South America voted differently. Today the best player of 1979 seems natural choice – but it was not so back in time. There is peculiar trouble: the big names of the 1970s were shaky and not exactly successful. Journalists were torn between natural inclination to elect well known for years players, but since they were not satisfying a radical change perhaps was in order. The top ten reveals a clear split: Passarella was 8th, Kempes – suffering from injuries – 9th. Fillol – 4th. These won the world championship in 1978 – but were nothing a year later... Zico was 5th – the 'White Pele' still had no real victory with neither club, nor national team. The Uruguayan Fernando Morena was 6th – clearly a sympathy vote, for he played for small Spanish club – Rayo Vallecano – and was hardly noticed in Europe. Similar was the case of Carlos Caszely – the Chilean was never a big international news and perhaps was not as good as he was 5 years back. But he was well known name. The old guard was carried on reputation really – and compared to stars from the 1960s, may be found not so great. Argentina and Uruguay had miserable Copa America. Brazil also did not shine. Yet, the Paraguayans,who won both Copa America and Copa Libertadores were hardly great stars – interestingly, not a single player of Olimpia (Asuncion) made the top 10 and only one Paraguayan was included in it. The journalists went for the future – they voted for the young players, who were to really bloom in the next decade. May be a bit premature shift, but it was better than electing some old horse only because he played fantastic football 5 or 10 years ago. The next generation was represented by 4 players – the Argentine striker Ramon Diaz was 10th, his strength was largely based on the second Under-20 World Championship, which Argentina won and he was the top scorer of the finals. And this was the objective problem... great players normally play for highly successful teams. Unfortunately, this was not the case this year and it was very difficult to justify votes. At the end, even the final standing may have been affected by calculations of success – the top three places went to future stars. Falcao was 3rd, perhaps the only more or less established player among the top three, but just beginning to be a key player for Brazil. Unfortunately for him, no international success – Internacional Porto Alegre won the Brazilian title, but that was all – Brazil did not excel this year. Second was Julio Cesar Moreno. For many – not just a rival of Maradona, but better than the Argentine. But... Moreno played for a small club – Sportivo Luqueno was the best provincial club of Paraguay, yet, not capable of overcoming the clubs from the capital. The Paraguayan league was small and compared to Brazil, Argentina, even Chile and Peru – a weaker one. Moreno really shined at Copa America and was instrumental to the victory of his country, but perhaps even this counted a bit against him: Argentina and Brazil played with strange teams, as if they did not care for the continental tournament. First was Diego Maradona – but what can be said about his success? Like Moreno, he played for a smaller club – Argentinos Juniors were not bad, they had more than just Maradona, but they achieved nothing in the Argentinian championships. The national team was even worse. Maradona himself hardly played at Copa America. Yes, he was sensational, scored goals, the fans adored him, but without trophies it was difficult to judge him the best. Perhaps the Under-20 World championship tipped the scale in his favour – he captained Argentina to the title. Junior title... His teammate Osvaldo Rinaldi said “Before every match, Diego played with the ball, putting it on his neck or his shoulders while the Japanese people couldn't stop applauding him. When I would see this, I would say to myself: "Wow, and the show hasn't even started yet". True, but this was in Japan – before still young and unsophisticated audience, easily impressed. It may have been different, if Argentina lost the final – they played against USSR, which had a team of players soon to become more than known around the world. To a point, Argentina even had lesser team than the Soviets.
Standing from left: Sergio Garcia, Sperandio, Carabelli, Rossi, Simon, H.Alves. First row: Barbas, Escudero, Ramon Diaz, Maradona, Calderon. At the final Sperandio was replaced by already mentioned Rinaldi. Junior teams are never big indication for future stardom – some players expire early, others develop later. Simon, Barbas, and Calderon eventually became stars. Ramon Diaz – bigger one than the previous three. The rest faded into oblivion... a junior team. Maradona won with it – the only victory he had this year, not the same as winning Copa America, but combined with his impressive play for his club, it sufficed.
Diego Maradona, still teenager, but already captaining Argentinos Juniors, was voted the best South American player.
Perhaps boringly familiar picture now – Maradona scored yet another goal – but it was new back than. It was matches like this one – he destroyed Boca Juniors with fantastic goals, despite the vicious tackles – which perhaps counted more than the junior world title. Maradona had arrived. May be it was even good that most established names of that time underperformed – Maradona became more visible.