Roker Report caught up with Kevin McCauley, a very knowledgable blogger about Mexican football & Cruz Azul (Riveros' former team) to try and find out just why it doesn't seem to be working out for the Paraguayan international at SAFC...
Hi there, thanks for talking to Roker Report.
Kevin: Thanks for getting in touch with me. If there’s one thing I love, it’s talking to other footy bloggers. If there’s two things I love, it’s talking about other footy bloggers and gushing about how much I enjoy Mexican football.
Christian Riveros, the former Cruz Azul and Paraguay midfielder has become a real man of mystery to us Sunderland fans. A great World Cup, however he can’t even make our substitutes bench. Having watched him in much closer detail than most of us, what facets of Riveros’ game aren’t suited to the Premiership?
Kevin: I don’t think that there is any skill that Riveros inherently lacks that hinders his ability to play in the Premier League. However, there are a few things about his game and where he came from that present a bit of a learning curve. Some of these things have to do with the Premier League, but I think more have to do with Steve Bruce.
The first thing that comes to mind for me is that the Premier League doesn’t have a lot of what most people would call "holding midfield" players. There are plenty of aggressive, physical defensive midfielders, plenty of box to box midfielders, and plenty of attacking midfielders. However, there aren’t a whole lot of guys who sit in their position, stop counter attacks with their positioning and technical tackling ability, and distribute from deep. Interestingly enough, England played a friendly before the World Cup against Mexico. The player who wore the armband for Mexico that night, Gerardo Torrado, received lavish praise from the English media. Funny thing is, I thought it was a slightly above average, but not spectacular performance from Torrado. The English media just doesn’t get to watch players like him very often.
Riveros has failed to adjust for other reasons, most of which, while old clichés, are completely true. The English game, and more specifically Steve Bruce’s tactics, usually includes closing down more aggressively, a fast and direct style of play, and formational discipline. Cruz Azul utilizes precisely none of these things.
And by the same token, what does he have in his locker that we’re yet to see?
Kevin: He certainly hasn’t been allowed to showcase his skills as a holding midfielder with good technical skill. If Steve Bruce doesn’t have any use for this kind of a player, I’m not sure why he bought Riveros in the first place. While I pointed out that there aren’t a lot of guys in the Premier League like Riveros, the league certainly isn’t completely devoid of these players. Michael Carrick is a fairly similar player, as is Tom Huddlestone...or he would be if he wasn’t 6’4", 225 pounds. There is a place for guys like Riveros in the Premier League.
So, what does he have that you’re yet to see? Everything positive he did in the World Cup and for Cruz Azul over the years. I haven’t seen anything resembling the Riveros I know in his time at Sunderland, but I don’t think that Steve Bruce has given him a fair chance, either.
What type of player would Riveros be best suited to playing alongside? A more defensive, tough-tackler like Lee Cattermole, allowing Riveros more freedom to create, or a box-to-box, more attack minded player like Jordan Henderson where Riveros can sit deep and control the game?
Kevin: Well, I think you’ve given me the false choice of a 4-4-2. Although, when you have the three strikers you do, maybe it isn’t a false choice.
At Cruz Azul, he spent most of his time partnering a fairly similar player, Torrado, in a 4-4-2. This seems fairly impractical for the English game. Usually, teams that play 4-4-2 have at least one athletic player who we usually classify as a "box to box midfielder." Practically, from a tactical standpoint, Jordan Henderson makes the most sense as a midfield partner for Riveros. However, we all know that there’s no chance in a million years that Steve Bruce will just leave Lee Cattermole on the bench.
Where would you rank him amongst Sunderland’s midfield options?
Kevin: The way that they fit in a formation aside, I think that Lee Cattermole has to rank ahead of Riveros right now. Jordan Henderson might be better, but he also might be better on the right than he is in the centre of midfield. I haven’t seen a lot of David Meyler, but he was average at the very best in the awful game against Fulham. Malbranque and Richardson have played in the middle in their careers, but I think they’re better wide as well. So, I’d call Riveros your third best central midfield option, at worst.
