Opening the door for the Argentines

The Hyundai A-League's record with Argentine footballers hasn't been great but there are signs it could be a good market to import players of real quality.

When Carlos Tevez and Javier Pastore struggle to make the side, you know the Argentine national team is stronger than normal, which is saying something.

What's not so apparent is that the domestic Primera Division is less so. Maybe, in financial terms, at one of the most vulnerable moments in its 121-year history. Good news, as it turns out, for Australia.

Don't doubt the on-field quality of the Primera Division, which we're fortunate enough to have beamed into Australia by Setanta.

The evidence is there on a weekly basis of players and teams, good enough to grace any competition in the world.

The respected International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS) thinks so. It has been ranking the world's strongest leagues since 1991, and Argentina routinely sits in the top five.

In the latest IFFHS survey, published in June, the Primera Division was actually ranked second, beaten only by Spain.

The Hyundai A-League, by contrast, was ranked 29th. Think of that what you will, but what can't be disputed is that Argentine football has always been a production line of world-class talent, and is likely to remain so.

What's changed in the last few years is the salaries. The Argentine government has placed what some regard as draconian restrictions on the circulation of foreign currency.

Not that long ago, the peso was pegged to the US dollar. These days the official rate is around one-to-five, with the unofficial rate blowing out to around 6.3-to-one.

Clubs are not only struggling to offer decent salaries, but they're also struggling to pay them. All this creates opportunity for those competitions which in previous times wouldn't have been able to compete. Which is where the Hyundai A-League comes in.

An intriguing sub-plot to this week's grudge match between Melbourne Victory and Adelaide United will be the confrontation between the only Argentine to have prospered in our competition - Marcos Flores - and two of his countrymen, Jeronimo Neumann and Marcelo Carrusca, who could have just as much impact as Flores did during his own spell with the Reds.

Hopefully, we'll not only get more Argentines in the Hyundai A-League, but better ones. In many ways, what happens at Etihad Stadium could be a watershed.

To this point, the balance of trade between Australia and Argentina hasn't done either side any favours. Flores aside, these are the Argentines we've seen during the first seven years of the Hyundai A-League: Jorge Drovandi (Newcastle Jets), Oscar Cornejo (Wellington Phoenix), Adrian Trinidad (Perth Glory), Jonatan Germano (Melbourne Heart) and Patricio Perez (Central Coast Mariners).

It's a small list, and a largely uninspiring one. Report card? Can do better.

The signs are we might be. Neumann and Carrusca both have much more impressive pedigrees than their predecessors, Flores included.

Just three years ago, they were both playing for Estudiantes at the FIFA Club World Cup. After just a couple of rounds, Reds coach John Kosmina is salivating about their potential to transform his side. And we all know Kossie is a notoriously hard marker.

I don't know what the Reds are paying them, but these days in the Primera Division any wage above $US200,000 is considered the exception rather than the rule. The strength of the Australian dollar, therefore, suddenly makes the Hyundai A-League an appealing destination.

The key, now, is that Neumann and Carrusca follow the example set by Flores off the field in order to succeed on it.

Ezequiel Trumper, an Argentine-born lawyer who lives in Sydney and hosts a regular Spanish-language show on Radio Austral has no doubt why Flores has flourished.

''The key is to embrace the culture here,'' says Trumper. ''Normally, Argentine players go to Latin countries, because there is no real change in the lifestyle, and the culture.

"But Australia is different, very different, for them. I know some of the players that have been here before couldn't cope with the way the coaches would speak to them, for instance.

''Why Marcos has done so well is because he wanted to come for the experience. He spoke a little English at the start, and he was keen to learn. He had an open mind, and now he loves Australia and, I think, Australia loves him.''

If Flores has prised open the door, hopefully Neumann and Carrusca can blow it wide open. The early signs are encouraging.

The views in this article are those of the author, and do not represent those of Football Federation Australia or the Hyundai A-League.