There is plenty of support for the racist notion that footballers from other than European cultures are not to be trusted

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A bleak day on Wearside, snow in the air, a harsh wind whipping in off the North Sea. Steve Perryman's eyes were on his new-found friend, Osvaldo Ardiles. "Terrific player, no question about that, and full of running,'' the former Tottenham Hotspur captain said, "but how would he perform in rotten conditions?''

Well, without a whimper. "Great pro that he was, Ossie just got on with it,'' Perryman added. "That match at Roker Park removed all doubts about him."

If unaware that winters in Ardiles' homeland can be bone-chillingly damp, reservations Perryman held about the little Argentinian were understandable, a subliminal response to xenophobic stereotyping.

Such notable imports as Eric Cantona, Jurgen Klinsmann and Andre Kanchelskis may have seen off the pathetic notion of weak- hearted foreigners but the prejudice still exists. When applied to players from South America, especially Brazil, it prompts one cliche after another. Wait until winter comes. They don't like it up 'em. Suspect temperament. The beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema get mentioned so often you would think that every Brazilian footballer hails from Rio.

This is as daft as the proposition that Bryan Robson must have been off his head when signing Juninho, Branco (who left quickly) and Emerson for Middlesbrough. I have heard it said, and it is true, I am sure, that agents are behind the difficulties Robson is experiencing with his overseas contingent, particularly in the case of Emerson, whose delayed return from compassionate leave last week caused a great deal of conjecture.

But from the comments in one or two newspapers you can't help thinking that there is plenty of peripheral support for the unavoidably racist notion that footballers from other than European cultures, whatever their colour, are not to be trusted; gifted maybe, but feckless, here today gone tomorrow mercenaries. When managing Newcastle, was not Jim Smith driven almost to distraction by Mirandinha?

Of course they come for the money and, for all its passionate frenzy, an easier passage in the Premiership. Did Ravanelli's face light up simply at the thought of spending some time on Teesside? Was relief from the brutality of Brazil's leagues enough to persuade Juninho that it was in his interests to go there?

In one popular print last week a photograph of Emerson's smart home near Middlesbrough was juxtaposed alongside the modest apartment he has in Brazil. That and more money than Pele ever drew; to ridicule Emerson's complaint that his girlfriend, Andrea, cannot settle.

Anyone would think that British footballers by comparison are hardy, sophisticated travellers. For Emerson read Jimmy Greaves, whose brief period with Milan was one of escalating unhappiness. Greaves maintained a remarkable goalscoring record but was constantly at odds with Milan's stern coach, Nero Rocco. Aware that his wife, Irene, found a great city less than enticing too, Greaves leaped at an opportunity to sign for Tottenham. "We couldn't wait to get home,'' he said.

Denis Law sensed that he had made a mistake almost from the moment he joined Torino from Manchester City to play alongside Joe Baker. They were soon back, Law joining Manchester United where he entered the most prolific phase of his career. During the 1990 World Cup we sat drinking tea in Turin before Scotland played Brazil. I asked Law if he remembered much about the place. "Nothing,'' he said. "Couldn't show you anything. The short time I spent here is almost a blank, not entirely a bad memory, but all Joe and I thought about was getting back home.''

Ian Rush was miserable throughout the short time he spent in Turin playing for Juventus, learning little of the language, lost in a strange culture.

Others fared better. John Charles was a huge success when turning out for Juventus and is still revered throughout Italy, far more so than he is in this country. "It suited me,'' Charles said. "I was comfortable there, and I think that registered with the Italian people. Whenever I go back they make a big fuss of me.''

Liam Brady, Graeme Souness, Ray Wilkins, Trevor Francis and David Platt made the transition to Italian football without difficulty. Gary Lineker settled down quickly in Barcelona.

The truth is, of course, that some footballers, in common with people generally, travel better than others. I've known boxers who felt homesick after spending two weeks in a training camp, sportswriters who couldn't wait to get home after two weeks on the road.

To suggest that Robson should have confined his gambling instinct to the racecourse does not account for human nature. If there is any justice the boldness will come right for him.

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