South America taps local markets
© AFP

Like every sector, the football industry has felt the effects of the current economic crisis, not least in the traditionally buoyant transfer market of South America. Though clubs continue to buy and sell during this difficult period, the customary exodus of big-name players to Europe has been much less evident in recent months. Moreover, with the majority of recent transfers taking place between South American clubs themselves, a host of leading outfits have been able to start the new season with replenished, and not diminished, squads.

Intense activity in Brazil
One of the clearest examples of this phenomenon has been in Brazil, where the domestic market is as buoyant as it has been for some time. Since winning their third consecutive national championship in December, Sao Paulo have not only managed to hold onto their top players, they have also brought in eight reinforcements. Among their number are Eduardo Costa (formerly of Spain's Espanyol) and three first-team regulars from the Fluminense side that knocked the Tricolor Paulista out of the 2008 Copa Libertadores: Junior Cesar, Arouca and Brasileirao 2008 top-scorer, Washington.

Another of the last season's top marksmen, Keirrison, has had a sensational start to the year after moving from Coritiba to Palmeiras, where he will line out alongside 2002 FIFA World Cup™ winner Edmilson (signed from Spain's Villarreal) and Colombian left-back Pablo Armero (from America de Cali).

Santos, meanwhile, swooped for Luis Bolanos, one of the stars of Liga de Quito's Copa Libertadores triumph last year, while Brasileirao runners-up Gremio bolstered their front line with the acquisition of Alex Mineiro (Palmeiras) and Argentinians German Herrera (Corinthians) and Maxi Lopez (FC Moscow). Cruzeiro, for their part, secured the return of one of their former stars, fellow Argentinian Juan Pablo Sorin, and sought to compensate for the loss of promising young striker Guilherme (to Ukraine's Dinamo Kiev) with the purchase of Kleber from Palmeiras.

Elsewhere, defending Copa Sudamericana champions Internacional delighted their fans with the purchase of Seleção left-back Kleber from Santos, while Fluminense have brought back wing-wizard Thiago Neves on loan after a spell at Hamburg. However, none of these moves were as contentious as that of FIFA World Cup all-time top-scorer Ronaldo, who opted to sign for Corinthians ahead of Flamengo, a club he has long proclaimed an affection for.

Homeward bound
On the subject of returning heroes, mention must be made of Argentinian Roberto Pato Abbondanzieri. After three seasons with Getafe in Spain, the 36-year-old keeper delighted fans of league champions Boca Juniors with his return to the Bombonera, where he had previously enjoyed a trophy-laden decade.

Not dissimilar is the case of 33-year-old midfielder Marcelo Gallardo, who headed back to River Plate after spells with Paris Saint-Germain and MLS side DC United. Los Millonarios were also at the heart of one of the most complicated transfers of this or any close season in Argentina, that of Cristian El Ogro Fabbiani. The centre-forward, on loan at Newell's Old Boys but relentlessly courted by Velez Sarsfield, had his heart set on a spell at River Plate. With his preferred move seemingly blocked, the player made an impassioned declaration of his affection for River, and was duly given a hero's welcome when his loan move there finally went through.

San Lorenzo were another club to repatriate European-based players, in their case Jonathan Santana from Germany's Wolfsburg along with Jonathan Bottinelli and Bruno Fornaroli from Sampdoria. Velez Sarsfield were also busy during the close season, securing the services of Joaquin Larrivey (from Italy's Cagliari), Sebastian Dominguez (CF America) and the winner of adidas Silver Ball at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007, Maxi Moralez (Racing Club de Avellaneda). Less heralded though not less gratifying has been the arrival of Chile's Cristian Canio at San Martin de Tucuman (from his native Everton), the front-man immediately endearing himself to his new club with a hat-trick against Independiente on matchday 2 of the Clausura.

All across the continent, the talk has been of squads being strengthened and hopes renewed. Libertadores champions Liga de Quito have put their faith in Uruguay's Richard Chengue Morales (ex Gremio); Chile's Colo Colo have acquired Cesar Carranza from Argentina's Gimnasia Jujuy and Nelson Cabrera from Paraguay's Cerro Porteno; Penarol swooped for Bryan Rodriguez from compatriots Tacuarembo; Chile's Cesar Rodriguez signed for America de Cali; Nolberto Solano swapped Greece for his native Peru to join the ranks of Universitario, and Olimpia of Paraguay pinned their hopes of return to prominence on the signature of highly regarded Guatemalan striker Carlos el Pescadito Ruiz.

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