13 players we can’t believe are still playing in South America

Quick Reads

There are few things more pleasurable in football than watching a storied veteran roll back the years; strutting around the park, barking instructions at kids half his age. And if it’s veterans you want, then South America is the place to look.

After spending their peak years in Europe, many of the continent’s finest jet back home to eke out a few more seasons. For some, it proves a second lease of life. For others, it’s the kiss of death.

Here we’ve brought together 13 familiar names who are still doing the business – or not, as the case may be – on the other side of the Atlantic.

Abel Hernandez

He managed 20 goals for Hull City as they won promotion from the Championship in 2015-16, but Hernandez’s 16 across three seasons in the Premier League suggest the English top flight was a step too far for him.

A Uruguayan Cameron Jerome, you might say.

He left Yorkshire in 2018 and after spells with CSKA Moscow and Al-Ahli, now, still aged just 30(!), finds himself in southern Brazil with Internacional.

Brought in as emergency injury cover for another veteran in Paolo Guerrero, though not always first choice, Hernandez is part of a strong squad and is closing in on the first national top-tier title of his career.

After scoring in the derby against Gremio in January 2021, he said: “When Paolo comes back, the club will have to make a decision.”

Paolo Guerrero

Hernandez was right: Inter will need to make a decision. Unfortunately for the Uruguayan, the decision will probably mean him sat on his backside on the subs’ bench.

Guerrero, last we saw of him, was still a machine.

Granted, he’s been sidelined for some time with a knee ligament injury, but before that the Peruvian was dominating South American defences, running in behind with the pace he has left and bullying centre-halves back to goal, a swirl of pointy elbows and questionable neck tattoos.

He never quite lived up to his potential at Bayern Munich, but at his best Guerrero is one of the most complete central strikers in the world.

Luiz Adriano

In February 2021, Luiz Adriano helped fire Palmeiras to the 2020 Copa Libertadores title after scoring five across the campaign, including a crucial goal in the semi-final away game at River Plate’s Estadio Monumental.

Despite pushing 34, he’s still very much got the pace and skill that made him so fun to watch for Shakhtar Donetsk a decade ago.

READ: ‘Ketchup striker’ Luiz Adriano conjured his Shakthar magic in the Libertadores

Maxi Rodriguez

Argentinian Rodriguez is remembered fondly at Liverpool, where, over two seasons, he became something of a cult hero on the Kop.

But it is at his hometown club Newell’s Old Boys where he is truly a fan idol.

Now 40, he has been back at Newell’s for a third spell since 2019, and in January 2021 the club announced that it would name one of the stands of the Estadio Marcelo Bielsa after him.

There can’t be many players who’ve had the privilege of playing front of a terrace named after them.

Roque Santa Cruz

There are seven players in Olimpia’s first-team squad who were not even born when their 39-year-old team-mate Roque Santa Cruz made his debut for the club in April 1997, almost 24 years ago.

Santa Cruz, though, is going stronger than plenty of men half his age. In 2020, he managed seven goals in seven games as Olimpia finished sixth in the Clausura, making him the top scorer in the competition.

It might be almost a decade and a half since he was banging them in for Blackburn and 19 years since he first led the line for Paraguay at a World Cup, but Roque still knows where the net is.

Andres D’Alessandro

D’Alessandro broke through as one of the many unfortunate young Argentinian players to have carried the burden of the ‘new Maradona’ tag over the years.

Though he did manage a goal-of-the-season contender during his short stint at Portsmouth in 2006, he obviously never lived up to that – but then only one man has.

Following his departure from Internacional in December 2020 after 12 glorious years in Porto Alegre, D’Alessandro could easily have decided to pack it all in – he’s 39, after all.

Instead, he has moved a little further south to Montevideo and reigning Uruguayan champions Nacional. Loves the game. Must do.

Diego Ribas

The diminutive playmaker, who reached his peak in Europe at Werder Bremen around 2008 before going on to play for Juventus, Wolfsburg and Atletico, is back in his native Brazil playing for Rio giants Flamengo.

