An aficionado on everything in the South American game, Roberto Rojas (@robertorojas97) is the man when it comes to the Selecao, La Albiceleste, Los Cafeteros and everyone in between. The digital content producer for BEIN Sports USA is an expert on all 10 nations in the CONMEBOL and was the perfect person to talk to about Chelsea’s various South American stars – who had admittedly been a broad range of hits and misses.
Rob: Hi Roberto. Firstly, fantastic name! Joking aside, I’m very excited to speak to you about the South American game because I think it is one that gets less recognition than it should, especially in Europe. To start things off, quite a broad question. Why do you think Chelsea (and most Premier League clubs) have had a comparatively smaller number of South American players compared to say Spanish clubs?
Is it a cultural issue, or more a contract issue (as I know 3rd party ownership was common in South America until recently), or something else? Is it fair to say the majority of South American imports usually struggle to adapt to the English game?
Roberto: I think it can be a more cultural issue, but this isn’t to say that all South Americans failed in the Premier League. It’s a level of adapting really. A different culture, language and style of play can happen when making that jump from South America or even for South Americans being based across Europe. Every player is different but given the South American player is typically more technical, it can be a bit of a struggle in the Premier League at first, but it’s really all down to the player and how the manager utilizes him.
Rob: I think that’s a great summary. On the topic of struggling to adapt, one name always really pops into mind. Hernan Crespo. Do you think he could have accomplished more in England at Chelsea?
Roberto: Hernan Crespo will go down as one of the best modern Argentine strikers of the late 90s and early 2000s. His reputation in Italy has made him a cult hero and I believe he is very well-received in Argentina.
Rob: So a legend for Argentina for sure? But a flop in England?
Roberto: Not necessarily. I think he could’ve done much better in England, but this isn’t to say he was a flop.
Rob: What made him so good when he was at his peak, and do you think he was past that peak when he came to Chelsea?
Roberto: He scored numerous goals at Chelsea but was already approaching that age and being the type of player that he was playing in Italy, so that’s how I see it.
Rob: Interesting. Onto quite a different topic, Chelsea had what some people term ‘The Brazilian Experiment’ that started in 2010 with Ramires and ended in 2016 with the signing of Kenedy. A lot of these players have now left the club. Do you think this experiment to bring Brazilian flair and skill to Chelsea via players like Oscar, Willian, Ramires should be considered a success? If yes, why, if no, why not?
Roberto: I think it did work out at first. A lot of those players ended up winning domestic and European titles on a Chelsea side that was successful and it allowed them to flourish when needed to be.
Rob: So in that way, it was a success?
Roberto: I think because of the many changes the club was going through in terms of coaches did make it a bit difficult to manage all of them, but I think for someone like Willian who has been at the club for a long time, it should be noted that this experiment was a success.
Rob: Onto two definite failures. Juan Cuadrado and Radamel Falcao: Successful elsewhere, arrived in England with huge reputations and flopped. Why?
Roberto: For Falcao, that ACL injury that he suffered before the 2014 World Cup really changed him and when he was rushed back hoping to make the final squad before his spells in England, it didn’t allow him to become the player that he become. Again, it’s all about the way the player has been utilized and perhaps it didn’t function as well due to the many changes the club was going through. The same for Juan Cuadrado, who I think just didn’t fit the physicality of the Premier League.
Rob: On the topic of success vs. failure. Where do you think Oscar falls on this scale? Did he fulfil all his potential?
Roberto: I think he did to begin with but I think right after the 2014 World Cup for Brazil, it just wasn’t the same. I think the money factor is understood as to why he wanted to go to China, perhaps because he wanted to be the main star.
Rob: So not necessarily a failure, but more of a personal choice?
Roberto: Exactly. I wouldn’t say he “failed” at Chelsea, but I think he was decent in his time there and of course, he won a bit of silverware too.
Rob: One Brazilian who won silverware but never fitted in was Filipe Luis. What happened there?
Roberto: Tactically, I think it was just something that wasn’t needed. Perhaps Chelsea needed that depth at defence but I just feel he wasn’t a player that fits the style that the team wanted, in comparison to what we see at Diego Simeone’s attacking side at Atletico Madrid.
Rob: So a wrong place, wrong time situation. That reminds me of Luiz Felipe Scolari – did he struggle because he wanted to play attacking football, but had a defensive squad that was drilled by Mourinho?
Roberto: I think so, it was a different time at Chelsea and for him to go into English football at a club with numerous expectations, even with the resume that he had, it just didn’t work out properly and it’s unfortunate because his reputation is still somewhat a big one in South America.
Rob: Understandable, considering what he has achieved in the game. Another name with a huge reputation. Juan Sebastien Veron. Do you think he was a typical signing of the early Abramovich era – luxurious and a bit excessive?
Roberto: Veron was a star in Italy, and earned his spot as one of the top Argentine players of his era. I think because of that, and the way that he wanted to “rejuvenate” after his spell at Manchester United, I think it was the case of seeing what players you can get and how they can work in this project that Roman did. Unfortunately it didn’t work.
Rob: Definitely not at Chelsea! I couldn’t discuss South America without asking about David Luiz. Obviously someone who was so successful at Chelsea in terms of silverware, but equally, someone who makes a fair share of mistakes. Is he just a good footballer, or also a good defender?
Roberto: I think you can’t excuse playing at a top level while also being capped for your national team as a reason for him being “misunderstood.” I think he was brilliant when he was at Chelsea, but unfortunately his form really just dipped after that World Cup in 2014.
Rob: So misunderstood to an extent?
Roberto: He’s definitely a decent footballer and is capable of defensive qualities, but at least deserves the respect he has earned during his time in English football.
Rob: Again, I can’t help but agree. I think he gets scapegoated too much. As a final question,can you give me three talents from South American leagues that you think would suit the Premier League and why each one would be a good fit?
Roberto: It’s so hard to predict because anyone can come up and anyone can show up. However, some names that I would love to would be Racing’s Matias Zaracho, a technical midfielder that perhaps would an entertaining view for the neutrals, Cerro Porteño’s Santiago Arzamendia, a full-back who is capable to set pieces and great crossing ability, and I would love to see Flamengo’s Gabigol get another chance of European football where he can be the main star in the attack.
Rob: Really insightful and informative. Thanks again, Roberto!
You can follow Roberto on Twitter (@robertorojas97) for the latest updates on everything South American, and also for coverage of MLS and USMNT updates, including exclusive transfer updates. Additionally, catch him discussing hosting the Low Limit Futbol podcast for analysis and discussion about South America’s brightest and best stars, teams and talents.