BACK in 2014 Manchester City took a £3million punt on 19-year-old Argentine central midfielder Bruno Zuculini.
It was not a success.
Getty Images – Getty6 River Plate star Bruno Zuculini is a symbol of the chaos currently reigning in South American football
Getty Images – Getty6 The Man City flop was supposed to be banned for the start of the Copa Libertadores – but was allowed to play and could now start the final against rivals Boca Juniors
Zuculini had been pitched into first division football in Argentina with Racing at a frighteningly young age, and was a consolidated first-team player with 100 games under his belt when he moved to England.
But it was a case of premature physical development rather than outstanding talent.
On the other side of the Atlantic, in a higher level of football, he made little impression. His entire competitive career with City was reduced to half an hour as a substitute in the 2014 Community Shield.
After that, he spent the next three and a half years bouncing around Spain, Greece and Italy, with a handful of games at Middlesbrough, before moving back to Argentina at the start of the year to join River Plate.
Getty Images – Getty6 Boca Juniors face hated rivals in the final of the Copa Libertadores for the first time ever
He has not been much of a success back home, either. And yet he stands as a symbol of South American football in 2018.
Back in February Zuculini was in the starting line-up when River Plate began their campaign in the Copa Libertadores, South America’s Champions League.
They were away to Brazilian giants Flamengo.
The match was played behind closed doors – a punishment for previous misdemeanours by Flamengo’s fans.
Getty – Contributor6 Santos midfielder Carlos Sanchez should also have served a ban but was allowed to play
It meant that there was next to no one in the ground to see how off the pace Zuculini was.
He was hauled off in the second half and dropped to the bench – where he spent the next six games in the campaign, twice making second-half appearances.
But he should not have been on the team-sheet.
Back in 2013, before he joined City, Zuculini had been sent off playing for Racing against Lanus in the Copa Sudamericana, the Europa League equivalent. He was handed a four-match suspension.
In 2016, as part of the celebrations of the centenary of the South American Confederation, all such bans were halved.
So he still had two games left to serve.
Getty Images – Getty6 Carlos Tevez and Boca team-mates host the first leg of the Copa Libertadores this Saturday
But no one remembered.
Merely for having his name on the team-sheet, River should have forfeited the game, which would be awarded 3-0 to the opposition – but this does not happen automatically.
The rules state that the opposing club have to register their protest within 24 hours of the final whistle.
As no one had noticed that Zuculini was carrying a suspension, River were in the clear.
Once the truth came to light, he sat out his two-game ban during the knock out stages and then resumed his place on the bench.
Others have not been so lucky.
AP:Associated Press6 River Plate players celebrate after reaching the final of the competition
During the World Cup, Santos of Brazil signed Uruguayan international midfielder Carlos Sanchez.
He had been in Mexico for a while but was carrying a suspension from a previous spell in Argentina.
Sanchez had clearly forgotten, Santos failed to check, and he lined up in a 0-0 draw away to Independiente of Argentina.
Independiente protested and were awarded the game on a 3-0 margin – which, after a second goalless draw, was the margin of the victory which took them through to the quarter-finals, where they met River.
Back from his ban, Zuculini came on for the last 20 minutes of River’s 3-1 win. He has not been seen since.
But he is in serious contention for the big one.