms of pure technique and skill even better than Luis Fabiano, though not as complete overall (at least yet, but he's better than Fabiano when the latter was 25).

    As for Adriano, he obviously has the talent, the question is that if he'll set his mind to it, become more consistent and focused. And judging for his last couple of games for Flamengo at least, the answer certainly would be yes. He's playing as wel as he was at his best days at Inter, though we have yet to see if he can keep this level for a longer period.

  • Comment number 20.

    A bitter taste in my mouth when the U-20 team failed to qualify for the WC. Some players were not allowed to leave their club sides from Europe to make the trip to join the squad. I like Sergio Batista as the coach though, won the 2007 tourney and also won another gold medal in the Olympics. Inusa had a horrible tourney in the U-20 South American Championship I single him out because he was the captain of the side. But I am not that worried about the youth of Argentina. I watched them play in another tourney in Toulon which they lost in a PK in the semis and finished 3rd in group. A lot of talented players to keep your eye on, Gustavo Bou, Erik Lamela(No I am not a River supporter),Pacheco from ATL Madird youth side which he is out on loan to a second division team and a few others who are more notable such as Buonanotte, Franco Di Santo. With all this said, I am really excited about Ever Banega. Has anybody been watching Valencia games this season. He controls that entire midfield. He is becoming a hot product, and if he keeps this up there actually may be a heir to the great Fernando Redondo after all for Argentina. I just wish Diego would like at this kid and use him along side Mascherano for the national side.

  • Comment number 21.

    Hi Tim, great article as usual.

    I'm sure you've addressed this question a million-and-one times before, but after the recent spat between Pele and Maradona, who do the South American public side with in the 'Best Player Ever' argument?

    Do they think its Pele, Maradona or even Di Stefano as suggested by Pele himself?


  • Comment number 22.

    I do agree that this new 'home grown' player rule will encourage clubs to bring players over even earlier - and this could do more harm to youth development then good - but if FIFA decide to ban U18 players moving abroad it would make counting foreign players as homegrown a lot harder.

  • Comment number 23.

    @21: "the South American public" form no more of a homogeneous group than "European" football fans. The English (yes, I'm generalising a wee bit myself here) are rather generous when applying the "world class" tag to a lot of English players, which is something Spanish, German, Italian and French fans won't necessarily agree with. Nor is there consensus regarding the best player of all time. It is no different across the Atlantic.

  • Comment number 24.

    I'm glad you also noticed the fact this new rule just encourages greater kiddy hoarding.

    What an embarrassment.

  • Comment number 25.

    11 - Judging by the enormous success of Argentina recently, it's not like watching the future of football.

  • Comment number 26.

    Who cares about South Americans? Move to Argentina if you care so much about them.They shouldn't even be playing in England or Europe. How many Europeans are playing in South America? Most of these Argentinians relatives left Europe because it wasn't good enough for them and now they want to come back and take the football jobs from Europeans who stayed.
    Is there is a place for displaced Europeans in Africa? I don't think so.The leagues in Africa are terrible.
    I would have an 8-3 rule. This means 8 starters from the home country. And I am being generous.
    There are too many foreign players in the MLS also.

  • Comment number 27.

    NOSYAMERICAN, you shouldn't say something like that. Note that the Argentinian players are looking for better lives as well, they have mouths to feed and good futures as well, so they go to Europe & America where the PROFESSIONAL game has been around for a while, and it pays well. And clubs search for these players coz obviously they're good enough. I don't think they'ld've broken a sweat if their local academies would provide quality players constantly. And it's so obvious why there are no Europeans in African leagues, coz they don't pay enough.

  • Comment number 28.

    26. I was gonna take it the bait but it seems pointless. By the time I've posted this someone else already will have. It just seems silly to waste your time reading and commenting on a blog on an British website about South American football. Especially when you seem to have such a bigotted and narrow-minded view of the world and such a poor comprehension of football.

    Anyways, another great blog Tim. Having lived in Palermo for a while I hope Abel Hernandez has a good tournament! Which South American country has the best chance in Egypt?

