20 South American Talents European Clubs Should Be Watching
South American football has been depleted of many of its major stars over the past 12 months, with Brazil in particular seeing many leading lights head across the Atlantic.
That, though, does not mean that the well has necessarily run dry. Indeed, such is the amazing ability of South America to continually churn out footballing talents that there are still a number of players worthy of attention from European clubs.
Some have already had brief opportunities in Europe; others are already in North America or Asia. However, they are more than capable of a significant impact in the European game.
Who, then, are the 20 South American talents European clubs should be watching?
Everton Ribeiro (Cruzeiro)
Everton Ribeiro came to wider prominence for Coritiba in 2012, when he scored eight goals and provided five assists for the Paranaense side after coming into the starting lineup early in the campaign.
Since joining, he has been integral to a Cruzeiro side that now look heavy favourites to seal the Brasileirao title this season. Assuming the main creative duties, he has scored three times and provided six assists; he ranks in the league's top five players for chances created (53) per Squawka.
His pace and invention have been a major part of the Mineiro side's success and, having rejected a reported bid of around €7 million from Spartak Moscow in February per Globo Esporte (Portuguese), it surely won't be long until the vultures begin to circle once again.
Eder Alvarez Balanta (River Plate)
Linked with Barcelona in the Colombian media, per El Pais (Spanish), and associated with Portuguese superagent Jorge Mendes, per Clarin (Spanish), it won't be long until Balanta is plying his trade in Europe.
BBC Sport's South American football correspondent Tim Vickery said of the left-footed centre-back earlier this month:
He's quick and strong, has a nice left foot, can play or can mix it - everything you want from a centre-back. He'll obviously make his mistakes - that's part of the way that young defenders learn - but he's an immense promise.
I think he'll be on his way in the next window - River have apparently already sold a large percentage of him to an agent who will be hawking him around. I hope any move will be good for his career, and not just for an agent's bank balance.
Jefferson Montero (Morelia)
Prior to that, the youngster had already made one attempt to crack European football with Villarreal. However, with a series of loan moves not quite working out, the twinkle-toed attacked returned to Latin America.
Now playing regularly, there are signs that he is beginning to mature into the player that he always had potential to be. An excellent dribbler, his recent showings for Ecuador have been impressive and he has been consistently creating chances for his Morelia side.
He is still plenty young enough to establish himself in Europe at the second attempt, and it would be no surprise to see him move in January.
One of the revelations of the past 12 months in Brazilian football, centre-back Doria came into the Botafogo first team midway through the 2012 season in the midst of an injury crisis.
Not much was expected of the raw 17-year-old, but he quickly proved himself more than capable at the senior level and has been an established first-team player ever since.
With his strong physique allowing him to go toe to toe with forwards much older than himself, Doria's comfort on the ball and excellent decision-making have been particularly impressive aspects of his game for such a young player.
Ignacio Scocco (Internacional)
Another who has previously played in Europe, this time to some success, Ignacio Scocco signed for Brazilian side Internacional this summer after a year at Argentina's Newell's Old Boys in which he was the top scorer in the Primera Division.
Scocco is now 28, but his exploits were enough to attract the attention of Sunderland this summer and, having not yet found himself a regular starter in Brazil, he could well be looking for a move away in the months ahead.
The diminutive forward, who often plays from a wide attacking role, has been a consistent scorer throughout his career and would no doubt like a shot at one of Europe's top leagues in the final few years of his career.
At the right price, he would be an excellent signing for many clubs competing for places in continental competitions.
Gabriel Corozo (LDU Quito)
LDU Quito left-back Gabriel Corozo has been one of the revelations of the 2013 season in Ecuador, having become an important member of the first team.
His performances are already attracting attention from both abroad and the national team selectors, with Corozo having been called to the past two Ecuador squads.
A compact figure, Corozo's speed and low centre of gravity make him ideal for an attacking full-back role. He still has some areas of his game to work on defensively, but would appear to have all the attributes to enjoy a long and succesful career.
Ricardo Goulart (Cruzeiro)
Cruzeiro attacking midfielder Ricardo Goulart arrived at the club at the beginning of the campaign with a burgeoning reputation, having scored 12 goals in Serie B last season.
However, after contributing to Cruzeiro's rise to the top of the table, the 22-year-old is now a well-known figure in the Brazilian game.
Playing as the more direct of A Raposa's attacking midfield pair, Goulart has scored six goals this campaign and contributed two assists. Alongside Everton Ribeiro, he has been key to Cruzeiro's attacking threat.
