Europe embraces Latino flair, how about the USA?

By Paul Gardner

Ten minutes into Tuesday's Champions League game between Manchester City and Barcelona, TV commentator Martin Tyler told us "There are South Americans everywhere you look on the pitch here."

Quite so -- nine of the 20 field players were South Americans. Nearly half -- five Argentines, three Brazilians and one Uruguayan. Tyler did not follow up on his observation, which was a pity, for he is one of the few TV guys who can bring measured, knowledgeable and objective analyses to the sport.

Why, in a game featuring two of the top European teams, were there so many South American players? And what effect did their presence have on the soccer we were watching?

The answer to the first question is the obvious one: the South Americans were there on merit, because they are considered superior players. Is there a better, more dangerous, attacking trio than Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar? I think it’s OK to widen that, and ask if there has ever been a better trio? While Man City’s Sergio Aguero has proved himself to be one of the deadliest finishers in the game.

Those are the four out-and-out attacking players. Among the five midfielders and defenders, only Barca’s Javier Mascherano could be considered world class. Dani Alves gets into the world-class bracket for those who believe -- with some justification -- that attacking prowess is now a vital part of a fullback’s repertoire.

Man City’s Pablo Zabaleta is of that breed, while Martin Demichelis is a solid, canny center back. Brazilian midfielder Fernando is good to excellent, without too much sparkle.

So it’s at the sharp end of the team, the attacking end, that the South Americans really make their mark. Nothing new here -- when the Italians started the business of importing South American players, in the 1930s, it was invariably the forwards and the creative midfielders they went after (though the biggest prize, the Argentine Alfredo Di Stefano, ended up in Spain).

All of which goes a long way to answering the second question. It is their creative flair and goal-scoring talents that distinguish the South Americans. The goalscoring was certainly on show in the Man City-Barcelona game, with three superb strikes, all from Latinos, two by Suarez, one by Aguero (and there might have been a fourth, had Messi not made a total hash of a penalty kick).

Much is made, in Europe, of how the South Americans must “adapt” to the European game. It sounds a fair enough comment, but it’s not the whole truth. It may even be less than a half-truth. Is it not also true that European teams -- because they clearly value the South Americans -- have had to adapt to the Latin game?

Given the widely differing soccer cultures that populate Europe, this mutual accommodation has been a patchy process with no overall guidelines. Barcelona -- already a Latin team -- should not face too many difficulties in assimilating its South Americans. But that smooth process could hardly work in the Ukraine for Shakhtar Donetsk, where it looks like the policy is to allow a Brazilian takeover. The club has 13 Brazilians on the first-team roster -- but only 12 Ukrainians.

And no doubt a variation would apply in Sicily -- different culture, different language -- where Palermo has five South Americans. Even England has finally caught up with the rest of Europe -- Jose Mourinho now has five Brazilians (including the now-Spanish-naturalized Diego Costa) on his team, and they -- or is it Chelsea? -- seem to be adapting well.

However it is done, it is patently clear that South Americans can play with Europeans, and that the Europeans consider that arrangement one that is well worth taking some trouble (and spending some money) to achieve.

That is the situation in Europe. If only the USA were going through the same process. Of all the soccer countries in the world that need to work out a way of combining the Latin and the European cultures, the USA stands out as the country most in need of finding a way to get it done.

Not to accommodate imported foreign players, but to ensure that its own, home-born players all get an equal chance. Yet the USA has a dismal record of facing the challenge. There seems to be a fear of even mentioning it. Never have I seen a symposium of coaches and other influentials called by, say, US Soccer to discuss it. Never have I seen it featured in any way at all at the NSCAA convention.

The coaching approach, in fact, seems to be that there is only one -- universally agreed upon -- way to play soccer, so you do it the way they tell you. Agreed, trying to make room for varied approaches to the game complicates matters. It also opens the game up to a richer future. And, in the USA, it would give a voice to the massive amount of homegrown Hispanic talent that should surely be catered to. More -- it should be listened to. It has plenty to tell the upper reaches of American soccer about the nature of the sport itself.

Yet the challenge -- a wonderfully stimulating one for coaches, I would have thought -- is barely acknowledged. The man who should be at the center of finding a creative way of combining Latin soccer and what I’ll call Anglo Soccer, and producing American Soccer, is national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

So what does Klinsmann do? Nothing. Or worse than nothing, he goes off looking for non-Americans, preferably Germans, who might, thanks to a conveniently elastic passport situation, make a commitment to play for the USA.

Meanwhile, back home, two USA age-group teams are preparing for World Cups later this year.

