Tottenham are on the verge of sealing a partnership deal with Ecuadorean club Independiente del Valle, as a result of which six of the South American side’s young stars will travel to White Hart Lane this week to begin trial periods at Spurs with a view to a permanent move. Among the triallists is Junior Sornoza, who starred for Ecuador at the South American Under-20 championships.
Although the link is yet to be made official, it represents a new approach to talent scouting by Spurs, who are not alone among Premier League clubs in turning their interests to South America in search of the next Lionel Messi or Ronaldinho. Manchester United have been in a partnership deal with Brazilian side Fluminense since 2007; Liverpool are believed to be pursuing a similar relationship with Uruguayan powerhouse Nacional.
Relationships of this nature are much more common between English and European clubs; a quick search on the internet will bring up countless such parterships. But the European football network is now so tightly interlinked it is becoming difficult for a club to spot a truly undiscovered prospect. Spurs have already established links in unusual places – they are currently affiliated with SuperSport United (South Africa) and South China (Hong Kong).
But the search for talent has, in recent years, been moving ever-closer to South American prospects. Although it is commonplace in Portugal, Spain and Italy (with many Brazilian-born players in the Portugal set-up, and numerous Argentines appearing for Italy), the Premier League is relatively new to scouting in this region. The path has been laid, in large part, by Birmingham City and Wigan Athletic.
Birmingham have introduced the likes of Jean Beausejour, Wilson Palacios and Cristian Benitez to the Premier League while Maynor Figueroa, Hugo Rodallega and Antolin Alcaraz are currently on the books at Wigan, who also gave Antonio Valencia his first big European break after two years in the Villareal reserves.
Now, though, there is an increasingly Latin feel to the Premier League; clubs are making conscious efforts to expand their scouting network to the continent. Recent seasons have seen Stoke City sign Diego Arismendi from Nacional and Blackburn pluck Mauro Formica from Argentine side Newell’s Old Boys.
The growing success of Central and South American sides in World Cup tournaments, signified by Uruguay reaching the semi-finals of the 2010 World Cup, has provided an excellent shop-window for those nations’ key players, as well as the Copa Libertadores, which has marketed a constant stream of young stars being plucked from the continent into Spanish and Italian academies.
With the European game almost completely covered by vast scouting networks, English clubs must look to the next stage of talent identification. If they are to stay ahead of the opposition, it is vital for Premier League sides to start tapping into the previously unexplored depths of South American football talent.
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