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Albion's history with South Americans

While our current crop of South Americans continue to shine, who else from the continent has pulled on a shirt for us?

By Nick Szczepanik • 16 July 2023

By Paul Hazlewood
Leonardo Ulloa scored 16 goals in his first spell with Albion, including this dramatic winner at Forest.

As the Albion’s South American contingent gather at their favourite restaurant in Hove to toast a new football season – joined this season by Brazil’s Joao Pedro but missing the departed Alexis Mac Allister – they might be surprised to learn that they are by no means trailblazers in exchanging their home continent for Sussex. 

Some of the predecessors of Julio Enciso, Facundo Buonanotte, Pervis Estupinan and the rest made a big impact, some less so, but many have added a splash of Latin American colour to Albion history.

Albion’s first foray into the South American market took place as early as 1978. Tottenham Hotspur had just signed Argentina World Cup winners Osvaldo Ardiles and Ricky Villa, and Seagulls chairman Mike Bamber fancied something along the same lines to help his club secure promotion to the topflight. He targeted winger Juan Carlos Oblitas and striker Percy Rojas of Peru, who had played some fantastic attacking football in the same tournament in which Ardiles and Villa had shone. 

Both were at Lima-based club Sporting Cristal, who were asking £400,000 for the pair – a hefty price at the time. Bamber flew them over to England for a closer look and they were even pictured with manager Alan Mullery at Hove Recreation Ground, where the team trained at the time.

But dealing with South American clubs was complicated then, and the deal foundered on a combination of work permit problems, doubts about Oblitas’ real age, and the collapse of a scheme to go halves for the players’ services with the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the North America Soccer League [NASL].

By Bennett Dean
Federico Turienzo spent one season with Albion, during which he made four appearances.

It would be a long time before a Latin American actually stepped out in the stripes, and it would not exactly be a resounding success. Argentinian striker Federico Turienzo arrived for a trial in a pre-season match against Lewes at the Dripping Pan in 2005, armed with an Italian passport and a glowing recommendation from former Poland and Juventus star Zbigniew Boniek. Albion boss mark McGhee was impressed enough to offer him a contract, but although the man from Buenos Aires became a minor cult hero with the fans, he failed to make an impact or find the net in any of his four appearances as the team struggled.

Would Uruguay forward Diego Arismendi break the mould? The omens were not good. He came to Withdean in March 2010 on loan from Stoke City, where he had failed to shine. Injuries restricted him to three Albion starts and three appearances as a substitute, and a red card after 47 minutes of his final game, away to MK Dons in a goalless draw that also marked Lewis Dunk’s debut, ended a forgettable spell in Sussex.

Argentinians Christian Baz and Agustin Battipiedi were spotted in 2010 by Gus Poyet playing for Comunicaciones, a lower-division side in Buenos Aires, and made slightly more of an impression. Their appearances were limited as the club won promotion in the final season at Withdean, but they found themselves centre-stage in a memorable FA Cup second round replay away to Woking. Assistant manager Mauricio Taricco was sent off in extra time as the game ended 2-2 and went to penalties. Battipiedi missed, but it did not matter as the home side failed with all their efforts, leaving Baz to stroke home the decisive spot kick with what may still rank as the coolest penalty ever taken by an Albion player. 

By Paul Hazlewood
Mauricio Taricco came out of retirement to play for Albion.

Taricco, in fact, probably ranks as one of the best South American players to have represented Albion, even though his glory days came with Ipswich Town and Tottenham Hotspur.  He did not arrive at the club with any intention of playing, and thought he had retired to a life of coaching before being pressed into action at Woking, six years after his previous professional appearance. 

Despite that red card in the cup tie, he went on to play four league games as Albion won the League One title but retired again in October 2011, only to un-retire again three weeks later. He collected his final red card in a 3-0 defeat at Southampton, but took revenge over Saints in a 3-0 home win in his final game, on 2 January 2012.

Chilean full back Gonzalo Jara Reyes arrived with top-flight pedigree from Premier League West Bromwich Albion on 21 October 2011, on a loan deal initially lasting until January 2012, but things did not work out for him on the south coast. 

He was joined at the Amex by Colombia goalkeeper David Gonzales Giraldo, who arrived on a five-month loan in January 2012, but sadly they never shared a pitch, Jara Reyes failing to make the squad for either of the keeper’s two late-season appearances. Emmanuel Ledesma was another footnote in Albion history, making two starts and coming off the bench twice on loan from Middlesbrough in 2015. But he could have joined earlier, having scored for the reserves while on trial in January 2011 before being spotted by Walsall, who offered him a contract.

By Paul Hazlewood
Leonardo Ulloa made 70 appearances for Albion over two spells.

The first major South American success at the Albion was undoubtedly Leonardo Ulloa. He joined the club in January 2013 from Almeria of Spain and made an instant impact, scoring on his debut against Arsenal in an FA Cup third-round tie at the Amex with a diving near-post header. He went on to score nine league goals, including the first Amex hat trick as the side reached the play-off semi-finals, and 14 more in 2013-14 as they repeated that feat, including the last-gasp header away to Nottingham Forest that clinched the play-off spot. An £8 million move to Leicester City followed, along with a relegation escape and an unlikely Premier League title, before a six-month loan back to us, during which he scored twice, including our first-ever goal at the Etihad Stadium.  

Colombian winger Jose Izquierdo was the club’s first Premier League South American, a club record £13.5 million signing from Club Brugge in August 2017 and at his peak he looked worth every penny. Sadly, his time at the Albion was all too brief and cruelly limited by injury. But when fit, he showed blistering pace and he will go down in club legend for scoring three spectacular goals. His first came in Albion’s first away victory in the Premier League, at West Ham – a curling effort that Joe Hart got a hand to but could not keep out. The second was against the same opponents, this time at the Amex, a shot from the corner of the penalty area that found the top corner of the goal. The third, away to Stoke, saw him exchange passes with Solly March and then Dale Stephens before sweeping the ball home. 

By Paul Hazlewood
Jose Izquierdo scored five Premier League goals for Albion.

Ezequiel Schelotto joined from Sporting Lisbon soon after Izquierdo. He was born in Argentina but had played all his club football in Europe when Chris Hughton signed him. ‘El Galgo’ lived up to his nickname, showing greyhound-like acceleration at times.

Defender Bernardo became our first Brazilian player in July 2018, arriving from RB Leipzig for £9 million and playing in a total of 39 Premier League games over two and a half seasons without ever fully establishing himself. Arguably his finest hour was in 10-man Albion’s 3-1 victory over Crystal Palace, when he cleared off the line and later produced the pass that enabled Florin Andone to race away to score a memorable goal.

Six months later, Albion signed and loaned back an almost unheralded midfield player from Argentinos Juniors named Alexis Mac Allister. The rest, as they say, is history.