FIG MUST WAIT FOR FRUITS OF LABOUR
By Patrick Goss
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
"It's like if an Englishman went to play in Argentina," said Steve Bruce recently "He would take time to settle in."
The Birmingham boss was, of course, referring to Argentine starlet Luciano Figueroa, who is growing a little restless about being left out of the first team.
Bruce, with some justification, thinks that it is better to allow the player time to adapt before he throws him into the furnace of Premiership football - and with South America's track record in English football of late you can understand why.
Precious few footballers from 'Las Americas' have truly made the grade in England - for a host of reasons, not least the complete difference in footballing style.
On the face of it, Brazilians, Argentinians et al should love the English game - static defences unused to being run at, people jumping into tackles and goalkeepers unused to being tested from long range.
However, when they arrive in the game, precious few actually live up to the promise.
When Colombian Juan Pablo Angel arrived in England he was a player that had risen to great prominence in world football with his performances for River Plate.
His arrival, for a not inconsiderable £9.5 million, was tempered by an alarming lack of support from Villa and illness to his family that left the player isolated and quite, understandably, off his game.
Following John Gregory's departure, Graham Taylor was never the kind of manager who would bring out the best from a player more used to receiving the ball to feet - but the arrival of David O'Leary has rejuvenated the player somewhat.
Now, getting on for three years since he arrived in the country, aside from brief flashes in the past, Angel is beginning to show why he was so highly rated.
It took three years for Angel to find his wings, but he is in esteemed company. When Claudio Ranieri asserted that he had bought 'the best midfielder in the world' in Juan Sebastian Veron, he was clearly referring to the man who had taken the Italian game by storm, rather than the injury prone enigma that had flattered to deceive whilst with Manchester United.
A smattering of decent league performances, and a few European games that reminded all of just how effective he could be given time to pick his passes, never justified the £25 million United had paid for his services, and only time will tell if he can become a Chelsea star.
The early signs are hardly promising, with Veron asking to be left out in order to gain full fitness.
Veron has been joined in the stellar Chelsea squad by compatriot Hernan Crespo, another who showed remarkable talent in Serie A.
After blaming his 'talentless twin' for a stuttering start to his Blues career, Crespo will take time to adapt - but is showing signs that his shark like efficiency in the box can translate to the English game.
Examples of those that have not fitted in quickly, or at all, are easy to provide, but there are of course those South American players that have emerged as genuine stars of the English game.
Juninho, particularly in his first spell, showed that twinkling skills can be incorporated into an English team - and his attitude and enthusiasm soon endeared him to English audiences.
At Arsenal, Gilberto's impact has perhaps not received the plaudits it deserved, but the Brazilian World Cup winner has been a superb contributor to the Arsene Wenger cause, whilst Uruguayan Gus Poyet remains a hugely popular figure.
You can understand why Bruce is reticent to throw his latest starlet in at the deep end, when all too often managers have had to look around for a life-jacket just moments after doing the very same thing.
For every burning sun like Juninho there is a shooting star like Faustino Asprilla, who streaks through the game energising all around them then burn out and for every player that patiently adapts, there is one that grows tired of the British weather and seeks solace in a warmer, and less harsh, league.
Steve Bruce wants Figueroa to be a genuine superstar - and if he can keep him happy whilst he adapts - then who's to say the youngster cannot carve a name for himself at St Andrews, rather than at Camp Nou or Stadio Olimpico?
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