It’s fitting that with about a month to go before the World Cup in Brazil, South Americans dominate the strikers’ standings in Euro Fantasy League. Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil [sort of] and Chile are all represented.
Luis Suarez heads the list with 31 goals in 32 games for Liverpool and 740 points – more than second-place Cristiano Ronaldo. And Suarez is joined by Lionel Messi, Brazil-born Spain international Diego Costa, Alexis Sanchez and Carlos Tevez in the top 10.
Just outside the top 10 are Gonzalo Higuain and Sergio Aguero – and if we can stretch the continental boundaries a little, Mexico’s Carlos Vela. Rodrigo Palacio, Adrian Ramos and Edinson Cavani all figure prominently a little lower down.
The message appears to be clear – if you want a livewire, prolific attacker, look to South America. More so, these players mostly didn’t cost fortunes when they crossed the Atlantic and made their way to European football. To sign them today would break the bank – but a team ahead of the curve would snap up a bargain, make a huge profit a few years later, and repeat the process.
Suarez cost Groningen €800,000 when he first left Uruguay. Arsenal tried to sign him a year ago for £40m+£1. Costa was picked up by Atletico Madrid from Braga in Portugal for €1.5m. Chances are he’ll leave for Chelsea this summer for something in the region of £50m. Alexis left Cobreola for Udinese for around £2.5m, a lot for a teenager. But Udinese sold him to Barcelona for about 10 times that amount, so it’s safe to say they got their money’s worth.
It’s not true in all cases – Tevez, as he so often does, goes against the grain, and Higuain wasn’t cheap when he left River Plate for Real Madrid. But generally, South American youngsters coming to Europe do so for a relatively small fee, have boundless potential, and increase enormously in value within a few years.
Clubs on the continent have an advantage over the Premier League in this regard. Spain’s historical links with South America mean they share a language with every country bar Brazil, but the climate means even the Brazilians can settle in quickly to La Liga.
Work Permit regulations for non-EU players are a factor as well. An English club would never be able to sign 16-year-old Alexis as Udinese did, and places such as Germany, France and Italy have more favourable rules than the United Kingdom. The continent’s smaller clubs survive on turning up bargains and moving them on at huge profits and usually use the system to their advantage in expert fashion.
The World Cup provides a platform for the latest South American superstar to break out. Carlos Bacca, the Colombia forward who will help shoulder the burden of Radamel Falcao’s injury, is a good bet. He’s already thrived in a small European league, scoring goals for Club Brugge in Belgium, earning a move to Sevilla.
Sevilla are another club adept at turning a profit on a player – think Dani Alves and Julio Baptista to continue the theme – so don’t be surprised to see Bacca at the top of the Euro Fantasy League standings next year, on the back of a big-money move.