Marlos Moreno's Manchester City plight an example of joining a European giant too young
When it comes to promising South American talent, the major European clubs appear to have arrived at a conclusion. The best way to do business is to buy them young, and bring them across the Atlantic as soon as possible.
The plus side of this arrangement is clear. Top-level European football offers a different challenge: The games are played at a greater level of intensity, with less space available on the field. The sooner the player can adapt, the better.
But all of this comes with risks, both on and off the field. A teenage footballer can be young for his age, shielded from normal adolescent experience by the focus on his game. He has a lot of growing up to do. It is rarely an easy process, and is surely made harder when the youngster has to do it in a new country, where he might not be able to speak the language.
And then there is the question of the depth of the European squads. The youngster has earned a move as a result of promising performances. He leaves an environment in which he was considered something special, and goes to one in which he is just another among many. His confidence might suffer.
Some of this surely applies to Marlos Moreno, the young Colombian support striker acquired by Manchester City in 2016. Moreno is currently in limbo -- and as the Colombian press have pointed out, his career has been a case of 10 months of success followed by three years of frustration.
It is easy to forget the triumphs he had in those 10 months. Between his league debut for Atletico Nacional of Medellin in September 2015 and his sale to City the following August, there was no mountain he could not climb.
First, he was decisive in the Colombian league, coming up with big performances in pressure games as Nacional won the title. Then, he was even more outstanding as his club won the 2016 Copa Libertadores, South America's Champions League. While that was going on, he also found time to make a big impact on World Cup qualification.
His international debut came away to Bolivia in March 2016. He came off the bench with 10 minutes remaining. Colombia had let slip a two-goal first-half lead. At the extreme altitude of La Paz, the most likely narrative would have been for Bolivia to complete their comeback with a winning goal. Moreno changed the game from his position wide on the left. He put one on a plate for striker Luis Muriel. The keeper made a point-blank save. So Moreno did it again, setting up Edwin Cardona to win the game for Colombia. Without those two extra points, the Colombians would not have made it to Russia.
Soon afterward came his first international goal, scored against Costa Rica in the 2016 Copa Centenario. And then, with the Libertadores in the bag, Moreno made his move to Manchester City, who did not actually want him for their first team. He was sent out on loan.
This type of move can be complicated. The club taking him, in this case Deportivo La Coruna, had no long-term stake in his development. Moreno had talked of his ambition to be Colombia's best-ever European export. But there was no red carpet rolled out for him, and after 23 games and no goals, he was moved on for another loan spell at fellow La Liga club Girona. Here, things were even worse. After making just four appearances in half a season, the decision was taken to reunite him with Reinaldo Rueda, the coach who had helped make his name at Atletico Nacional. Rueda was in charge of Brazilian giants Flamengo, and so Moreno moved happily back to South America, keen to reacquire his momentum.
But before he had even arrived, Rueda had gone, tempted away by the Chile national team. Flamengo's subsequent coaches seemed not to know him or to want him. The club then made a record signing: Vitinho, a player who operated in the same position. It was clear, once more, that Moreno's opportunities would be limited.
He now leaves the club after a year in which he made 33 appearances -- most of them as a substitute -- and scored just one goal, the only time he has hit the back of the net since leaving Atletico Nacional. And even that goal is a case of "so near and yet so far." It was the game in late October that went some way toward defining the destiny of the Brazilian championship. Second-place Flamengo faced leaders Palmeiras in the Maracana stadium. A home win would cut Palmeiras' advantage to a single point. Flamengo were a goal down when an injured Vitinho was replaced by Moreno, who went on to give the Palmeiras right-back a nightmare 20 minutes. He ran through the defence to crash in the equaliser at the near post. He danced through once more and squared for new Milan signing Lucas Paqueta, who shot over when it seemed easier to score. A Flamengo win would have opened up the title race and given Moreno the chance to feel wanted in Rio. Instead, Palmeiras coasted to the title and Moreno is deemed surplus to requirements.
So now his fate is in the hands of Manchester City. What will City do with a young man urgently looking for another home where he can show the ability of those magical first 10 months, or those 20 minutes against Palmeiras?
At the age of 22, Marlos Moreno is desperate to show that the best times are still to come.