From the Basement: in Latin America, soccer runs deep

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The prospect that any singular activity could unite a region with as many cultures, languages and socioeconomic differences as Latin America is nearly impossible to imagine. Soccer, however, defies this line of thought.

Argentina was the home of the first soccer matches on Latin America soil due to a massive influx of colonialistic Europeans who spread the game to other locations in the region during the 19th century. Though the sport did not originate within the region, it successfully took root in such a way that it permeated into nearly every social circle. Due to a soccer ball being the only requirement to participate in the sport, all levels of community rallied around the activity. Today, everyone from schoolchildren to professional footballers help build both local and national identities through the sport.

The majority of national clubs in this region are under the jurisdiction of the South American Football Association or the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Football Association, both of which are facets of FIFA. Copa América, the oldest transnational men’s soccer tournament in the world, serves as a testament to the immense cultural significance that soccer has in the region. The most recent tournament, which took place in April 2016, broke attendance records with a total of 1.5 million people attending 32 matches and more than 100 million watching from home.

The international excellence in the realm of soccer from Latin America is unmistakable due to players such as Pelé, Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi and Neymar, all of whom transcend nation with their world-class abilities, and the fact that 14 of the 21 World Cups have had Latin American winners or runners-up. Considering these accomplishments, to understate the value of Latin America in soccer is to fundamentally misunderstand what it means to exemplify greatness within a sport.

Though the strength of national teams such as Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay is obvious thanks to numerous successes on international platforms, it cannot be forgotten that the prowess of individual players who hail from Latin America extends far beyond the confines of the region as well. Nearly every top-division European soccer league benefits from Latin American players, including the Premier League, La Liga, and Ligue 1. Not only that, but young Latin American players are breathing new life into clubs.

Take Lucas Torreira, for example, the Uruguayan defensive midfielder for Arsenal whose aggressive technique is proving to be essential to the club, especially under the new management of Unai Emery. Torriera’s allure lies in his capability to make any move on the pitch work for his team, which makes his £26.4 million transfer fee absolutely worth it. Through Torreira, Arsenal’s midfield is much more equipped to confront challenges

Additionally, players such as Jefferson Lerma and Felipe Anderson, who are from Colombia and Brazil respectively, recently set club records for transfer fees with their respective contracts with AFC Bournemouth and West Ham United. This demonstrates not only the value of their individual skill sets, but also that managers of European clubs recognize that the abilities Latin American players bring to the pitch are essential for their clubs.

Clearly, soccer has always been so much more than just a sport. Without the contributions of Latin American players, the game would be just that a game. Instead, soccer is a forum in which complex issues such as nationhood, identity and history are able to be examined in such a way that creates a dialogue that no other activity has the power to do.