Argentina is the land of Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi, two time World Cup winners and producers of some of the most skilful footballers of all time. So signing an Argentinian is a surefire route to success, right?
Err… well. Maybe not always. While the Premier League has been graced by the goalscoring magnificence of Sergio Aguero, not all of his compatriots have had quite such glittering careers on these shores.
We’ve brought together 13 of the weirdest Argentinian signings to grace the English top flight since 1992.
13. Lionel Scaloni
Bizarre in hindsight, this one. The current Argentina manager, the man charged with helping Messi finally win an international trophy, played for West Ham for six months in 2006. Helped them reach an FA Cup final, too.
You still wouldn’t be able to pick him out of a line-up though, would you?
12. Sixto Peralta
The much-trodden path: Milan to Ipswich to Buenos Aires. Peralta arrived in East Anglia on loan from Inter in 2001, got relegated as part of George Burley’s team and then jetted off back to his native Argentina to join Racing Club having started just 16 league games.
Yet according to him, he had no interest in joining the Argentinian giants and would rather have stayed with the Tractor Boys to toil away in the second tier, so much so that he even left his car at the Ipswich training ground.
“[Ipswich] were going to buy me from Inter if we stayed up,” he told the East Anglian Daily Times in 2019, “but once we were relegated Ipswich said they wanted to keep me but could only do one year on loan. I was happy with that but Inter said no, that Ipswich had to buy or nothing.
“I was 22 years old at the time and I did what they told me. I ended up signing for Racing Club in Argentina on loan but I wanted to stay in Ipswich.”
We wonder why he was so fond of Suffolk. Perhaps it reminded him of his native Patagonia.
11. Denis Stracqualursi
Goodison Park loves a player who will put in the effort, and in Stracqualursi, the Everton fans had one in the 2011-12 season.
He ran and harried, he fought and never gave up. For that, he remains a cult hero in the blue half of Merseyside.
The forward was never up to scratch in the Premier League, though, and was never going to be. After a single campaign for David Moyes’ side, he was back off to Argentina to join San Lorenzo.
10. Santiago Vergini
Vergini was actually decent for Sunderland. Versatile, hardworking. He helped them stay up twice in 2014 and 2015. He will, though, only ever be remembered for the piledriver of an own goal he managed against Southampton to trigger an 8-0 thrashing for the Black Cats in October 2014.
For this alone, he fully merits a spot on our list.
📆 ON THIS DAY 📆#OTD in 2014, Santiago Vergini scored one of the greatest own goals in Premier League history.
Take a bow, son. pic.twitter.com/fxys0cBwVp
— WeLoveBetting (@WeLoveBettingUK) October 16, 2020
9. Andres D’Alessandro
Proper ‘Arry Redknapp job, this. Portsmouth were in bad shape in January 2006, scrabbling around in the relegation zone. Redknapp had the answer: go out and sign nine players in the winter window.
One of them was D’Alessandro, one of the many young men to have been burdened with the ‘new Maradona’ tag over the years. He was coming in from Wolfsburg and had been part of Argentina’s 2004 Olympic gold medal-winning team, so it was a bit of a coup.
“The boy is a really influential playmaker and you can’t have too many of those,” said Redknapp in true Redknapp style.
Redknapp was right, as it turned out. D’Alessandro helped Pompey steer clear of the drop. He obviously wasn’t as enamoured with English football as Sixto Peralta though. Despite Redknapp’s best efforts, D’Alessandro flew off to join Real Zaragoza at the earliest opportunity.
8. Fede Bessone
Bessone – who grew up alongside Messi at Barcelona – initially joined Swansea from Espanyol B when the Welsh outfit were in League One. He got promoted with them that season, then spent another campaign with the Swans in the Championship before turning down a new contract to join Leeds.
He played six times in the Championship for Leeds, who decided they had seen enough by just September, then got farmed out on loan to Charlton in League One. Weirdly, Swansea decided to re-sign him at the start of the 2011-12 season having won promotion to the Premier League while he was away in Yorkshire and London.
It didn’t really work out, surprisingly enough. He played once for the Swans in the Premier League.
Now 37, Bessone is plying his trade for Andorra FC. Living the high life. (Sorry).
7. Jonathan Calleri
Technically, Calleri has been a Deportivo Maldonado player for the last five years.
In the past, Everton’s Allan, Argentina international goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli, Wolves’ Willian Jose and Alex Sandro of Juventus have all been signed to Deportivo Maldonado, too.
None of them have ever played a game for Deportivo Maldonado. They were founded in 2009 and have spent most of their history in the Uruguayan second tier.
But don’t worry, it’s all legit guv’nor. Nothing to see here.
Anyway, West Ham brought Calleri in on loan from Deportivo Maldonado in 2016 after he’d won the league with Boca Juniors in Argentina and banged in the goals for Sao Paulo in Brazil.
He didn’t bang in the goals for West Ham and certainly didn’t win the league – he did try some batshit rabonas, though – adding himself to a long list of under-performing Hammers strikers. He left at the end of the season.
Since then, Deportivo Maldonado have loaned Jonathan Calleri to Las Palmas, Alaves, Espanyol and Osasuna.
6. Esteban Cambiasso
Esteban Cambiasso? What, the Inter and Argentina legend Esteban Cambiasso, that fella with the slaphead who won the Champions League, Serie A and Coppa Italia a few years ago? Joining Leicester? Are you sure?
It was true. After being released by Inter in 2014, that Esteban Cambiasso decided to move from Milan to the Midlands to join the newly-promoted Foxes.
He swept into town, won the club’s Player of the Season gong and helped them thrillingly escape relegation. Then look what they went and bloody did the next season.