In the final of the 2019 Copa Libertadores, he came on with 25 minutes to go with his side trailing River Plate 1-0. He turned the game with his incisive passing and secured the second continental crown in Rubro-Negro history.

It was the crowning moment of a fine career and ensured he’ll never have to buy another drink in Rio de Janeiro.

READ: A tribute to Diego, the South American star robbed of his European final

Fabricio Coloccini

From 2008 until 2016, everyone in the city of Newcastle wanted “curly hair too”. Why? Fabricio was their hero.

After 275 games for the Magpies, he eventually moved back to his native Argentina in 2016, signing with one of the five Buenos Aires grandes, San Lorenzo.

It hasn’t been great. Injuries have plagued him and performances have been poor of late, while trophies have evaded the reach of the club.

Aged 39, Coloccini’s contract will end in June 2021. So if you want to catch one last glimpse of his floppy mop bobbing up and down, you’d better tune in soon.

Nene

He might be even more immobile than when he popped up at West Ham in 2008, but, aged 39, the quality in Nene’s left boot remains.

He was the conductor in a great Fluminense in 2020 and he got 2021 underway by hitting the bar from 70 yards.

Fred

Some say you can’t carry two veterans in the same team. We say: rubbish.

Alongside Nene at Fluminense is big, bad Fred, the man Alan Shearer famously accused of being immobile at the 2014 World Cup, causing an international feud between the ex-Newcastle striker and Fred’s Selecao team-mate Dani Alves.

Admittedly, that World Cup wasn’t a high point of Fred’s career, but we’ll always have a soft spot for him.

His three consecutive French titles at Lyon in the mid-noughties were great and since moving home, Fred has become the fourth highest scorer in Brazilian top-flight history. Not bad when you consider Zico is just below him.

In 2020, he got on his bike from recently relegated Cruzeiro back to Fluminense. Quite literally. He cycled the 600km from Belo Horizonte to Rio to sign the contract. Who’s immobile now, Alan?

READ: Trying to understand how Fred became Brazil’s first-choice striker

Diego Cavalieri

Fred’s former Flu team-mate might have spent two and a half seasons at Anfield, but, unable to dislodge Pepe Reina, he barely got a game.

He emerged in England once more in 2018 with Crystal Palace, signed as emergency cover, but was soon back off to Rio de Janeiro, this time with Botafogo.

It’s fair to say it’s not going to plan. The famous old club look doomed to relegation and, barring a miracle, will spend 2021 in Serie B.

Eduardo Vargas

We were embarrassingly excited by QPR’s signing of Vargas in 2014 after his exploits on our Football Manager save, but his time in the Premier League didn’t exactly go to plan.

Twenty-one games, three goals and 10 months after he joined, Vargas and QPR were relegated. The Chilean was off to Hoffenheim before you could say parachute payments.

After a few years with Tigres in Mexico, he was reunited in 2020 with Jorge Sampaoli, his old national team boss and love of his life (alright, don’t quote us on that second bit), at Atletico Mineiro in Brazil, where he now plays in the full-throttle style that suits him so well.

He’s only 31, so we’re hoping there are a few more golazos in him yet.

Juanfran

Though technically he shouldn’t be on this list after leaving Brazil in early 2021, we couldn’t leave out Juanfran.

The Atletico Madrid stalwart arrived at Sao Paulo in 2019, desperate for a taste of the intensity and atmosphere he had heard about from his former colleagues at Atletico Madrid.

What he wanted was passion; all he got was broken dreams.

Playing behind star man and attacking midfielder Dani Alves, Juanfran helped Sao Paulo into a commanding lead at the top of the 2020 Brasileirao before some disastrous late-season form saw them crash out of the title race completely.

Sao Paulo sacked their manager Fernando Diniz and sporting director Rai after a loss to minnows Atletico Goianiense. Juanfran left the following day.


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