Certain football clubs from around the world have a knack of signing players from a certain country and seeing them perform despite often playing thousands of thousands from their home country.
Wolverhampton Wanderers have seen many Portuguese players turn out of the Old Gold in recent seasons including the likes of Joao Moutinho, Rui Patricio and Ruben Neves while Brazilian players have long been a staple of the Galactico teams of Real Madrid, with Ronaldo Nazario, Roberto Carlos and Kaka just to name a few.
In the case of Manchester City, the special relationship lies with the South American football powerhouse of Argentina. Up to now, City have had nine Argentinian players on their books, with all nine of them arriving since 2008.
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This is soon to reach double figures though as the Premier League club announced the reported £15million signing of River Plate forward Julian Alvarez in January, with the player expected to link up with Pep Guardiola’s squad in the summer.
Alvarez is set to be City’s tenth Argentinian player in little over a decade but when and how did this special link between a South American nation and a northern English city start?
The first-ever Argentine to turn out for Manchester City was cult hero and club legend Pablo Zabaleta. The tough-tackling defender joined the Sky Blues in 2008 from Spanish side Espanyol. Zabaleta laid the foundations for what was to be expected from an Argentinian playing at the Etihad Stadium. He was tenacious in his defense of him and gave everything to the club.
This was a pattern to follow with those who followed Zabaleta to City, with both Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero going on to join the club within the next three years. The latter’s effect on City’s history is monumental, with the striker being one of the most important players in the last decade for the club.
This is a decade which saw City win their first top division title in 44 years, courtesy of an iconic last-minute strike from Aguero himself on the campaign’s final day. The dramatic 3-2 victory over Queens Park Rangers, in which Zabaleta also scored, lives long in the memory of football fans, not just those in sky blue.
Aguero went on to become the club’s leading all-time goal scorer with a haul of 260 goals in just 385 appearances for the current Premier League champions, with the Argentinian winning a total of five Premier League titles during his ten-year stay in Manchester.
La Albiceleste defenders Martin Demichelis and Nicolas Otamendi also gave their all for the Premier League club, bringing a raw passion that was rarely matched during their spells at the Etihad Stadium.
City’s special relationship with Argentina can be characterized by the fact that during Argentina’s first World Cup final in … years, coming in 2014 against Germany, the South American squad had as many as three Manchester City players present with Zabaleta, Aguero and Demichelis all playing a part in proceedings.
Another perfect example of an Argentinian who gave his all to Manchester City is that of reserve goalkeeper Willy Caballero, who arrived at the club in the summer of 2014. Caballero started multiple Premier League games in Joe Hart’s absence, often proving himself as reliable as City’s number one and went on to become somewhat of a cult hero with the Etihad crowds.
Caballero’s moment of crowning glory came at Wembley during the League Cup final against Liverpool. After regular and extra time had finished 1-1, the final went straight to a penalty shootout. Caballero, despite being City’s and most fans’ second choice keeper, stepped up to save not one, not two, but three penalties from Liverpool. This City won the cup on the day against their rivals and is remembered dearly by the sky blue faithful.
City have also provided a springboard for Argentinian talents to get moves elsewhere across Europe with players including Bruno Zuculini, Geronimo Rulli and Nahuel Bustos all getting moves to the continent. Rulli is now playing for Spanish side Villareal and finds himself in the Champions League semi-finals alongside City themselves. The shot-stopper also saved in last season’s Europa League final penalty shootout to help Villareal win their first major trophy.
Following Aguero’s departure at the end of last season, City found themselves without an Argentine in their squad for the first time in 13 years but of course it wasn’t long before the tradition was reignited with the acquisition of Alvarez, and City fans will hope he will emulate his predecessors and form a long and cherished career in Manchester.
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