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Last Updated: Monday, 3 January, 2005, 11:05 GMT
South American exports flounder
By Tim Vickery

It is now 27 years since Ossie Ardiles and Ricardo Villa left Argentina's World-Cup winning squad to join up with Tottenham.

Tottenham boss Keith Burkinshaw signs Ricardo Villa and Ossie Ardiles in 1978
Argentine 1978 World Cup stars Villa (left) and Ardiles (right) were a hit at Tottenham
The global market in footballers has grown and grown since then. But it is striking how little impact South American players have made on English football.

The continent currently has 12 representatives in the Premiership - none of whom are likely to be in contention when the player-of-the-season awards are handed out.

It is often argued that South Americans are not suited to the English style of play. In the case of some players this is undoubtedly true.

But decades ago Ardiles proved that the gap can be bridged. It is surprising that it has not been bridged more often in the subsequent years.

And it is hard to escape the conclusion that English football is missing out.

South Americans have long played a key role in Italian and Spanish football, which is only to be expected given the cultural ties involved.

But in recent years, much less predictably, South Americans have also become a key force in Germany.

Bundesliga clubs get full value from experienced players such as the Brazilians Ailton and Ze Roberto, from flowering talent like the Argentine D'Alessandro, and even from youngsters such as the Peruvian Guerrero and the Paraguayan Haedo Valdez.

If South Americans can adapt to life on and off the pitch in Germany, then surely they can do the same in England. So why aren't they?

It is noticeable that some of the South Americans who have done best in England have operated in pairs - Ardiles and Villa at Tottenham, Edu and Gilberto Silva at Arsena
Perhaps part of the explanation lies in an interview Hernan Crespo gave to the Argentine press soon after he joined Chelsea.

"I have to go to the bakers, I have to go shopping, the electrician is coming round, I have to get the car serviced, and for all these things I have to go and speak in English.

"They might seem silly little things, but in reality it's not so easy. We're latins, and all through our lives we're used to someone giving us a hand. But that's not the anglo-saxon way. The cultures are different."

The English take notions of personal independence for granted. But the South Americans tend to be much more dependent.

In many cases they lack self-esteem, and can be terrified by some of the situations Crespo described above.

Juan Pablo Angel was bemused by the lack of support he received from Aston Villa when his wife fell ill.

Agustin Delgado never felt at home at Southampton. It is hard to escape the conclusion that English clubs have not done enough to help their South American acquisitions find their feet off the field.

Gilberto Silva and Edu have worked well together at Arsenal
The exception to the rule - Silva and Edu at Arsenal
To get a work permit in England a player needs either an EC passport or to have played in 75% of his country's recent internationals. German football does not have these restrictions.

Consequently, the number of South Americans in Germany is much higher - 38 in their top flight, more than three times as many as the Premiership.

It means that the player arriving in Germany, or Spain, or Italy finds a ready made support structure - his compatriots will welcome him, show him around the town, help him sort out problems and generally ease his passage into European football.

It is noticeable that some of the South Americans who have done best in England have operated in pairs - Ardiles and Villa at Tottenham, Edu and Gilberto Silva at Arsenal.

It shows the importance of the support structure - a lesson English football needs to learn to get the best out of players from the continent that has won the World Cup more than any other.

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