    I feel that the new rule in the Premier League will only stop the movement of players at far too young an age if there's a rule against international transfers of under 18s. I don't think that would stop clubs getting big money for the big talents, like Sandro, Javier Pastore, at say 19, 20 year olds, who clubs will be willing to use one of their allocated non-homegrown places for, but hopefully it would stop (and tho being a United fan) the likes of Dodo, Rafael and Fabio moving at 17 or agreeing transfers before they're 18. Okay, so in the case of Rafael it's come off - but for so so many players it wouldn't, or in fact, doesn't.

  • Comment number 29.

    Lots of people want transfers of U18's banned. In principle it sounds like a nice idea. However, with the rules in England on academy players it would reduce the quality of a lot of teams. Man United can not sign an English kid unless he lives within an hours travelling time. That restricts their ability to bring in the best youngsters in the UK. Therefore, as there are no limits on foreign kids, particularly EU, they look abroad. If you stop them looking abroad as well then you leave them fighting with all the other North West clubs for English kids within, basically, 60 miles. If you think English teams will develop better on that basis, and not just buy the stars in when they are 18, I think you are deluded. It will be much harder for English kids to make it at a big club, it will be more likely that they will end up at a poorer club, with poorer coaching and they will not develop into top quality players. When was the last time a player from a lower league club ended up performing regularly at international level? If you look at the England team I think nearly all of them started out at big clubs. Barry at Brighton springs to mind. The academy rules are the crux of the problem and need to be changed.

  • Comment number 30.

    The Premiership does seem to have become a bit of a monster.

    The funny thing is for all the money that gets pumped into it these days its less interesting now than it was 15 or 20 years ago whilst at the same time almost every league (apart from Spain)is that bit weaker as a result of the best players heading to England.

    I hope something changes but can't see how or why it would, rich keep getting richer and all that.

  • Comment number 31.

    you talked about a revival in Uruguay which is encouraging, because their situation in the last twenty years has been pretty dire, they won 7 Libertadores up until 1988 but since then nothing, and the main reason was the "contratistas" (agents) who started signing the youth players directly from the parents and bypassing the clubs. Here in Paraguay it's happened more recently, and while it has had a revolutionary effect on the national team (they have comfortably qualified for the last four World Cups) the clubs can't hope to hold on to youth players because they can't compete with the Mexican clubs who pay 10 times more.

  • Comment number 32.

    Its really a matter of organization and economics.The premier league is losing much of its lustre with a big fall in attendances as the star players move to Spain.If River and Boca were as well run as Velez,Estudiantes and Lanus there wouldnt be many stars moving abroad right now.Otamendi,Moralez,Dominguez,Papa,Ponce all playing with their national teams who would have many European buyers dont seem in a serious rush out of Velez who pay their players well and on time and who sell WHEN THEY WANT not some agent because of course they are not desperate to do so.It would of course be the same with the juveniles if the big clubs got their act together.I predict we will see an enormous change beginning in January in River.The European countries will lose their dominace as that continent becomes ever increasingly less important in finncial terms.As South America begins to acheive its economic possibilities it wont be just the national teams who will be the best but also the clubs.

  • Comment number 33.

    Tim, looking at the upcoming U20 world cup i'm sure Uruguay will easily overcome England, so will Ghana. Just looking at the England squad you can see that many of their "star" players aren't going to be playing in Eygpt, due to teams not releasing players. I'm not sure if other nations are in the same boat. have the south american countries restricted ay players from taking part? However it is good to see such a nation as Uzbekistan, Tahiti and Venezuela qualifing for such an event.

  • Comment number 34.

    I think this is a matter for the latin-american clubs to solve. If they can't manage talent and have to waste their good players, it's their problem, because of the amateuristic way they are ruled.
    In the last couple of years, my squad, brazilian Fluminense, sent one young left-back to Real Madrid (Marcelo), another to ManchesterU (Fabio or Rafael, both came from us), one defender to Milan (Thiago Silva) and a dozen youngsters every year to Europe.
    Fluminense regularly plays the Milk Cup in England, some two years ago we won it against ManchesterU. All the players from that squad are gone.
    To blame for it is our president and the presidents of all our clubs, who always earn a part in international transactions and let all our promising stars fly.

  • Comment number 35.

    The 2009 World Youth Cup in Egypt. Best wishes to the young footballers. Nice and new information on upcoming youngsters out there in Uruguay. It's a great blog Tim. Thanks.

    Dr. Cajetan Coelho


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