The third stop on our voyage around the Premier League takes us to South America. The home of rainforests, mountains and sandy beaches. The home of carnival, samba and tango. Also, the home of Salomón Rondón but we’ll get onto him in a minute. This week we’ll be steering clear of the Brazilian and Argentinian wizards in order to focus on the Bolivian and Venezuelan jesters.
One of only two landlocked countries in the whole of South America, Bolivia is 30% covered by the Andean mountain range. This doesn’t leave a lot of room for football pitches and facilities, which could go some of the way to explaining why there hasn’t been a lot of successful footballing produce to come out of the Plurinational State of Bolivia (10 points to anyone who knew that was the official name of the country). The national football team, known simply as The Green, currently sit at 67th in the FIFA rankings, just two spots ahead of the second country of this article. They have featured in the World Cup just three times since the competition began in 1930. During that time they’ve played six games, scored just one goal and conceded 20. They’ve also picked up just a single point, thanks to a 0-0 draw with South Korea back in 1994. Just two Bolivians, both called Moreno but no relation, have played in the top flight during the Premier League era.
Jaime Moreno (Middlesbrough 1995-96)
Jaime Moreno started his career in his native country, playing for Club Blooming from the age of 17. In 1994 he moved to Colombia where he signed for Independiente Sante Fe. During his time with the club the striker only made five appearances without picking up a single goal. Bizarrely he had managed to impress during this spell and was flown to the other side of the world where he joined up with Middlesbrough, who were then in the second tier of English football. Moreno scored his first goal for his new side in March 1995 during a 1-1 draw with Barnsley. The commentator that night exclaimed, “the overseas strike force is coming good!” Perhaps he was anticipating a long and illustrious English career for the Bolivian, but boy was he wrong! Moreno failed to score again during his 21 matches for Boro and made just seven appearances for them during their time in the Premier League. He left for DC United in 1996 but would return on loan to his former club just 18 months later. Again, he played in the First Division (now the Championship) just five times, where he picked up a single goal, an 8oth minute winner against Stoke City.
Moreno would go on to have an incredibly successful season away from The Riverside. In 2009 he became the first ever player to rack up 100 MLS goals and assists, which came mainly due to his 12 years at DC. His playing career ended in 2010 but he is currently manager of DC United U-23s. Jaime holds the tenth most Bolivian caps with 75, and despite only scoring nine goals in the process, he has represented his country at five Copa Americas and one World Cup. He may not go down in the Premier League history books, but he certainly will back home in Bolivia and in the MLS.
Marcelo Moreno (Wigan Athletic 2009-10)
Being a striker from Bolivia called Moreno, Marcelo had very big boots to fill. In 2008 he was picked up by Shakhtar Donetsk from Brazilian side Cruzeiro for a fee of €9million. He was quickly shipped out on loan, firstly to Werder Bremen before he strangely ended up at Wigan in 2009, as if that’s the place for a football career to blossom! Moreno’s time at the DW was wildly underwhelming as he made 12 appearances during his six months at the club. He also failed to find the back of the net which means, to this day, no Bolivian has ever scored a Premier League goal. After his spell in Ukraine ended, he spent a few more years in Brazil before ending up in China…and not even the good, “money-for-everyone” China. The 30-year-old is currently plying his trade in the Chinese First Division with Wuhan Zull.
Moreno played youth football for Brazil , thanks to his Brazilian father, but switched allegiance to his mother’s side when he made his senior debut for Bolivia in 2007. He is currently Bolivia’s joint-third highest scorer with 15 goals, and needs only six more to make the top spot his own. He briefly retired after falling out with the national team coach, but once the management was changed in 2016 he stopped having a strop and returned to action. He continues to make appearances for his country and surely must be aiming to become the most-capped Moreno in Bolivian history.
Venezuela is located at the northernmost tip of South America and is, at the moment, home to the largest known oil reserves. With this amount of money floating around the country it shouldn’t be too long before the Venezuela Superstar League begins. If this is the case, Carlos Tevez would be the first back to his home continent, but only for the standard of football, not the money…no, definitely not the money. As mentioned before, Venezuela are 69th (stop giggling!) in the current FIFA Rankings. The national team are known as The Burgundy, which just goes to show that South American countries are seriously lack creativity when it comes to naming their football representatives.
Fernando Amorebieta (Fulham 2013-14)
After a successful period with Spanish outfit Athletic Bilbao, Fernando Amorebieta signed for Fulham on a free transfer. The Venezuelan looked a solid force at centre-back but became known for clumsy tackles, as he was sent off twice during his 44 appearances for Fulham. He also picked up a serious amount of cards during his time at Bilbao. Amorebieta’s first season in London was a poor one, as his side finished 19th, enough to earn them relegation to the Championship. In March of 2015, in his second season at Fulham, he was loaned out to Middlesbrough (who AREN’T sponsoring today’s piece, I promise) in a deal that saw James Husband go in the opposite direction. I’m as surprised as you are that we all missed that bit of business. The two couldn’t have had more opposite loan spells as Fulham finished 17th, just narrowly missing out on relegation for successive seasons. Amorebieta, on the other hand, scored a last minute winner for Boro to send them to a play-off final against Norwich City. Sadly he was an unused sub in the final at Wembley, which his adoptive side went on to lose. He left Fulham in 2016 to move back to Spain, where he signed with Sporting Gijon.
Amorebieta holds the impressive record of making international appearances for three different countries. First of all he played for Spain U-19s and was a part of the 2004 European Championship winning squad. In 2007, he made his debut for Basque Country, weirdly against Venezuela, in a 4-3 victory. Finally he made his Venezuelan debut in 2011 and went on to make 14 appearances for the country of his birth.
Salomón Rondón (West Brom 2015-present)
Saving the best until last, and this is definitely a special moment because it’s rare that Salomón Rondón is noted as the best out of anything. From the age of 19, Rondon began to carve out an averagely successful career in Spain, playing for Las Palmas and Malaga. From there, he went to Russia when he signed to Rubin Kazan, before joining up with Zenit Saint Petersburg for just under £16million. After winning everything you can in Russia, there was only one natural next step for Rondon. West Brom. The big striker joined The Baggies in 2015 for a club record fee of £12million. For all of the stick I’ve given him so far, he has enjoyed a fairly decent Premier League career, well, as much as you can when you’re on West Brom’s books. Rondon has the palindromic record of 17 goals in 71 Premier League appearances and has also completed an impressive feat. During a 2016 3-1 win against Swansea City, Sol Ron (as he’s known to his friends I think) became the first Premier League player since 1997 to score three headers in one game. Without a doubt that is worth the club record fee alone.
Rondon is currently the third highest scorer in Venezuelan history with 19 strikes, but his career trajectory is sure to take him above and beyond the 23 needed to be noted as the best once again.
So there we have the most “prestigious” talent that South America has to offer. Apologies to West Brom fans for tearing into their target man so much, but I just enjoy writing about the flops, who only made substitute appearances, a lot more than the players who have had decent careers. Next week we head a little bit north as we explore what lies in Central America.