In the Concacaf qualifying tournament for the U-17 World Cup, coach Richie Williams’ roster includes 9 Hispanic players among its 18 field players. 50%.

Of the 18 field players on Tab Ramos’s U-20 roster for its Concacaf qualifiers, 6 are Hispanics. 33%.

The 23-man American team that Klinsmann took to Brazil, included 20 field players, of whom 2 were Hispanic. 10%.

At the very least, we should be trying to find out the reasons for that drop-off.

35 comments about " Europe embraces Latino flair, how about the USA?".
  1. Chris Anderson, February 26, 2015 at 3:02 p.m.

    Without any evidence to the contrary, one would have to assume that all the USA coaches are choosing the best players available to them. If the pool is restricted in some way, then that is a problem that must be dealt with. But in a diverse country as ours, we never want to select any players based upon their ethnicity.

  2. cony konstin, February 26, 2015 at 4:37 p.m.

    The first basketball Dream Team 8 players were Afro-Americans and 4 Anglo-Americans, no Latinos or other. Second Dream Team 11 Afro-Americans, 1 Anglo-American, no Latinos or other. The Dream Team that will win a soccer world cup for the US most likely will be 45% Latino, 45% Afro-American and 15% other. Only time will tell.

  3. Michael Saunders, February 26, 2015 at 4:55 p.m.

    Not always in agreement with Mssr.Gardner's viewpoint; but in this instance I applaud his opinion. Not sure of the reasons why JK has not embraced the idea of Hispanic inclusivity; but the rationale to do so is fairly obvious.

  4. James Madison, February 26, 2015 at 5:14 p.m.

    A "drop off" is one day of looking at the different percentages of Hispanic players on the US U-17, U-20 and MN teams. The "coming wave" is another. We will see.

  5. Raymond Weigand, February 26, 2015 at 5:18 p.m.

    The Deutsche dispatched the Brazilians and ended up on top. The Dutch were a shoot out (vs Argentina) away from playing their neighbors in the finals and entertained the World when they also dispatched the Brazilians. I don't think it is so unusual that a coach would like to surround himself with more Deutsche and more Dutch players and coaches ... the creative / attacking soccer player is found in and outside of Latin America.

  6. John Soares, February 26, 2015 at 5:55 p.m.

    I don't disagree with the overall concept/argument. However to compare American born "Latin" players to Argentine and Brazil super stars is a heck of a stretch. Most American Latinos were born and raised in the US and trained with local coaches. Making it rather difficult to distinguish them, ability wise. Is the Latino kid born, raised and trained in LA or NY "automatically" better than the blond teammate. I think not!? Perhaps more important is the training/development philosophy of where ever the player comes from.

  7. Kent James, February 26, 2015 at 6:09 p.m.

    Well put, John. I don't think the genes determine their creativity. Yes, it is important that the US incorporate Latin flare with European discipline (and this should be more easily done in the US than in Europe). But since PG is criticizing US coaches for their idea that "there is only one way to play" soccer, he should apply that to his own observations. Coaches need to make the most of the talent their players have, even as they push them to develop more, not just 'play a Latin style'. JK has played a number of Hispanics, though that seems to have dropped off in recent years (not sure why, so that's a good point). And while I agree with PG's concerns about JK's preference for Germans, it should not be surprising (he naturally goes with what he knows...I do hope he will branch out and not focus so much on German-Americans...the US is a big country, and I'm sure we haven't scouted everyone here...).

  8. Lou vulovich, February 26, 2015 at 7:11 p.m.

    Paul can you clarify what you mean by Latin Flavor? Do you mean the style or do you mean there should be more South Americans or more Central Americans or according to others on this post Spanish, Portuguese,Italian,French, or just more Mexican Americans.
    If you are talking about style I agree if you are talking about where people come from and the color of their skin as a primary reason for selecting players then even at your age you have a lot to learn.
    Anyone who looks at any player regardless of their ethnicity or color and determines that boys future based on that is a racist and does not belong working in any field, let alone in sports.

  9. Chris Sapien , February 26, 2015 at 7:27 p.m.

    Rather than worrying about percentages of this or that ethnicity/race, JK needs to continue to develop a deeper level of competition and growth in and amongst the talent pool. It very well could be that when he has given the Hispanic/latin players the opportunity to compete with the euro/anglo portion, that they have struggled to invoke what PG calls a latino flair. So with that possibly being the case, what then PG do you see as being the answer? A prerequisite that the team be 70% latin, maybe 86.4 percent? Or maybe 9 of the starting 11? Point is, the reward of playing time has to be earned, and sometimes the style of play is adjusted to who earned it.

