The Argentinean Primera División is entering it’s fifth week and at the time of writing River Plate are in top spot after several years muddling about in mid-table. The idea of River returning to the top got me thinking about returning players. So this week, in contrast to Mexico where I listed players yet to move to Europe, your Top Ten are all players who are currently playing in Argentina after a spell on the continent. I’ll follow this up with a look at Brazil next Friday to keep the theme running. Thoughts and comments below.
10. Esteban Fuertes – Colón de Santa Fe
The veteran striker (now 37) has played all over the world and is currently in his 4th spell with Colón de Santa Fe a place he describes as “My home, my joy, my life”. In July last year Bichi became the club’s all-time top goalscorer and before that was the oldest player ever to debut for Argentina when he played in friendly against Panama. This season he has already got on the goalscoring chart and playing alongside Gonazlo Higuain’s older brother, Federico, Colón hope to improve on last season’s 14th place.
9. Germán Pacheco – Independiente (on loan)
The youngest player on the list by a country mile the 19 year old was on the youth books of Velez Sarsfield before being snapped up by Atletico Madrid. His parent club have loaned him to Independiente this season where he has started every game so far. The diminuitive striker represented the Argentina U-21 team at last year’s Toulon tournament and with youth team coach Batista now promoted to the senior side a good season might see him earn his first cap. An exciting talent well worth keeping an eye out for.
8. Diego Placente – San Lorenzo
A tough tackling left-back, Placente was a Champions League runner-up with Bayer Leverkusen and enjoyed success in Spain before deciding to leave French club Bordeaux to spend some quality time in his motherland. At 33 he has been moved into an advanced position in midfield and his experience hasn’t been let down by his stamina. An everpresent under manager Diego Simeone (who he played with in 2002) he has helped San Lorenzo start the league strongly with his solid displays.
7. Juan Carlos Menseguez – San Lorenzo
Another man currently playing for San Lorenzo, Menseguez had a successful stint for Wolfsburg making over 100 appearances for the Bundesliga club. He has been back in Buenos Aires since 2007 (apart from a brief spell at West Brom) and has already featured in over 50 matches for El Ciclón. This season he has already got on the scoresheet and is forming a dangerous partnership with Sebastián Balsas – San Lorenzo are the league’s topscorers at the time of writing. At 26 we may not have seen the best of JCM just yet!
6. Ariel Ortega – River Plate
The 5ft 7in livewire has rejoined his original club and is still going, just, at 36. He spent time in Italy (also Spain and Turkey) before feeling the urge to return home. He is described as a tempremental character and has been plagued by alcoholism since his return to Argentina which resulted in him spending the 2008/09 season on loan to a Primera B team while he sought treatment. Since 2009 he has been back in the fold and is expected to play a key role in this season’s title bid as long as he can keep his head (he was sent off in the 2nd game of the season an indication of his darker side).
5. Sebastián Battaglia – Boca Juniors
A short-lived spell at Villarreal qualifies Battalgia who is Boca through and through. A combative midfielder he is currently club captain and has won a whopping 16 titles at Boca including 6 league titles and 4 Copa Libertadores. He makes up part of a 5-man midfield where he and Chilean international Gary Medel squeeze the life out of any team who has the audacity to try and play through them. He has scored some important goals as well. Yet to celebrate his 30th birthday, he will be around for a few more seasons and don’t be surprised if he picks up a 20th title at Boca Juniors.
4. Matías Almeyda – River Plate
A defensive midfielder who oozes calm on the ball and will do anything (within or outside of the laws of the game) to win the thing back. His most successful spell in Europe was during his three years at Lazio. He won everything at domestic level and a Cup Winner’s Cup and UEFA Super Cup under Sven Goran Eriksson’s tutelage and alongside compatriots Juan Sebastián Verón and (briefly) Hernan Crespo. The last 5 years has seen him retire to play Showbol with Maradona, turn out for FK Lynn in Norway and get sent off in the Argentinean 4th Division. Now he his back where he started and at the age of 36 marshalling the midfield of a River Plate team undergoing a revival and sitting top of the league.
3. Martín Palermo – Boca Juniors
Paleeeeeeermo Paleeeeeeermo! At Boca they had been singing it for years, for the first time in history the whole of the Estadio Monumental (River Plate’s home) could be heard singing it last year when Palermo scored a 94th minute winner against Peru to keep World Cup qualification hopes alive. That completed his transformation from local hero to national hero. After suffering a broken leg at Villarreal in 2001 it seemed he wouldn’t play at the top level again, struggling at Betis and Alavés in the Spanish second division. In 2004 Palermo went back to Boca where he had scored 81 goals in 102 games in his first spell. The last six years has brought even more success – winning three league titles, a Copa Libertadores, two Copa Sudamericanas and passing the legendary Francisco Varallo (who sadly passed away this week) as Boca’s all-time top goalscorer. El Loco plans to retire after this season, he will be greatly missed.
2. Juan Román Riquelme – Boca Juniors
The Argentinean playmaker is currently injured but he is without doubt a player in the world class bracket. When he plays the team’s tempo is controlled by him, he decides when to keep the ball and when to unleash danger with a pinpoint pass. His deadball skills are excellent – I remember watching him in El Monumental scoring two freekicks either side of half time for the albiceleste against Chile. Only a fall out with El Diego saw him sit out the rest of the 2010 qualifiers. For Boca he has helped them dominate in recent times, since his return from Villarreal in 2007 they have won the league title and Copa Libertadores (scoring three goals over the two leg final). A maestro and a shame he only came back from Europe with an Intertoto Cup to his name.
1. Juan Sebastián Verón – Estudiantes de La Plata
After failing to recreate his success at Parma and Lazio in the Premier League then struggling to hold down a first team place at Inter, the ‘little witch’ decided to come back to familiar shores. At home town club Estudiantes de La Plata (where he was part of the youth set up) Verón has flourished winning the Apertura in 2006 and Copa Libertadores in 2009. In both 2008 and 2009 he was named South American Footballer of the Year as he became the orchestrator of Estudiantes midfield. His form earned him a place in Maradona’s World Cup squad where he started every match. This season Estudiantes are unbeaten and lie just three points off the top with a game in hand. Verón has been instrumental after dismissing rumours that he might retire, his only downfall – this awful poker advert he currently stars in!
Roberto Ayala is used to this, he has spent his season on the subs bench at Racing Club so far. However a man with over 100 caps for the national side, Serie A and La Liga titles brings valuable experience to the younger crop of Racing defenders and they can only benefit.
Damián Escudero – a midfielder with a great touch and eye for goal, currently kept out of the Boca set up as they toy with different playmakers in Roman’s absence.
Cristian Raúl Ledesma – another talented midfield player but struggling to make an impact at Colón as they search for more points.
There is your insight into Argentina – next Tuesday we are knee deep in international football so I’ll be listing the Top Ten Small International Teams (you can find out what ‘small’ means next week!).