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Good Buys Or Bad? We Get The Info On Sunderland January Duo

Sam Kelly, a veritable expert on Argentinian football, gives Roker Report the lowdown on two January additions to the squad.

Clive Mason

We've had a brief look at Santiago Vergini and heard a lot about Ignaccio Scocco, but we thought we'd check out what we consider to be the definitive view.

So we gave Sam Kelly, very much a trusted friend of Roker Report, a buzz. Sam covers Argentinian football for many sites, including his own at Hasta El Gol Siempre, and is also a producer of Hand Of Pod - the only English language podcast dealing with Argentinian football. We'd absolutely recommend keeping a keen eye on both over the coming months, especially with Gus Poyet clearly liking his South Americans.

Anyway, let's hear what Sam makes of our new duo.

Right then, Santiago Vergini... in general terms and by way of a quick introduction, what are Sunderland getting?

Sam Kelly: A 25-year-old centre back, born in Rosario, Argentina, but who first played first team football for Paraguayan giants Olimpia, before a one-season move to Hellas Verona and a subsequent return to his hometown, where he won Argentina's Torneo Final championship as part of a very stylish Newell's Old Boys side in the first half of last year.

Zooming in a little closer to the details now, what would you say his specific strengths and weaknesses are?

SK: He's decent with the ball at his feet - Gerardo Martino, who managed Newell's to that title and is now in charge of Barcelona, likes to have one centre back who can play the ball out of defence, and that was Vergini's job for Newell's.

He's not the fastest in the world, though, and the Argentine league isn't packed full of lightning quick strikers, so some opponents in the Premier League might prove a bit of a steep learning curve for him initially. Positionally, he's good, but he'll need to make that count right away.

Looking in from a position of general ignorance, one of the real positives of this deal appears to be that Vergini was very comfortable in a similar kind of philosophy ans system under Martino at NOB as the one Poyet is trying to instill at Sunderland. Was that the case and, if so, is it something you could see him easily translate to English football?

SK: I've not seen much of Poyet's Sunderland, I must admit, but from the bits and pieces I have seen, and from what I've read, it sounds about right, yes; high pressing and an emphasis on possession, but looking to open opportunities up rather than fannying around in front of the opponents' penalty box for too long. To that end, Vergini was key to Martino's Newell's (see above), and I don't see why his abilities on the ball can't translate to the Premier League.

There seems to be a lot being made by some about Vergini being linked to Barcelona last summer. Surely that was never really on the cards though, was it?

SK: Yes and no. After taking charge there, Martino wanted a centre back brought in who could fit his philosophy, after forming the opinion that Carles Puyol's not going to last at the top level much longer. Ultimately that was frustrated, but it's natural that in the initial search, Vergini would have been a known quantity for the new manager.

I think that many fans will look at a 6-month stay at a club and worry. Can you give us a little context behind his Estudientes spell?

SK: I wouldn't worry about that too much. Estudiantes are far from being Argentina's worst-run club, but that's like saying Silvio Berlusconi is a long way from being Italy's least palatable leader; we're talking about a seriously high bar to clear. They were well-run and competitive for a number of years, but since Alejandro Sabella left as manager in late 2011, they've fallen away.

More recently, club legend Seba Verón has announced he'll retire (for the second time) at the end of this season, and had some rather choice words for the directors of the club. Vergini only staying six months shouldn't be held against the player, too much.

Neck on the block time... Santiago Vergini: Good signing for Sunderland?

SK: It's an interesting signing, for me, because he's just at the age where a move to Europe was needed, but he'll need to step his game up a level from what he's experienced until now. In my opinion, he's gifted enough to be decent in England, but he'll be playing against forwards with better - and quicker - movement than he's previously experienced.

That being said, when Claudio Yacob went from Racing to West Brom, a few of us here in Argentina thought he'd be all at sea in the much quicker pace of the English game, and he settled in very quickly in the end...

Moving on to Scocco, what can yo tell us about him by way of an introduction?

SK: [Scocco is] a decent forward who, for most of his career, was a good solid one-in-three striker with decent wing play, until 2012-13, when he suddenly exploded in Argentina, bagging 24 goals in 31 games in the league alone for Newell's Old Boys. After that he had an unhappy six months with Internacional in Brazil, where he failed to hit the same heights.

We have heard very mixed reports about his suitability for Premier League football, with many suggesting he will not be able to lead the line on his own in England. Would you agree with that?

SK: For Newell's, he was at the front of a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1, and did a good job in both the Argentine league and the Copa Libertadores, with fine link play and a fantastic range of finishing - from runs with the ball (VIDEO) to first time piledrivers (VIDEO) to a wonderfully quick-thinking finish to consign River Plate to defeat during Newell's championship campaign (VIDEO).

He's certainly got the technique to damage opponents, but what he hasn't got, I suspect, is the physique to fight with Premier League centre backs (he's not especially short, at 5'10", but he's not huge either).

He seemed to have a stunning season last season at Newell's, but it all fell apart for him at Internacional when a lot was probably expected of him. What went wrong?

You're right that a lot was expected of him - Brazilians were very aware of his exploits in the Copa Libertadores - and that he disappointed in Porto Alegre, where he only managed four goals in 21 appearances in all competitions.

In part, I wonder how much he really wanted to be there - Newell's were the club he came through at, but his successful recent spell there had been on loan from Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates, who then sold him to Internacional even though he felt happy in Rosario (Brazilian clubs, it's true, have far more economic power than Argentine clubs, so the move is at least unlikely to have harmed Scocco's bank balance).

According to the club, though, they wanted to keep him and help him to adapt - he gave an interview in September explaining that he was finding it hard to settle in Brazil - but that he wanted out.

So finally, is Scocco a good signing for Sunderland?

SK: The jury's going to be out until he's played a few games. Vergini's only 25, but Scocco will be 29 shortly after the end of the season (his birthday's in late May), so his signing is rather more of a gamble. If he's helped to settle by the other rioplatenses at the club, and if he hits the ground running, he could be a resounding success - but it is a big 'if'.


Many thanks to Sam for his time and insight. You can follow Sam on Twitter HERE, and it'd be crazy not to.