Who are the best ex-Premier League players playing still in the South American leagues? - Tim Bevan
We have a fair few. I’ll leave the Argentinians to Mr Richards, but one that has certainly rediscovered some form this season has been former Manchester City and Everton striker, Jo. He joined a bunch of misfits including Ronaldinho at Atletico MG this season after receiving his marching orders from Internacional for calling in “sick” after deciding he’d much rather have a big birthday bash.
With the economic boom meaning the league can pay bigger wages than ever before, Brazil has its fair share of ex-Premier League stars. Elano has been in good form for Gremio since moving south from Santos, but got himself in a bit of trouble earlier this month. He’s joined at Gremio by former Arsenal midfielder Gilberto Silva, who is playing out the final stages of his career back in the centre of defence, and former Wigan hitman Marcelo Moreno, who is finally getting back to the sort of form he showed prior to an ill-fated move to Ukraine four years ago. Fabio Aurelio is enduring a much less productive time with the club – who are now second with one game remaining – with injury preventing him from having made a single appearance since leaving Liverpool. Speaking of Liverpool, Diego Cavalieri has been outstanding for Fluminense as they won the league with a couple of games to spare, while Deco has been integral in the few appearances his physical condition has allowed him. Former Manchester United man Kleberson is in and out of the Bahia team and on-loan Arsenal midfielder Denilson has just played his 100th game for Sao Paulo. Diego Forlan has just joined former Pompey playmaker Andrés D’Alessandro at Internaconal – the little Argentinian has led Inter to a Copa Sudamericana and a Copa Libertadores since arriving four years ago.
Elsewhere on the continent, ex Birmingham City striker Luciano Figueroa is enjoying life in Ecuador with Emelec, achieving his best goal return since first leaving Argentina nearly 10 years ago. Jhon Viafara is waltzing round pitches in Colombia with Independiente Medellin, ex Aston Villa right-back and Ulises de la Cruz is still battling away at the age of 38 with Liga de Quito back in his homeland, and Nobby Solano is doing a fine job as coach of Universitario in Peru. RF.
Down in Argentina there are two clubs enjoying the services of former Premier League players. Newell’s welcomed back both former Liverpool midfielder Maxi Rodriguez and ex-Manchester United defender Gabriel Heinze. Newell’s were in a very compromising situation in the relegation table so those two players, who started out at the club, returning to lend a hand has been vital for the club’s great form this year. It looks like the Rosario side will fall short of the title, especially with both Maxi and Heinze picking up injuries that put them out of the final stretch of the season, but their return was an enormous boost for the club.
At San Lorenzo, it took a while for him to get going but former Everton striker Dennis Stracqualursi is enjoying a purple patch with five goals in the last four games, putting him near the top of the goalscoring table. Last year we lost one of the local legends to retirement - former Derby striker Esteban Bichi Fuertes finally called it a day, as did of course Juan Sebastián Verón. In the dugout, the former mask-wearing Fulham striker Facundo Sava lasted only five games into the season with San Martin de San Juan, though in his defence he did keep the side up last season which was no mean feat. JR.
I’ve always been a bit hazy on the Brazilian league structure, how many different domestic competitions do they have? It seems like one per club! - Christian Cole
Ah, that old chestnut. Essentially, the clubs play two leagues per year: the regional championship and the national championship. The local state leagues run for the first few months of the year, with the level of play differing wildly between states depending on how many of the nation’s big clubs happen to be located in that area; the national league, now a standard 20 team competition where everyone plays everyone else home and away, begins in May and runs until the end of the year. The Brazilian calendar is out of sync with that of FIFA, and is a topic of hot debate as the domestic game – all things considered – is arguably the strongest it’s ever been.
Due to the vast size of the country, a national league format was logistically impossible in the early years of the Brazilian game. The national league was introduced in 1971, but by then the regional tournaments had developed a pedigree. The current format now appears awfully archaic, but still holds a certain resonance for many of the country’s fans. RF.