Are you surprised he hasn’t featured more this season?
Kevin: It took months before your best player became a regular starter. That player (Gyan) didn’t appear until the 53rd minute of the match against Fulham. Therefore, absolutely not.
How highly rated a player was he in Mexico?
Kevin: He was very highly rated, but Cruz Azul over the past three tournaments has been a very interesting team. In the 2009 Apertura, where Cruz Azul were runners up, Cruz Azul used mostly a 4-4-2 setup with Riveros and Torrado in the center of midfield.
Prior to the Bicentenario, Cruz Azul brought in Cristian "Chaco" Gimenez from Pachuca. They changed their setup, opting for something that was basically a 4-4-1 + whatever Chaco felt like doing. Riveros and Gimenez had zero chemistry and the team were an absolute disaster for much of the season. Their February 2010 match against Club America was the most shocking and inept game I’ve ever seen a high level team play in Mexico. They found their stride for a short time, but near the end of the season, they were absolutely dismantled by Herculez Gomez and Puebla as they missed the playoffs.
In the 2010 Apertura, with Riveros gone, Cruz Azul were the best team in the regular season. They switched to a unique brand of 4-4-2 where Gonzalo Pineda took Riveros’s place and Gimenez was listed as the right midfielder. However, Gimenez spent only a fraction of his time on the right, drifting around to create scoring chances for himself and others while their crack team of right backs, with Rogelio Chavez being first choice when healthy, stepped up to do the jobs of 1 ½ men.
Cruz Azul’s improvement likely has much more to do with the formation change than Riveros’s departure, but it sure makes for an interesting story line. In reality, I think that you could drop Riveros in for Pineda and have very similar results. Cruz Azul certainly could have used him in their disastrous playoff loss to Pumas de la UNAM.
Is Riveros the type of player to kick-up a fuss if he’s not selected or if he has an issue with management, or does he tend to keep his head down and work harder?
Kevin: I have absolutely no idea. Probably because he’s been first choice as long as I’ve been aware of his existence.
Do you know much about Paulo Da Silva? Sunderland’s other Paraguayan international who we signed from Toluca a year ago? It seems he might be headed back there soon. Any idea why it never worked out for him in England, because we can’t work it out at all!?
Kevin: Paulo da Silva was the absolute linchpin of Toluca’s defense for years. However, right after he departed, Toluca won the Bicentenario! However, in fairness, they had one of the best defensive records in the league and were perennial contenders before his departure, so it’s not like they won because he bounced.
I like Paulo da Silva, but he seems like a player that relies much more on brains and technique than speed and size. On both of those physical fronts, he is slightly below average for Premier League central defenders. I just think that the league was always going to be a bad fit for him.
Toluca are a team in some crisis right now. Their best striker, Hector Mancilla, just left for Tigres. Their captain and arguably their best player, Zinha, is 34. Their manager just left for the Mexican national team job and I can tell you very little about their new manager. Due to an epic collapse, probably having something to do with knowing their manager was about to leave, Toluca missed the playoffs in the most recent tournament. I think the fans would love to have a player of da Silva’s quality back on the team.
How do you think Sunderland will fare this season?
Kevin: Look at the teams around you. Are you scared of any of them but Liverpool? I’m not. Even Liverpool, talent and all, have some serious problems. Sixth or seventh seems not only realistic, but what fans should expect of the team.
Pleasure to speak with you, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Kevin: Thanks for getting into contact with me. If your readers want to read my work or chat about footy in general, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can be reached on twitter @kevinmccauley. My work on football from all over the globe can be seen at www.sbnation.com/soccer. Most of my work on that site is regarding the Mexican Primera, Copa Libertadores, Serie A, and La Liga. However, I do occasionally write about Major League Soccer, the English Premier League, and United States women’s soccer. I write a Tottenham Hotspur fan blog at www.cartilagefreecaptain.com.