Santa Cruz, the South American poster boy who conquered Europe

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 November, 2010, 12:00am

Throughout his career, Roque Santa Cruz has been the poster boy of Paraguayan football, the clean-cut image of the national game personified in the country at the heart of South America.

While eccentric goalkeeper Jose Luis Chilavert was grabbing the headlines over a decade ago with his outlandish efforts between the posts and his uncanny knack of scoring outrageous free kicks, Santa Cruz was making his mark at domestic side Olimpia.

By the time he had turned 18, Santa Cruz had already made his debut for the national team and won back-to-back domestic titles with Olimpia before signing for German giants Bayern Munich for US$7 million and being touted as the next big thing from South America.

After a slow start, Santa Cruz excelled in the Bavarian capital and, over eight seasons he won the Uefa Champions League, five Bundesliga titles and other assorted domestic and international titles. His success marked him out as a footballing ambassador for his homeland, given his status as the country's only high-profile professional playing at one of Europe's major clubs.

But his career in Germany came to an end in 2007 when he joined Blackburn Rovers, striking up a relationship with manager Mark Hughes that saw him follow the Welshman to Manchester City two years later for a transfer fee of more than GBP17 million (HK$212.7 million).

His career at Eastlands, however, has not been as productive as his time at Ewood Park. And with Hughes leaving the club at the end of last year, Santa Cruz has fallen down the pecking order under current City boss Roberto Mancini.

Santa Cruz has had more success in recent times with his national squad, playing a key role in Paraguay's run to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in South Africa, a tournament he believes was his swansong at the finals.

'This will definitely be my last World Cup,' the 29-year-old said ahead of his country's arrival in South Africa, 'so I hope it can be the best.'

Since appearing at the World Cup, Santa Cruz has been linked with a move away from City, with Lazio a possible destination as well as a possible third stint playing under Hughes, now manager at Fulham.

In a recent interview on Spanish radio, Santa Cruz revealed his desire to leave the Manchester club and has his eyes set on playing in a new league.

'I'm not getting the playing time and aim to leave in January,' he said. 'I still hope to fulfil my dream of playing in Spain.'