The Copa America is the world’s oldest country level tournament outside the Olympics. The 2011 edition is the 43rd edition of this venerable tournament. And while the semi finalists have been identified, the tournament bears extra significance for a host of stars (or rather wannabe stars), whose next career move depends on their performance in the tournament. Some are out to show that they can cut it at the top level, while some are already showing they can take the rigour of international football. At the end of this month or even during the tournament, some of these players would surely be moving their clubs and it’s pivotal that their performance matches their potential suitor’s expectations.
Ever Banega (Argentina)
Ever Banega came up from the famed Boca academy and was one of the most impressive graduates joining the first team at the tender age of 18. His breakthrough year was 2007, when he engineered Boca to the Copa Libertadores and also was part of the victorious World U-20 title with Argentina. He topped it up with his display in the Olympic Games in Beijing including the finals and secured his move to Valencia, thereby opening the way to Europe. Three years at Valencia and one year on loan at Atletico Madrid has now primed him for a move to a bigger club. Inter Milan and Liverpool have been linked to the midfielder, with some reports claiming that it is just a matter of time. However his performances for Valencia last season, does not really stand out to convince his suitors; he needed a solid Copa America. But an opening day goal gift to Bolivia and a part in the the ultimately losing line-up in the quarter final, makes the case pretty weak for Valencia to make a killing out of him. Banega still has two years left in his contract and that makes a move at the present time a little less likely than say same time next year.
Verdict: Less likely to move this year. If any move transpires, should be in the range of €8-9 million.
Its not quite surprising to find Maicon’s name in this list. Touted as the best right back in the world last year, he was part of a protracted transfer saga, with the departing Inter Milan manager Jose Mourinho, trying to take him with him to Real Madrid. Inter resisted, trying to keep the structure of their treble winning team intact and thus rejected a €20 million bid for him. With Rafa Benitez at helm, Maicon had had the most shocking six months of his career. Gareth Bale literally toyed with him in both legs of the Champions League and more misery was heaped on him by Franc Ribery, Arjen Robben, Jefferson Farfan among others. With the new manager, Gian Piero Gasperini, a firm believer in a 3-man backline, Maicon’s time at Inter may well be up. What he needs to prove is that he can still cut it at the top level. Dani Alves had usurped his position in the Selecao and had started as the first choice right back in the Copa; but after poor displays in the first couple of matches, Brazil’s manager, Mano Menezes, had no other option but to try Maicon and he had a good match in the final group game against Ecuador. With the departure of Brazil, Maicon’s chances of impressing suitors too are gone; however, Europe isn’t unaware of the bludgeoning fullback’s abilities and past reputation might just do it for him.
Verdict: Maicon to move on. His time in Serie A is over.
Marcelo Estigarribia (Paraguay)
You may just say – “Marcelo who?” After three stout displays in the tough, hard working midfield of the Paraguayan team, which faced Brazil in the quarters, that included an assist against the Selecao in the group stages, this midfielder has really made a mark in this tournament. Playing in a comparatively wider position, in an otherwise narrow midfield, Marcelo has suddenly made sure that people sit up and take notice. Comfortable on the left side of the midfield or higher up on the same side, Marcelo had made his move to Europe in 2008 with Le Mans in Ligue 1. However, he hardly got a look in and after a year, moved to South America with Newell’s Old Boys after Le Mans were relegated from Ligue 1 . Solid performances in the Argentine league throughout the season, in which he started in as many as 41 matches, had already restored confidence. He is scheduled to return to Le Mans this summer. But after this performance in the Copa America, expect a move from the French club, which is still in the second tier of their domestic football.
Verdict: A definite move to a bigger club or at least a club in the top division.
Arturo Vidal (Chile)
Along with Alexis Sanchez, Vidal has been one of the most prominent Chilean players in the European leagues. Both have had their breakthrough years in the past season and is highly coveted by most clubs in Europe. Four seasons with Bayer Leverkusen has given him the opportunity to showcase his skills to a wide audience. He was instrumental in the rise of Leverkusen to its best performance in the Bundesliga in a decade and had 15 goals and 13 assists over the span of the season, in which he started 43 matches and made 48 appearances in total. By any standard, that is a top performance. He was already courted by a host of clubs – Bayern, Inter, Milan, Juventus, Arsenal, Liverpool, PSG and the list can go on. His club director, Rudi Voeller said that Vidal would be sold if the right offer came along. He has followed that performance with 1 goal and 1 assist in the Copa America, making his case far more attractive to any potential bidder.
Verdict: Expect a move from Leverkusen to one of the top European clubs and a hefty pay package.