Per Transfermarkt, the compact forward cost £1.7 million when he moved clubs just nine months ago and, following his excellent showings, that valuation has undoubtedly already increased significantly.
Rodrigo Caio (Sao Paulo)
While Sao Paulo will be looking to put the 2013 season behind them as quickly as possible, they will be delighted with the development of versatile defensive player Rodrigo Caio.
The elegant defensive midfielder has come of age this season, as the only sure starter in the Tricolor squad and almost certainly their best player since the start of the league campaign.
Rodrigo Caio has not had it easy, either, playing a variety of roles including right-back, centre-back and right midfield to excellent results.
An intelligent player with good tackling skills and composure on the ball, there are many who believe his long-term future is as a ball-playing central defender. For now, though, the 20-year-old's best position remains as the midfield anchor.
Frickson Erazo (Barcelona)
An integral part of his country's defence in what looks to be a successful World Cup qualifying campaign, Frickson Erazo is a player on the rise.
Ecuador has been busily developing its own players as well, many of whom have been scouted by some of the biggest clubs in Europe.
Foremost among them is Frickson Erazo—the Barcelona centre-back who just might be the country’s best defensive prospect in years.
Tall, elegant and mature at 24-years-old, he has a good command of the box, will take the ball off an opponent without breaking his legs and plays the sort of perfectly-weighted long pass that can turn defence into attack in a matter of seconds.
Osvaldo (Sao Paulo)
After a brilliant start to his Sao Paulo career in 2012 in which he played an important role in their Copa Sudamericana success, Osvaldo has had a terrible season this time around.
Having previously been considered a central striker, Sao Paulo manager Ney Franco opted to move Osvaldo into a role from the left of an attacking trio that also contained Luis Fabiano and Lucas Moura.
He was exceptional, scoring 11 goals in the second half of the season to propel himself to the fringes of the Brazil setup earlier this year. There was a cleverness to his movement that saw him create chances and, with plenty of pace and technical ability, he was proving difficult to stop.
This year, though, the goals have dried up as Sao Paulo struggled to find a balance to their side in the wake of the arrival of Ganso's and Lucas' departure.
Osvaldo, though, is a very good player and once he pulls through this difficult period and should be set for a second shot at European football following an earlier loan spell at Braga.
Manoel (Atletico PR)
Manoel, a 23-year-old defender, has been one of the best young centre-backs in the Brazilian game for some time, having made his debut for the Paranaense side back in 2009.
Despite regular links with a move away, though, he has remained with the Curitiba-based outfit and has been a star player in their impressive return to the top flight.
Tall, quick and strong, he is the athletic prototype of a top central defender. Per Squawka, he has won 87 percent of his tackles this season and well over half of all his aerial duals. Add in three goals for his side's cause and his influence is clear.
Manoel should have been a member of Brazil's Olympic squad last summer, but was overlooked in favour of lesser defenders. His performances this year, though, should ensure he gets a move to a top league sooner rather than later.
Gustavo Gomez (Libertad)
Strapping Paraguayan centre-back Gustavo Gomez was captain of his country's Under-20 side at the World Cup earlier this summer, impressing as the South Americans reached the knockout stages.
Gomez has since gone on to become a full senior international and, at just 20 years of age, is already a regular for club side Libertad.
Paraguayan football expert Ralph Hannah had this to say on the youngster last year on his blog:
The big centre-back has got his break this season, with Libertad rotating players as they fight on both fronts (Apertura and Copa Libertadores).
He is strong and dominant in the air with a never-say-die attitude, while his battling qualities have been important in a part of a Libertad defence that won their first two league games 1-0. His physique means he would not struggle in Europe even at his tender age.
While he had an injury-hit campaign in 2012, Brazilian centre-back Dede has long been established as the best home-based defender that the national side has to call upon.
Now at Cruzeiro, having been forced to move on from Vasco as the club's financial realities took hold, he is beginning to recapture the type of form that saw Neymar describe him as the best centre-back in Brazil in 2011, via Globo Esporte (Portuguese).
Quick across the ground, excellent in the air and comfortable with the ball at his feet, the 25-year-old is a remarkably complete defender when fit and confident. Winning 89 percent of all his aerial contests and 84 percent of all tackles attempted, his numbers this campaign are outstanding and will not have gone unnoticed.
Marcos Rocha (Atletico Mineiro)
Energetic right-back Marcos Rocha has been an important figure for Atletico Mineiro over the past 18 months, as the Brazilian side rose in stature to eventually win the Copa Libertadores earlier this summer.