Is it time for Erik Lamela to be called up to the national squad? - Scot Munroe
Based on his recent form the answer has to be yes, particularly as you ask about the squad and not the team. Sabella is - rightly - very happy with the first choice starting eleven with the front three of Higuain, Aguero and Messi. Di Maria is also one of the players only left out because of suspension or injury, so it’s difficult for Lamela to break into the side. But the Roma forward has long been viewed as one of the best talents to emerge from Argentina and this season he is justifying the hype. Sabella doesn’t bow to pressure easily - he hasn’t called up Tevez or Pastore just because of pressure from fans - but as an ex-River Plate man himself perhaps he’ll give Lamela a well-deserved opportunity. JR.
Will Palmeiras be able to bounce back quickly from their relegation? - Tom Robinson
Palmeiras aren’t the first to suffer the perils of sealing Libertadores qualification so early. Their Copa do Brasil victory under Big Phil was great cause for celebration, but like so many others, they took their eye off the domestic ball and by the time they returned their collective gaze to the Brasileirao, it was too late. 11 million Brazilian football fans mourned their relegation, before becoming pretty bloody angry about the whole affair.
Scolari has since departed, and has of course just been handed Brazil job. So bad did Palmeiras’ form become, that free-kick master Marcos Assuncao said he was ashamed to leave the house. One of – well, the only – positive from to draw from the season was the form of Argentinian striker Hernan Barcos. The club have already rejected an approach from a Russian club for the former LDU man, and keeping hold of him will be vital to their chances of an instant return to the top flight.
The Verdao have been in a bit of a mess for some time now, and a coach by any other name would surely have been given the boot long before patience was lost with Felipao. Their form this season was all their own doing, despite the conspiracy theorists desperately looking to blame the authorities following the bizarre circumstances surrounding Barcos’ disallowed goal against Internacional earlier this month – a goal that would only have increased their measly total this season to 39 in their 37 games thus far. Relegation can be turned into a positive, however, as illustrated by Corinthians and Vasco in recent years. The club need to take stock, and will likely move on a number of their top earners, including the wonderful – if alarmingly inconsistent – Jorge Valdivia, who once again performed only intermittently at a time when his club needed him most. If you want to keep up with their fortunes next year, I’d recommend keeping an eye on Kristian Bengtson’s wonderful blog, http://anythingpalmeiras.com/. RF.
Who is the best prospect coming out of Argentine football? - Christopher C. Stevenson
Right now Leandro Paredes is grabbing the headlines, having revamped a spluttering Boca Juniors side since making it into the first team. He’s a creative midfielder and has scored important goals for the side recently too. He is most effective in the middle but can also play wider. If playing at Boca wasn’t enough pressure, Riquelme named him as the player to watch out for and indeed a number of European clubs already have…watch this space.
At Colón, Lucas Mugni has also been impressing, in the similar position to Paredes, perhaps by virtue of playing for a club with less media coverage he hasn’t been so hyped up but has been just as impressive, won over fans by scoring in the clásico and has also been called up by Sabella for the locally-based Argentina side.
At Racing they have also had enquiries for Ricky Centurion, very much in the Di Maria mould, and the skilful striker Luciano Vietto who have both looked very comfortable in the first team. Napoli, Benfica, Real Madrid have all been mentioned as being interested in the pair. JR.
I’ve been highly impressed with Claudio Yacob this season down at The Hawthorns. He has 3 caps for Argentina - but is he in Sabella’s thoughts or close to the squad? Probably best for us that he isn’t, so he avoids travelling commitments… - Andy Cumella
Yacob’s form for West Brom hasn’t gone unnoticed in Argentina, though despite the club’s excellent campaign so far he is still very much eclipsed by news of Aguero and Tevez. He didn’t exactly leave the country on a high note, being kicked out of Racing having swapped shirts with an Independiente player after losing the clásico - unforgivable in the eyes of fans - and having been a long-term contract rebel. But he has played for the Argentina U20s and was also part of the national team set up with players from the national league, and Sabella watches the English league closely so no doubt his form will have impressed him. The main problem for Yacob is that Sabella’s priority is strengthening the defence rather than looking for more midfield options. JR.
Got a question for Joel or Rupert? Pop it in the comments section below and the best ones will be answered next time.
Joel Richards is based in Buenos Aires and is a regular contributor on Argentinian football to Fox Soccer, The Guardian and World Soccer. He is also a television producer and presenter.
Rupert Fryer is an expert on South American football and is the co-founder and editor of southamericanfootball.co.uk