  10. Gus Keri, February 26, 2015 at 7:58 p.m.

    FYI, Paul, The pure Latin style is dying. Likewise, the pure European style is also dying. There is a new style that is sweeping across the land, nowadays, and seen especially at the elite clubs of Europe like Barca, Real Madrid, Bayern, PSG, Arsenal, Man City and others. It's a combination, or a hybrid, of the two style. A style of flair and technical skills of the Latin style with the strength, speed and organization of the European style. Let's call it the "New World Order Style" and it's spreading all over the world including South America. Some of the MLS teams are playing this new style and it's growing right here in front of our eyes.

  11. Joe Linzner, February 26, 2015 at 8:12 p.m.

    I agree with the latter posters. Comparing American born Mexican-Americans offers no more flair that any other ethnicity be it Anglo/Chines/Japanese or any -American. It is the Country in which you grow up and which sport they live with daily 365 days a year. That does not happen here. Growing up as a soccer player in the US simply dos not mean much. It may perhaps one day become important to youngsters.
    I the end, the entire article serves as an introibo to restate your dislike for Mr. Klinsmann. Your stilted and unrefined understanding of the game, coaching and how a player is made is incredibly myopic.
    Luckily, any who truly understands the game sees matters differently.

  12. Scott Johnson, February 26, 2015 at 8:20 p.m.

    The USMNT had **THREE** goalies on its roster that are better than Brazil's Júlio César--one could turn this topic on its head if one wanted to--but one would be equally on thin ice were one to do so. At any rate, it is useful, as others have pointed out, to distinguish style with nationality. Having a well organized midfield is a more reliable way of getting the ball down the pitch than having a Ronaldo or Maradona on the roster, who can outrun (or dribble through) the defense, simply because players of such caliber are in short supply. But when there are eleven men in the box on defense, being able to do things like strike from the edge of the penalty area, or possess the ball in tight spaces, are most helpful--team organization breaks down. At any rate, the US has a large Latino population, many of whom play soccer for US clubs, and excel at it. Are you suggesting that JK is favoring German army brats over homegrown talent, and if so, doing it for bad reasons (rather than a belief that US youth programs are inferior to German programs?)

  13. Scott Johnson, February 26, 2015 at 8:26 p.m.

    The interesting question is what happens in 3 years: Will the U20 team look more like the U17 team? Will the senior team include more Latinos? One of Cony's former kids (a Us-born Latino kid named Rubio Rubin) got some major burn with USMNT against Colombia last fall, drawing the penalty that was the US' only score (converted by Jozy Altidore). Rubin chose to cap with the US instead of his parents' native Mexico, and got extensive praise from JK. It's coming, Paul.

  14. Joe Linzner, February 26, 2015 at 8:57 p.m.

    It is certainly what I feel, That regardless of ethnicity, the best players represent the USMNT. Are they ethnically better than homegrown "Anglos" by all means they have to be on the team. I disagree that Latino automatically a better player makes. Italians, Spanish Portuguese are both, European and Latino so are we saying they are better than any none Latin because they are both.. It is a ridiculous supposition. Athletes are born but soccer stars are made, generally self made via love of the game and total commitment. That just does not happen here in the USA no matter the ethnicity. Mexican born and raised south of the border parents will steer their American kids towards soccer but after a generation or two they become Americanized and the emphasis on soccer drops off. Hopefully that will change even for Ethnic Anglos. I am blond and blue eyed but not at all Anglo.

  15. Lou vulovich, February 26, 2015 at 9:40 p.m.

    Wow amazing how being Anglo is equal to some sort of international criminal and JK is trying to focus on getting only Anglo players primarily German Americans. What a joke. The discussion should focus on style and quality, there have been many great players and they come from all sort of backgrounds. George Best, Johan Croyf. Franz Beckenbauer etc, etc. Zinedine Zidane the most technical player in the last 30 years was not Latin, great African players?? are they Latin. The great Arsenal team, how many Latin players were on that team.
    The next Messi might be blonde hair and blue eyes, what is everyone going to do reject him because he is no Latin.

  16. Alvaro Bettucchi, February 27, 2015 at 12:12 a.m.

    Paul... I think you are one of the best soccer journalist around. You know how to get peoples anger up, and yet you get us to think. I don't think ethnicity has anything to do with the whole picture, it's all about style and adaption. Italian soccer is in a bit of crisis now (and they are "Pure Latin", but they have always been able to adapt when facing an "Anglo" team, by playing just as physical, and also being able to use the "Latin" skill, when needed. JK made a big blunder, by not picking Donovan last year, but I think he is trying to find the best talent. Let's give him his chance one more time.

