Why Does South America Produce the World's Best Attacking Players?

Dan ColasimoneContributor IJuly 7, 2013

MADRID, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 25:  Radamel Falcao of Club Atletico de Madrid celebrates after scoring his team's opening goal during the La Liga match between Club Atletico de Madrid and Sevilla FC at Vicente Calderon Stadium on November 25, 2012 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
Denis Doyle/Getty Images

If you were to name the top-10 attacking players in the world at any one time, odds are that more than half of them would hail from South America.

At present, Radamel Falcao, Gonzalo Higuain, Luis Suarez, Sergio Aguero, Lionel Messi, Edinson Cavani and Neymar are all flying the South American flag with their world-class goal-scoring prowess.

Lists of the best defenders in football, such as this one on FourFourTwo.com, will often only contain one or two names from the same region.

Why is it that South America is so adept at churning out top-class strikers and attacking players?

Firstly, a love of goal-scoring is ingrained in the continent's footballing psyche. From Pele's Santos to Cesar Luis Menotti's world champion Argentina side, the great teams were all known for their attractive, attacking play.

Jonathan Wilson of The Guardian relays some quotes from Menotti in this brilliant profile that eloquently explain the desire to play in an attacking way:

Menotti said:

And to those who say that all that matters is winning, I want to warn them that someone always wins. Therefore, in a 30-team championship, there are 29 who must ask themselves: what did I leave at this club, what did I bring to my players, what possibility of growth did I give to my footballers?

I start from the premise that football is efficacy. I play to win, as much or more than any egoist who thinks he's going to win by other means. I want to win the match. But I don't give in to tactical reasoning as the only way to win, rather I believe that efficacy is not divorced from beauty.

"La Maquina" River Plate team of the 1940s famously played with a philosophy of "ganar, gustar y golear" or "to win, to please and to score goals."

Furthermore, the seedbeds of South American football—the streets of Bogota, the beaches of Brazil and the muddy "potrero" playgrounds of Montevideo—are not places where rigid defending is valued.

The kids who can dribble, swivel, flick and score goals get the glory on those playgrounds.

The BBC's South American expert, Tim Vickery, in this article, quotes one of that country's great strikers who believes that goals should trump all else. Vickery goes on to explain that Brazilians often laud creative geniuses more than the goal sneaks, but a production line of both types of players has traditionally served the national football team very well:

"I was too busy scoring goals to learn how to play football," says Dario, a legendary figure in Brazilian football from the 1960s and 70s. A charismatic character, Dario invents phrases as easily as he used to put the ball in the net.

"There's no such thing as an ugly goal," he once said. "Ugly is not scoring goals."he only way to win, rather I believe that efficacy is not divorced from beauty …"

This attitude is so predominant that it is still apparent at a professional level. In Europe, a striker who elects to have an optimistic pop at goal from 40 yards will likely be admonished by his coach and his team's fans.

In South America, on the other hand, a similar long-range shot, even if unsuccessful, will draw a round of applause from the stands and a wry shrug from the manager.

It is the creative, attacking and goal-getting players who are most revered as well.

While Italian fans count defenders such as Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini among their immortals, and the English hail the likes of Gordon Banks and Terry Butcher, South America's legends are almost exclusively strikers and attacking midfielders: Gabriel Batistuta, Carlos Valderrama, Garrincha and Diego Maradona.

Latin American commentators are well known for their enthusiasm, and their typical response when the ball hits the back of the net is a good indicator of the joy that defining event can trigger:

In this kind of environment, it is little wonder that brilliant attacking talent continues to emerge from the continent.

At the end of the day, goals win football matches, so the South American game should remain in good shape if it continues to produce the world's premier forwards.