Sebastián Coates (Uruguay)
One of the two players in the Uruguay Copa America squad, who plays his football locally (the other is 3rd goalkeeper Martin Silva), Sebastian Coates is destined for a big move. Built impressively for a 20-year old, Coates attracted attention from Serie A giants AC Milan last year and a move was apparently agreed in the January 2011 transfer window. However, Milan opted to go for experience over youth and took Nicola Leggrotaglie, as the backup defender in January. Coates has utilized his season at Nacional by appearing in 36 matches with 1 goal and 4 assists. He has been on the list of many top clubs including Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool. The fact that he possesses a Spanish passport makes him an attractive proposition for top Serie A clubs too and Udinese were thought to have lined him up, as a replacement for another South American defender, Christian Zapata. Prior to the continental championship, Coates never started for his country; however, this edition of the Copa America provided the chance to rectify that. He didn’t start the first match but was a starter for both the other group stage matches. Two cautions in those matches prevented him from starting against Argentina in the quarter final. His approach was very assuring for a debutant and he showed good composure.
Verdict: Move is imminent. Expect a top European club to swoop for him in days to come.
José Salomón Rondón (Venezuela)
José Salomón Rondón is one of the best Venezuelan forwards of his generation. Rondón appeared for the Venezuelan U-20s in the 2009 FIFA World Cup in Egypt and scored four times during the competition. He was marked out as a special talent and secured a move to Malaga in 2010. In his first season in Europe, Rondón scored 19 goals in 39 matches and also provided 4 assists, leading Malaga to 11th . That made him quite comfortably the top scorer for his club and one of the top 10 marksmen in La Liga and the only one in that list, whose club did not finish in the top 7. For a 21-year old Venezuelan, in his first season in Europe, that is indeed a special performance. However, Malaga are the new economic power of La Liga and with ownership in the hands of a rich Middle-East businessman, chances of arrival of a big name striker is high. If they don’t wish to retain Rondón, then he would have a huge market demand. His current market value is about €5 million but a good Copa America, where he has scored 1 goal and assisted 1 in the 3 group matches, will take his value into double figures.
Verdict: Expect to stay at Malaga, based on his last season’s performance but a move to a bigger club in the offing in the next 2 transfer windows
Giovani dos Santos (Mexico)
The story of a whizkid, who could not make it big due to temperament and lifestyle. The story is so common among young footballers that Giovani dos Santos doesn’t seem to bear any extra significance. This though is a footballer, who has seen almost everything, while still being only 22 years old. A champion in age group football and part of probably the best crop of Mexican footballers to come out in a while, Giovani had won the Silver Ball in the Fifa U-17 World Cup in 2005 and Bronze Ball in the Fifa U-20 World Cup. Giovani had the world at his feet, as a rising youngster in a Barcelona team on the cusp of greatness. Attitude and lifestyle problems though made sure his Barcelona days were numbered and he was transferred to Tottenham. One injury-plagued season at London though convinced that he needed more work and he has been successively loaned out to Ipswich Town, Galatasaray and Racing Santander. It is at his latest club, that he finally showed some form, scoring 5 goals and notching up 2 assists in 16 appearances. As one of the few seniors in the Mexico team, it was upon Giovani to show leadership and make sure he still had clubs willing to punt on him. Though he had 3 goals in 6 starts in the Gold Cup, that preceded the Copa, his performance at the Copa did not stand out.
Verdict: The loan deal to Santander might be confirmed as a permanent move.
Christian Ramos (Peru)
The 22-year old central defender is one, who has risen through the ranks and was a member of Peru team in the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2005. His last season at Allianz Lima produced 2 goals in 8 starts. The defensive solidity that Ramos provides, was one of the main reasons as to why Peru could advance beyond the group stages and he was immense in the quarter finals against Colombia. His displays would have been duly noted and a move to one of the bigger clubs in Brazil and Argentina have been mooted.
Verdict: A move to a bigger club in South America is imminent. Expect a move to Europe within the next 12 months.
Radamel Falcao (Colombia)
What do you say about a forward, who scores more than one goal per game, in an European tournament spread over a season and leads his team all the way? That he has truly arrived. Falcao though had been a special scorer of goals for a long time. His performance in Europa League last year, where he scored an unprecedented 16 goals, marked him out as one of the best marksmen in Europe. His current market value is over €40 million (after the new contract) and Porto are unlikely to sell him, unless they get a monster bid. However, with the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Inter on the lookout, a big money move cannot be far away. The Copa is not therefore a place to increase his market price but more of a confirmation of the fact that he can hold his own in the international arena as well. Overall a mixed Copa, culminating in a penalty miss in the quarter final would not affect his club price.
Verdict: Porto will not sell, unless a crazy bid is made for him this season. Expect one such bid from either Manchester City (as Tevez’s replacement) or Chelsea (as Drogba’s replacement). Even the new boys PSG might try their luck to lure him.
Joel Campbell (Costa Rica)
19-year old Joel Campbell is the most researched Costa Rican in the last few weeks. His Wikipedia page claims that he is a player of Liverpool, while there are talks of an imminent move to Arsenal as well. All we know is that at present, Campbell is a player of Saprissa FC, who sent him out on loan to Puntarenas FC. Campbell had 1 goal in 3 starts in the Gold Cup that preceded the Copa America and he matched that performance in the Copa too. The youngster is a left footed striker, who can play on the left or right wing and also as a second striker. He has pace and acceleration and decent finishing for his age.
Verdict: A matter of getting the correct deal and work permits. The U-20 World Cup starts later this month. A deal should be in place before that.