  17. Al Gebra, February 27, 2015 at 1:05 p.m.

    Linzner and others. It's not about race or ethnicity. It's about a style of play. JK should be picking players who grew up and trained in the US system in order to establish an effective method for picking players regardless of style or whether they are a cat or dog person. His method of selecting German players who couldn't make their own national team is an insult to the entire US soccer program. Now I understand that he's recruiting another German - Hamburg SV’s Ashton Gotz.

  18. Al Gebra, February 27, 2015 at 1:08 p.m.

    Last summer I made the following comment and it still applies:
    Where I think JK went wrong in WC 2014 is that he didn't look hard enough for other foreign players with US genes other than the Germans. The US military is deployed in 150 countries around the world. We could have put together a team completely made up of only half-Americans. Then we could scrub the US youth development system and put the money in an elaborate scouting system.

  19. Scott Johnson, February 27, 2015 at 1:18 p.m.

    The US will not likely be getting past the quarters in the WC (the furthest we've been other than 1930) until not only are a sizeable contingent of American players getting significant PT in the EPL/La Liga/Bundesliga/Serie A/etc... but also not until one or more stars in the top divisions of Europe. Outside goalkeepers, no American has terrorized the European pro leagues. (Either that or the MLS will become the competitive equivalent of the Euro leagues, but I consider that a longer shot).

  20. Tim Brown, February 27, 2015 at 3:30 p.m.

    Take a look at several MLS teams. FC DALLAS for example. Their roster is full of south americans and central America. Michel from Brazil,Fabian Castillo from Columbia, David Texiera from Uruguay, Mauro Diaz from Argentina, Blaz Perez from Panama. Most are starters. I am an FC Dallas fan. I am sure many other MLS teams have a similar makeup. Now at the USMNT team Level this view of PG is fairly accurate. Mexico is making a killing recruiting Americans with Mexican Heritage that we are passing up on. Scouting and giving these players a chance could definitely be improved on.Basic fact is in USA soccer is not the most popular sport. In all of the other countries euro or s. America etc. soccer is king. Also our pay for play select system leaves out many talented youth as well. When soccer is played by kids all over the USA, in the street on the playground and in the poorer neighborhoods like basketball is that is where creativity, skill and FUN are born.

  21. Joe Linzner, February 27, 2015 at 8:29 p.m.

    Of course it is about style but he points out Latin players, then he singles out Hispanic players and JK's lack of choosing them. I don't know about you but The Latin players on Barcelona and other European teams are mostly Soouth American not Mexican or Central American. In the US on MLS teams we cannot compete with Europe to get the best players. So that limits "Latin Flair to those who rarely play on their South American Nat's teams so a drop in quality. MLS is getting sadly outclassed in Central America in the CONCACAF CL. The general statement that we would do better if we used more Hispanics is a huge generalization and an attention getter. I have said before Etnicity is a NON-Issue. The bottom line must be the best players must be on the MNT regardless of ethnicity.
    However there is a HUGE step between South American stars and Hispanic journeymen in the MLS. I am not a Euro Snob but a realist. For me the best player is Leonel Messi, a South American Argentine thus Latin and I have no Idea how hispanic his ethnicity makes him. For me his style and Class is all that impresses me..................Like I said before the entire article is simply a lead in to diss JK yet again......It may also be noted that picks and suggestions for roster additions do not come from Klinsmann ONLY but are discovered and recommended by Scouting then JK may take a look and suggest a tryout. Does he ignore that element, I strongly doubt that but listening to Mr G he is apparently racist as well as blind....I find that objectionable.....

  22. Joe Linzner, February 27, 2015 at 9:17 p.m.

    To top it off Mr Messi spent most of his development years at Barcelona as most Spanish European I said generalizations do not prove a point.....without better research....

  23. R2 Dad, February 28, 2015 at 1:28 a.m.

    When I read "Latin player" I think: kid who grew up in a soccer-playing/ watching family, whose first sport is soccer, who goes to the pitch with the family to kick the ball around on a regular basis, who loves the ball, who watches spanish-language soccer matches. Most readers here have pointed out we're not looking for quotas--we want the excitement, skill and passion that hispanic families bring to the sport because we'd like to inject that into the highest levels of play in this country, youth and professional. Amirite?

