5 South American Starlets Who Could Be Heading to Europe This Summer
From Diego Maradona to Lionel Messi, from Romario to Lucas Moura, the path from South America to Europe is well-trod for the most promising stars of the continent. Players from the region are renowned for their technical abilities and passion for the game, making them tempting and risky investments for clubs in Italy, Spain, England and beyond.
With scouting in the biggest clubs having improved to the point where they have a global knowledge of football, players are being taken even younger from South America and thrown into action at the top of the game. Sometimes, all it takes is one spectacular season to convince a top team that a starlet is ready to move.
Who will be the next names to follow in the footsteps of Messi, Kaka, Falcao and the rest of the region's top superstars? We take a look at the most talented youngsters playing in South America right now.
Luciano Vietto, Racing Club
Still shy of his 20th birthday, Racing Club starlet Luciano Vietto has made a seamless transition from attacking midfielder to centre forward in the 18 short months he has started for the Avellaneda club, and the Cordoba native is now being talked about as one of the hottest properties in the Argentine league.
A stunning hat-trick against Newell's Old Boys, even though his team lost 4-3, underlined this talent in front of goal and brought European suitors into the frame.
One of the parties who would be interested in taking the teenager is Diego Simeone, who gave Vietto a first-team debut during a short spell with Racing back in 2011. According to Popular, the Atletico Madrid coach will make a move for his ex-pupil in the coming transfer window.
Gino Peruzzi, Velez Sarsfield
Within Argentine football, this 20-year-old dynamic full-back/midfielder is already talked about as the successor to Javier Zanetti, his limitless energy and astute timing in tackles is impressing observers across the nation.
This admiration has also spread to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. With Zanetti laid low with a cruciate ligament injury that could keep the veteran out for over six months, Gino Peruzzi's name has reached the San Siro (via Alfredo Pedulla) as the perfect long-term replacement for El Pupi.
Even Zanetti himself has given his blessing to the young upstart, who has already appeared for a local selection of Argentine players in two internationals against Brazil.
"I know that they are following [Gino Peruzzi] in the club, and the truth is that he plays very well. I really hope it can happen," Ole heard from the 39-year-old star, who will attempt one final season in professional football before hanging up his boots.
Leandro Damiao, Internacional
The Brazilian international has been a mainstay of the summer and winter transfer rumour mill for at least three years now, but despite reported strong interest from across Europe, no team has managed to take him from Porto Alegre.
Will this year, 12 months away from a home World Cup, finally be the moment that Damiao chooses to move away from Internacional?
Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur remain as one of the principal candidates for the powerful forward's signature, according to the Daily Mail, with some teasing quotes from Giovanni Luigi, Inter president, adding more fuel to the fire.
"Recently we talked with Tottenham. Leandro is very likely to play games in England in the coming year," explained the chief of the Brazilian club, giving the strongest hint yet that Damiao could be London-bound.
With a national championship, a Copa Libertadores and Club World Cup medal all sitting proudly in his trophy cabinet, there is little left for Brazil international Paulinho to win in South America.
With his club crashing out of the Copa Libertadores on Wednesday night in a 1-1 draw against Boca Juniors, sealing a 2-1 defeat on aggregate, that elimination might be the key factor in the midfielder deciding to cut short a fruitful time in Sao Paulo and seek his fortune across the Atlantic.
The player has so far remained tight-lipped over his future, but with back-to-back Libertadores titles now impossible, the time would appear to be right for a move.
Nicolas Castillo, Universidad Catolica
In what was overall a very promising tournament for the Chilean Under-20 side, the highlight for the nation in 2013 South American Youth Championships was the emergence of Nicolas Castillo. The striker netted five goal in seven games during the tournament, leading the Roja to fourth place and a spot in the upcoming World Cup at the junior level.
The Universidad Catolica fanatic also put himself in the shop window thanks to his goalscoring exploits.
With just over 50 professional games under his belt, a move to Italy may be on the horizon. According to La Tercera, Sampdoria will make the Chilean their first priority to strengthen their forward line if Mauro Iccardi is sold, releasing the funds to meet the Cruzado's $8 million valuation.
The same source states that the Serie A club would have to battle for the youngster, who turned 20 in February. Inter are also interested in taking Castillo to Milan, while Standard Liege of Belgium had an offer turned down almost immediately after the South American championship.