As the only Brazilian in the German top flight has proven, the South American showpiece offers the perfect source of footballing talent for clubs all across the world, writes Martin Whiteley.
On November 3rd the 2021 Copa Libertadores got underway in Paraguay. Since its inception in 2009, it has provided a greater opportunity for more South American players to get on the radars of clubs in other continents.
All-time greats like Marta and Formiga had ventured off to play professionally in Sweden previously, but now clubs get the chance to see a significantly deeper talent pool. One player to take advantage of the possibility of playing overseas after gaining notoriety from starring in the Copa Libertadores was Leticia Santos.
Not only did she take part in the showpiece South American event, but she also won it back in November 2014 when Sao Jose defeated Caracas 5-1, before landing a big move to Germany. Although Eintracht Frankfurt slumped to a 3-2 league defeat away at Wolfsburg at the weekend, they now have a fully fit Santos to help boost their respectable haul of 15 points from the first seven games.
The pacy defender is normally found anchoring the right side of the backline. She is equally comfortable playing further forward though and her versatility allows her to take up similar positions on the other side of the field. For a player that is only 5ft 2in tall, she is still very competitive in aerial challenges too.
In January 2015, Santos attracted the interest of Norwegian top-flight side Avaldsnes and signed for them at just 20 years old. During her two years with the Toppserien club, the Atibaia-born defender helped them achieve back-to-back runners-up finishes in the league and played in the 2016-17 qualifying group of the UEFA Champions League.
A new adventure began for Santos in January 2017 when she moved to Frauen-Bundesliga side SC Sand on an initial 18-month deal. Having impressed the coaching staff with her play, the following February the club announced that she would extend her stay by another season.
In June 2019 — while Santos was still competing with the Brazil National Team at the World Cup in France — FFC Frankfurt announced they had signed the defender on a one-year deal.
But Santos suffered a serious injury last March while playing for Brazil against France in the first edition of the Tournoi de France for female players when she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee.
Even though it was a challenge — not only having to deal with the injury, but the world shutting down to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic — Santos was well supported. The physiotherapist of the Brazilian Football Association and the medical department of FFC Frankfurt kept in constant touch with the defender throughout her rehabilitation.
In the final match of preparation for a return to league play after the winter break in January, the South America star made her return to the pitch. Players often say it is like starting afresh after a long injury. In the case of Santos that was indeed true as her playing rights had now been taken over by Eintracht Frankfurt after the merger – and she even scored a rare goal.
There was more good news for Santos later in the year too. A delay to the Olympics and an increased roster for the football teams saw the Brazil ace get to wear the famous yellow shirt once again.
Santos has been used sparingly so far this season by coach Niko Arnautis. The lack of any pre-season due to her involvement in the Olympics and then having to quarantine on her return has meant she has played in only three Frauen-Bundesliga games this term.
Her team-mates are doing her proud, though. Just before the last international break, Eintracht Frankfurt handed leaders Bayern Munich their first loss of the season. Although the Champions did record a 4-2 win in the last 16 of the DFB-Pokal Frauen when the two sides met again last weekend.
Eintracht Frankfurt also has a fighting fit and refreshed Santos — currently the only Brazilian in the German top flight — to come back into the fray full-time which will improve them going forward.
Not all clubs have the resources to scout individual countries in South America. The fact that every year many of the best players from that region all congregate together certainly makes it far easier for more clubs to spot potential recruits.
Follow Martin on Twitter @673martin