Sunderland’s South Americans can bridge Atlantic crossing gap

Santiago Vergini
Santiago Vergini

FOOTBALL-LAG invariably accompanies the jet-lag for players crossing the Atlantic.

The difficulty in bridging the gap between the domestic game in South America and Europe has been well-chronicled and is far from one of those urban myths or footballing clichés.

Some of the Premier League’s brightest lights over recent seasons - Oscar, Ramires, Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano - have all taken months to acclimatise before any evidence emerged to back up their hefty price tags.

Gus Poyet, himself, describes his solitary season at French side Grenobles in the late 1980s as “rubbish” before his second spell in Europe was far more successful at Real Zaragoza and then Chelsea and Spurs.

And as Sunderland can prominently testify from the likes of Nicolas Medina, Paolo Da Silva, Marcos Angeleri and most recently, Nacho Scocco, some never manage to adapt to their new surroundings.

For the first three months of his Sunderland career, Santiago Vergini followed that dynasty of being a rabbit in the headlights.

But there was a eureka moment for the Argentine international, in the daunting surroundings of the Etihad Stadium of all places.

With Phil Bardsley suspended and Ondrej Celustka, Poyet had little option than to turn to Vergini as a makeshift right-back - a position he had played in his homeland and one he was subsequently to make his own.

Vergini agrees that the 2-2 draw against the eventual Premier League champions was a turning point for him, but he rightly stresses that it wasn’t easy joining a side propping up the table when he arrived in January.

“Yes, I believe so,” said Vergini, when asked whether Man City was a turning point for him.

“But not only on a personal level. I also believe that really was the case for the whole team.

“In terms of football, when I arrived we were actually bottom of the table, so it really was a difficult period for the team.

“After playing Manchester City, I think that’s when there was a decisive moment.

“There was a change following this game, we had some good results which ultimately enabled us to stay up.”

While Vergini’s contribution towards Sunderland’s survival saw the club pursue the 26-year-old throughout the summer, the two fellow Argentines who arrived alongside him last January - Scocco and Oscar Ustari - both returned home to join Newell’s Old Boys.

Scocco, in particular, never gave an indication that he would settle on these shores.

But Vergini believes having two of his countryman alongside him - plus a fellow South American in Poyet - were a contributory factor towards his eventual success in a Sunderland shirt.

“In terms of adapting to life here in England and everything, it really happened quite quickly,” he said.

“That was fairly easy and that was down to the fact that I had team-mates here, the likes of Nacho and Oscar.

“We all got together with our families and that really did make things a great deal easier.

“The manager helped too. The question of language is particularly important.

“For example, in the first few months, there were things that I perhaps didn’t quite understand very clearly, but we were able to resolve these issues speaking the same language.”

English remains a barrier for Vergini.

He has a sufficient grasp of the basics, but is still taking regular lessons and this conversation is conducted through an interpretor.

The on-loan Club Sport Uruguay de Coronado defender jokes that he will be little use as a translator for fellow new arrival Ricky Alvarez, while Sebastian Coates is far more proficient in English from his three years at parent club Liverpool.

But Vergini hopes Sunderland’s South American contingent can bring the best out of each other after the arrival of both Alvarez and Coates on deadline day.

“It’s good to have players who come in who can speak the same language, who have the same customs,” he added.

“They’re two very important signings, both Seba and also Ricky will be able to contribute good things.

“I must say I really can’t promise I’ll be much help with the language, but of course I will help them in anything else in whatever capacity possible.”