Barnsley's foreign legion

It is not just Liverpool who will be packed with overseas talent at Anfield today. The Yorkshire club contains players from all over the world as well, as Jon Andrew reports
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"When you are talking football, using tactics boards and videos, it is one language and everyone understands," says Simon Davey, the Barnsley manager. For all other eventualities, there is Dennis Souza, the Brazilian centre-half whose auxiliary role at Oakwell is that of translator in the most cosmopolitan dressing room below the Premier League.

"I speak French and a little Spanish," says the modest Souza. You can add Portuguese and Italian to the list of tongues the multilingual 28-year-old has been required to summon since arriving in South Yorkshire last August and joining a Tykes squad stuffed with 15 different nationalities.

The rapid flow of foreign players into the Premier League over the years is well known. But the days when England's top division had a monopoly on the foreign market are disappearing just as quickly. However many imports step off Rafael Benitez's carousel in today's FA Cup fifth round tie at Anfield, each will probably find a fellow foreigner facing the other way in Barnsley colours.

If, for instance, Fernando Torres wins his fitness race to lead the Liverpool attack, he will find the imposing Sao Paolo-born Souza in his way. If Lucas Leiva is chosen to work the gaps in midfield, he will discover the diminutive Spaniard Diego Leon snapping at his heels, aided by another Brazilian, the former Everton player Anderson de Silva. Fabio Aurelio's attributes at left-back will likely be tested by the Jamaican winger, Jamal Campbell-Ryce, at some stage. And if Barnsley's on-loan Welsh striker (with Italian roots) Daniel Nardiello fails to puncture Benitez's back four, Davey will simply summon a Hungarian (Istvan Ferenczi) or a Nigerian (Kayode Odejayi) from the bench.

Then there is the Dutchman (Marciano van Homoet), the Dane (Kim Christensen) and the Portuguese (Tininho), all competing for a place in Davey's squad today. Meanwhile, the injured German goalkeeper and Oakwell cult hero Heinz Müller – famous for saving penalties blindfolded on YouTube – will watch his team-mates with envy.

"A lot of clubs in the Championship have got foreign players," protests Davey, who implemented a new European scouting network at Barnsley after being appointed manager in November, 2006, and will select at least half-a-dozen of his imports today. "We are just getting noticed because this club hasn't been down that road much before." Previous Oakwell dips into the foreign market have been nothing if not memorable – the Macedonian striker Georgi Hristov's denunciation of Barnsley women as "ugly" in 1998 sparked provincial outrage – but the current influx seems to sit rather more comfortably with supporters, 6,000 of whom will be at Anfield today.

Leon, a former Real Madrid junior who Davey snapped up from Grasshoppers Zurich last August, is a picture of confusion when asked if he knows what Havant & Waterlooville almost did to Liverpool in the fourth round. Perhaps his knowledge of Conference South football isn't quite up to scratch, or maybe it's because tales of unsettling Benitez's stars are nothing new to him.

"I played against Liverpool one time before, in pre-season with Grasshoppers two years ago," the Spaniard recalls, in halting English. "The big stars were playing – Gerrard, Crouch, Carragher – but we played very well and we won 2-0. So maybe soon I can say I have won twice against Liverpool.

"I hope that Torres is playing, and that I can get his shirt, because my brother is a big fan of him. But of course, I hope we win and maybe he will ask for my shirt."

Leon has settled so snugly into Yorkshire life that he is unlikely to lash out, Hristov-style. The married 24-year-old confesses to having some issues with the local accent, but is confident enough to cope with Davey's English-only dressing room language policy. For the more testing moments, he simply perches next to Souza.

"Diego's English is not so bad," insists the big Brazilian, whose accent is pure Sao Paulo until he refers to "the gaffer", "Kidda" and "Kel" (respectively: Davey, his number two Ryan Kidd and first-team coach Kelham O'Hanlon). "Sometimes I have to help one or two of the players out. But everyone has to speak English in the changing room, in training and on the pitch.

"The theory of the gaffer is you have to understand 100 per cent what he wants for the team. If you use a language other than English, it can be complicated."

Souza arrived at Oakwell from Charleroi last summer and has been such a success at centre-half this season that club captain Paul Reid has been deposed from the team and deemed surplus to requirements by Davey. "Before, I never heard anything about Barnsley or this division," Souza confesses. "But I played in Belgium for seven years before, so I knew all about the snow and the cold.

"I feel fine with my adaptation to England, no problem. Barnsley make it easy for the players coming from outside. The people at the club, they help me a lot. Sometimes I am shopping and have some problems with understanding, and I have to call somebody in the office to help me. But it is a good place and I am happy."

One of Davey's earliest delves into the overseas scene came on transfer deadline day in January last year, when he introduced the little-known Hungarian pair Ferenczi and Peter Rajczi to a surprised Barnsley public. Rajczi's success was limited, but Ferenczi's goals, which helped the Tykes avoid relegation to League One, convinced the manager of the value of his new foreign policy.

"We have to look everywhere for our players," says Davey, the former Carlisle and Preston midfielder. "We have tried to get the best we can within our budget, to try and get a few that aren't on the normal radar, and to assemble an attractive football team that has good, athletic players.

"Sometimes you find that English players price themselves out of the market with their wage demands. This country is the place to play, everyone wants to be here ... it hasn't been hard to convince the foreign players to come to Barnsley.

"The staff at the club help them with their apartments, with paying the bills and getting their kids into school. A lot of them live in Sheffield, which is a cosmopolitan city with Portuguese and Brazilian restaurants, so it is a home from home for many of them.

"Getting them up to the tempo of English football is the challenge, but most of them have played in Europe already, even the Brazilians, so it doesn't take too long. Another advantage is that some of the clubs in our division have a lot of history, but a lot of my players haven't got a clue who used to play for Ipswich or Plymouth or Southampton. They don't get daunted by past reputations. Having said that, they do know exactly how important the FA Cup is."

Today's tie is a considerable challenge for a mid-table Championship team whose most recent results – a 2-1 win over West Bromwich last Saturday and a 3-0 slump at Plymouth three days later – sum up oscillating fortunes this season. Another mighty task for Davey and his foreign legion is guessing the starting eleven that Benitez will select. Souza has known English football for little more than six months, but recognises the futility in attempting to read the Spanish manager's mind.

"I can't choose the players I have to face," he says, nonplussed by mention of leaping against Crouch for a high ball or marking the £20.5m Torres. "All we know is we have to be double stronger than Liverpool. The FA Cup is the most difficult competition in the world, but nothing is impossible. It's going to be one game I don't forget in my career."

The Tykes of all nations

* Brazil: Anderson de Silva (25, midfielder); Dennis Souza, (28, centre-back)

* Denmark: Kim Christensen (27, striker)

* Germany: Heinz Muller (29, goalkeeper)

* Hungary: Istvan Ferenczi (30, striker)

* Jamaica: Jamal Campbell-Ryce (24, winger)

* Netherlands: Marciano van Homoet (23, full-back)

* Nigeria: Kayode Odejayi (25, striker)

* Peru: Miguel Mostto (31, striker – on loan at Coronel Bolognesi)

* Spain: Diego Leon (24, midfielder).

* Trinidad & Tobago: Tony Warner (33, goalkeeper – on loan from Fulham)

Barnsley also have 14 Englishmen, four Welshman, three from the Republic of Ireland and one Scot.

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