With an attacking mindset, Rocha can regularly be seen charging forward down the right flank and attempting to contribute going forward. Indeed, per Squawka, only Ronaldinho and striker Diego Tardelli have directly created to more goals for the club this season.
As a reward for his fine form, Rocha has earned a handful of call-ups for Brazil over the past year and will be hopeful of pushing the likes of Maicon and Rafael for the second right-back position in Luiz Felipe Scolari's squad for next summer.
He may well feel that, following December's Club World Cup, a European move will be the best way of earning a last-minute inclusion.
Irven Avila (Sporting Cristal)
Diminutive forward Irven Avila has been one of the most consistent scorers in Peru over the past five years and increased his wider fame this year with four goals in six appearances in the Copa Libertadores.
At 23, though, the time has come for him to move on from Peru and prove himself at a higher standard of football. Given his height, it may well be that he will be forced into a wider role when that opportunity eventually comes.
Sporting Cristal president Felipe Cantuarias told Depor.pe (Spanish) earlier this summer that there have been many offers for his speedy striker. However, as yet, nothing has gone through.
As much as any move away would be a gamble, Avila must be careful not to wait too long and stagnate in Peruvian football. He is already far too good for that level.
Wellington (Sao Paulo)
Another player who should possibly have headed to Europe by now, 22-year-old midfielder Wellington has also found his personal form affected by Sao Paulo's travails this season.
When in form, though, he has shown that he can be a terrific player capable of playing at the very highest level. Even in this difficult season, he has shown his ability to break up attacks (89 percent tackle completion) and distribute the ball (91 percent pass completion) from his defensive midfield role.
His return from injury last season was a major catalyst behind Sao Paulo's improved form as Ney Franco guided the side to the Copa Sudamericana title, forming an impressive partnership with former Arsenal player Denilson.
Giorgian De Arrascaeta (Defensor Sporting)
One of the standout performers in the Uruguay side that reached the final of the Under-20 World Cup this summer, midfield playmaker De Arrascaeta looks set to be a future star for La Celeste in coming years.
While forward Nico Lopez took the headlines, it was De Arrascaeta who took on the creative responsibility for Uruguay this summer and showed moments of incredible quality, scoring two fine goals with his impressive right foot.
He is a good dribbler of the ball and has shown examples of great composure under pressure. He will be expected to work hard on his fitness when he eventually moves, but will be widely sought after in January once more.
Luiz Antonio (Flamengo)
Like Wellington, 22-year-old Luiz Antonio has also suffered serious injury over the past couple of seasons but has come back strongly to become one of Flamengo's most consistent players.
A box-to-box midfielder, he is not an exceptional player but has enough quality about him to go on to enjoy a good career in one of Europe's top leagues if he can continue to improve.
The Flamengo product is good on the ball, rarely conceding possession and has a good attitude to defensive work, forming a good partnership with former Sporting midfielder Elias.
He is likely to have to work his way up to a top club, maybe from a Russian or Ukrainian side, and has already rejected opportunities to leave per Globo. Over the next year to 18 months, though, he is likely to move onward.
One of the outstanding performers of the 2013 Brazilian championship, Nilton's drive from midfield has been a key factor in Cruzeiro's rise to the top of the league.
He has scored six goals from his box-to-box role, mainly as a result of his excellent ability in the air—where he wins 71 percent of challenges, per Squawka. His power also allows him to dominate many opposition midfielders, as shown by his impressive tackle and interception statistics.
For a tall player, he is excellent with the ball at his feet, rarely conceding possession for his side and has proven to be adept at timing late runs into the penalty area.
Cruzeiro will hope to retain his services for what now appears to be an almost certain Copa Libertadores campaign next season. However, the 26-year-old could well depart next summer if he maintains anything like his current form and influence.
Elkeson (Guangzhou Evergrande)
Brazilian forward Elkeson was expected to head to Europe in 2012, but instead found himself heading for China in January after an impressive season as a makeshift striker for Botafogo in which he scored 11 goals.
At Guangzhou Evergrande, under the guidance of Marcello Lippi, he has excelled and he quickly raced clear in the league's scoring charts. At present, he has 21 goals in 24 league appearances, as well as three goals in two AFC Champions League games.
In China, he has been used in a variety of forward roles, but has played as a centre-forward more often than not after his explosive scoring early in the campaign.
Particularly impressive has been the variety of goals scored in a league that does not always see big goalscoring totals, scoring regularly with both feet and his head. For a converted attacking midfielder, it is impressive.
Add in six assists and it must be considered likely that someone in Europe will move for his services soon, especially if Evergrande can impress in the final two rounds of the 2013 Champions League.
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