If one looks over the national football teams of South America, in general the majority of their players ply their trade in Europe.
Latin Americans like to boast that their families are closer than any other cultures (pretty much nonsense in my view), so a move to another continent must be a wrench for footballers, especially at such a young age. However the wages on offer in Europe’s bigger leagues far outstrip those offered in Latin America, except Brazil and maybe Mexico. This, coupled with the opportunity to play at a far higher level, attracts young footballers to Europe and possible wealth and glory.
Less than 20 years ago the EPL and SPL had a splattering of Latin Americans of which very few were overall successes. Usually, after a season or two they escaped back to their respective paradises complaining about the dreadful food and incessant rain in the UK. Players like Juan Sebastian Veron (Man United, Chelsea), Diego Forlan (Man United) and Jared Borghetti (Bolton), despite being heroes at home failed to set the heather alight in the bright lights of the EPL/Premier League and were unfairly labelled as South American duds.
In Scotland we had the likes of Emerson and Gabriel Amato (Rangers) or Rafeal Schiedt (Celtic) but admittedly their were some successes alike Claudio Cannagia (Rangers) and Ulysses De La Cruz (Hibernian).
But as the years progressed for every Robinho (Man City) there was at least another Juninho (Middlesborough and Celtic) and for every Crespo (Chelsea) a Gilberto Silva (Arsenal). Now all of the best players from Latin America play in Europe’s top leagues and the Champions League. Whereas before Latin American’s were a lesser spotted novelty now they are the bedrock of many of the successful European club teams.
If we take the current “biggest” teams in Europe (free to disagree) we see that:
Real Madrid have Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain (Argentina), Marcelo and Kaka (Brazil).
Barcelona have Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano (Argentina), Dani Alves and Adriano (Brazil) and Alexis Sanchez (Chile).
Bayern Munich have Dante, Rafinha and Luis Gustavo (Brazil).
Chelsea (as Champions League winners) have David Luiz, Ramires and Oscar (Brazil).
Manchester United have Javier Hernandez (Mexico), Antonio Valencia (Ecuador) and Rafeal (Brazil).
Free spending Paris Saint-Germain have Thiago Silva, Nene, Alex and Maxwell (Brazil), Javier Pastore and Ezequiel Lavezzi (Argentina) and Diego Lugano (Uruguay), and Lucas Moura (Brazil) will join in January.
This is not to mention the imminent transfers of Neymar, Ganso, Lucas Ocampos and Alexander Mejja. It seems as if every team needs to have a South American player now (even 3rd Division dwelling Rangers recently acquired Brazilian Emilson Cribari).
With their shared languages Portugal and Spain have always found it easier to attract Latin Americans ranging from Hugo Sanchez to Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho however now La Liga has to contend with clubs in Russia and their immense oil wealth. Similarly many young players wisely seem to choose clubs in Ligue 1 or the Eredivise as stepping stone to greater things.
Whether these players are more determined than those before or maybe life is now more tolerable in the northern European countries is open to question but what is not in doubt is that Latin Americans are succeeding and entertaining in European football like never before. Scouts from every major and minor team now scour the American continent looking for the next Messi or Maradona and whereas before they were content to pay the high transfer fees, now the European clubs want the Latin stars as early and as cheaply as possible.
A recent statistic from Brazil claimed that over 1,000 young footballers leave Brazil alone every year. With only a small percentage destined for super stardom and eye watering contracts the rest will have a journey man existence or return home to their barrios and favelas. It’s a harsh lesson to learn at such a young age and one hopes they can recover from being spat by a football industry that treats them more as commodities rather than entertainers or even artists.