This player could have played for Manchester United, Real Madrid, Barcelona, or any club in Europe, according to Marcello Lippi. So talented was Argentine playmaker Dario Conca, that he would become the third-highest paid player in the world in 2011 behind Cristiano Ronaldo and countryman Lionel Messi.
The reason you may never have heard of Conca is because he spent the best years of his career in China – before it was in vogue to do so. Here he is in action:
People noticed him, and – if history was anything to go by when a player was tearing it up in Brazil – he looked destined to make the move to Europe.
But Conca chose to move to Guangzhou Evergrande instead for a then-Chinese Super League record of $10million. Not only had they splashed the cash on his fee, but Conca was paid a staggering £167,000 per week.
Guangzhou won’t have regretted their big-money transfer either, as Conca and his team-mates delivered success, the Argentine scoring 33 goals in 65 games from midfield and helping the club become the most successful team in the league’s history.
But his first spell in China wasn’t without its low moments. After being substituted while 1-0 up against Jeonbuk Hyundai, Conca was furious after watching his side go on to lose 3-1 from the bench.
‘I don’t understand why they always sideline me with the excuse that I’m exhausted and need rest. How could I have scored a crucial penalty if I’m not in condition? And why does the coach always have Conca take a rest?’ He said, of coach Lee Jang-Soo. His comments and the subsequent fall-out would earn him a nine-game ban from his own club, leaving him in limbo under Lee. But Lippi’s arrival in 2012 would improve Conca’s relationship with the club markedly.
Led by Lippi, Guangzhou won the Asia Champions League in 2013 (Conca was second-top scorer with eight goals), but Guangzhou would lose their talisman in 2014, when he returned to Fluminense.
But Conca was lured back to China a year later by none other than Sven-Goran Eriksson, manager of Shanghai SIPG.
Now 33, Conca played alongside Brazil forward Hulk in a Chinese Super League that has shifted since his time there. Jackson Martinez, Alex Texeira and Ramires are just a few of his fellow South American talents to have since joined the revolution.
Conca is now in his third spell at Fluminense, on loan from his Chinese parent club.