  24. Joe Linzner, February 28, 2015 at 9:30 a.m.

    Here again it is not only Latins here in the US that have passion. EG. I was born in a foreign country where I always had a ball in a net bag and juggled to and from school at recess at lunch etc....Came to the US at 11 and was invited to play street "football"in Cleveland Ohio. Lo and behold I saw a ball that was NOT ROUND. On to ethnic fussball teams. SemiPro to LA for GLALeague and traveled cross country. St.Louis, Chicago, SF etc. Son inherited that passion without any push from me. Although invited to play varsity basketball, football never signed up but concentrated on Soccer. Blond, blue eyes played in an all mexican league and was high scorer for a few years running and was ignored at awards time. That means that passion, skill, style is not only a latin trait. At least in my experience. Still today at 40 something he still gets asked to join teams. It is not only Hispanics that love and live this sport. We cannot be the only family that is non latin and lives Fussball, soccer or futebol.

  25. Andrew Kear, February 28, 2015 at 1:54 p.m.

    This all comes back to Klinsmann's failure as USMNT coach. When is all of this going to end. Does the U.S. have to fall to 40th in fifa ranking for anything to be done.

  26. Scott Johnson, February 28, 2015 at 6:09 p.m.

    While Klinsmann has much work to do--he hasn't yet "succeeded"; success would require a quarterfinal appearance in Russia at least--he's been the USMNT coach for less then one cycle, and it's hard to say he's failed, either. (Failure would have been getting embarrassed in Brazil, which the US was not). He's held serve, to use a metaphor from another sport, and at least earned the right to lead the USMNT to Russia. (If the USMNT fails to qualify for WC18 in a confederation that has only three good teams and up to four slots to fill, OTOH... sollte er nicht lassen die Tür schlug ihn auf Arsch!)

  27. Andrew Kear, February 28, 2015 at 6:56 p.m.

    Klinsmann's is becoming the colonel Klink of US soccer.

    "Shultz, only the goalie can use his hands"

  28. Rafael Duenas, March 1, 2015 at 7:45 p.m.

    I don't always agree with Paul Gardner; but, it is true that Klinsmann with his background and experience will never make a consistent effort to build a USA team with South American players. It is not in his background or training.

  29. Scott Johnson, March 1, 2015 at 10:38 p.m.

    It would be hard to build a USA team with just South American players--only 7% of immigrants to the US come from South America, and most of those from the northwestern corner of the continent (Peru, Ecuador, Colombia), with also a sizeable contingent from Brazil. The vast majority of Latin Americans in the US are Mexicans, and Central American and Carribean immigrants also outnumber those from South America.

  30. Andrew Kear, March 2, 2015 at 12:07 a.m.

    Klinsmann could not even work with his country man. That is why his was fired from his last two jobs. He just does not have the temperament to be a coach. It really doesn't what nationalities the players are Klinsmann's will fail. This is the longest Klinsmann's has kept a coaching job and the results are awful. Germany certainly would not have won the WC with Klinsmann at the helm. The German team had the resources to survive Klinsmann's idiocy, while the USMNT team does not. I just hope the Gold Cup is not a complete fiasco.

    Does the US team have the character to win the Gold Cup despite Klinsmann's ineptitude. Let's hope so, or it maybe a long haul to 2018.

  31. Scott Johnson, March 2, 2015 at 1:33 a.m.

    Ah well, there's always this little ditty before the '06 Cup:

  32. Michael Vaughan, March 2, 2015 at 5:07 p.m.

    All this guy does is write race-baiting columns. How does he still have a job?

  33. Andrew Kear, March 2, 2015 at 7:53 p.m.

    If Klinsmann didn't stink so bad these columns would not be necessary.

    Everything Klinsmann touches turns to excrement.

  34. Rafael Royett, March 20, 2015 at 11:56 a.m.

    The importance of including hispanic players in american soccer is not about race or ethnicity, its definitely not a genetic difference what matters. its the mentality towards the game, the passion, interest and understanding that hispanic players have that comes from growing up with a different perspective of the game. Even at recreational level, soccer is much more that a extracurricular activity for a hispanic player and being able to include that attitude to the development programs in the U.S. would be beneficial for American soccer.

  35. Rick Estupinan, May 11, 2015 at 4:35 p.m.

    Instead,JK brings these Germans that can't even dribble the ball.look at Germain J, who plays for New England,just brute force and little of anything else.All of these players that JK brought here are worth nothing compare to South American players.Diego Valery of the Seattle Sounders,Antonio Valencia,Ecuador,who plays for Manchester United,Alexis Sanchez,Chile Arsenal,to mention just a few,are clear example of the quality of South American players.

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