Brief, peculiar, unexpected – so much so that it’s sometimes possible to think did that really happen? – but an essential part of the Leicester story.
5. Daniel Cordone
“He’s a bit mustard,” Bobby Robson said of Cordone when he signed for Newcastle from Racing Club in June 2000. He wasn’t, and he left after a solitary season and three goals.
He did, though, have one of the weirdest hairdos in the history of English top-flight football. And he once tried to pass himself off as Claudio Caniggia in a charity match.
For both those things, he more than warrants his position here.
4. Carlos Marinelli
It was 1999. Juninho Paulista had pissed off to Atletico Madrid a couple of years prior, so Middlesbrough were desperate for a bit of South American pizazz.
Bryan Robson saw a young lad playing for Boca Juniors’ Under-19 side as they toured the UK and, though the evidence was scant, he was somehow sure he’d found his man.
Marinelli had made the same career progression as a certain El Diego – starting off at Argentinos Juniors before joining Boca – so the headlines were inevitable. On September 6 that year, The Independent went with: Middlesbrough’s ‘new Maradona’.
“The boy has huge potential,” Robson said. “Everyone who has seen him agreed he is one of the best players of his age they have ever seen.”
Boro had paid £1.5million for him, too, which was a decent wedge for a teenager before the turn of the millennium.
In his first season, he only played twice. And in his second, injuries meant he was restricted to 13 appearances. Still, hopes remained high.
“Technically, he is fantastic,” Boro captain Paul Ince told The Telegraph in 2001. “He needs to get a bit stronger but that will come with games. He’s going to be a very special player.”
Unfortunately for young Carlos, Ince’s prediction was wide of the mark. After leaving the North East in 2004, he went on to become a journeyman, failing to make a major impact at nine clubs of varying quality in seven countries.
3. Ricky Alvarez
The Alvarez to Sunderland case is a perfect blueprint in how not to conduct transfer business.
On the face of it, he actually looked a decent signing when he arrived on loan in 2014. He was fresh off the back of inclusion in Argentina’s World Cup squad and was coming in from Italian giants Inter Milan.
But injury restricted his playing time in his season at the Stadium of Light, meaning he only made five starts. Sunderland wanted to send him back to Inter, but the fact they had avoided the drop meant a €10.5million obligation to buy was triggered in the original contract.
What ensued was a battle between the two clubs that ended up first with FIFA and then with the Court of Arbitration for Sport. At one point, Alvarez was even described as “a footballer who plays for Sunderland or Internazionale pending a FIFA decision”.
Both bodies ruled against Sunderland, and they were eventually forced to cough up almost £20million in transfer fee, solidarity payments, interest and loss of earnings to Alvarez himself, who, having never actually put pen to paper a contract, ended up as a free agent and moved to Sampdoria.
So, one of the most expensive transfers in Sunderland’s history ended up never actually signing for them. Oops. You will be surprised to hear he won our ranking of the Black Cats’ weirdest transfers.
2. Esteban Fuertes
Jim Smith’s Derby paid Club Atletico Colon £2.3million for the services of Fuertes in August 1999 after a three-month transfer saga. The early signs were that Derby’s efforts were going to reap rewards.
Fuertes scored against Everton in the Premier League and Swansea in the League Cup. Perhaps Derby finally had the answer to their problems in front of goal.
Three months later, their hopes were dashed. Fuertes, on the way back from a training camp in Portugal, was refused entry into the UK. The Italian passport that he had used when signing for Derby was a forgery.
He was loaned back to Colon, where he top-scored in the Argentinian Primera Division, before a move to Lens in France allowed Derby to recoup most of their money.
Jim Smith was never happy with how it ended, even suggesting there may have been some conspiracy.
In his autobiography, he wrote: “The immigration officials chose to scrutinise every detail of every passport, even down to using infra-red. It seemed clear to us that somebody knew about the fake passport and had tipped off the authorities.”
Best remembered signing for Derby County with a forged Italian passport, Esteban "Bichi" Fuertes scored a bucketload back in Santa Fe. Just look at this screamer. Terrifying. pic.twitter.com/FizCzQASfx
— MUNDIAL (@MundialMag) June 11, 2020
1. Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano
In the list of the weirdest Argentinian signings, there can only be one winner. Or perhaps make that two.
Go back to the summer of 2006, when Deportivo Maldonado were but a twinkle in their founders’ eyes and third-party owners had to do things the old-fashioned way.
West Ham had just missed out on the FA Cup, Alan Pardew was yet to turn into a weird dancing uncle and the Hammers were being linked to the two biggest talents in South America.
Tevez and Mascherano had been splendid for the Argentinian youth national teams and had both made their senior international debuts.
Mascherano had won the Argentinian League with River Plate, Tevez had won the Copa Libertadores with Boca Juniors, then both had teamed up at Corinthians to lead them to the Campeonato Brasileiro.
And West Ham were about to sign them? It seemed too good to be true. And in many ways it was.
After an inauspicious start, Mascherano was ‘loaned’ to Liverpool in January, but Tevez stayed and ultimately provided the goals that kept West Ham in the Premier League at Sheffield United’s expense.
Tevez moved on to Manchester United that summer after protracted negotiations and much toing and froing, but the saga at West Ham was not over.
West Ham were found guilty of breaking third-party ownership rules, having essentially been used as a shop window by Tevez’s real ‘owners’, Kia Joorabchian’s firm MSI.
Much to Sheffield United’s chagrin, however, West Ham were fined £5.5million, instead of being deducted the points that would have kept the Blades in the top flight.
West Ham did end up paying £20million to Sheffield United in an out-of-court settlement but ask their fans, and they’d tell that was nowhere near compensation for the pain suffered.