Roque Santa Cruz, Paraguay's legendary striker

Paraguayan football doesn't often get the credit it deserves and there are not a lot of players out there who have received a lot of recognition in the grand scheme of things. This is weird because the country has a rich football culture, has participated in some World Cups, and some of their clubs have won the Copa Libertadores, with Olimpia being the best example of this.

Roque Santa Cruz
Among the Paraguayan footballers who have achieved a lot in the game, Roque Santa Cruz is probably one of the names being mentioned. It makes sense: a Paraguayan striker who was part of Bayern Munich has enough reason to be prominent. In that regard, here are some of the most significant details of Santa Cruz's career and why he is so important to his country in the grand scheme of things.

Early days and Bayern

It's safe to say that Santa Cruz's beginnings at Olimpia, the biggest club in Paraguay, showed how he was destined for big things from the get-go. He was added to Olimpia's senior team when he was just 15 years old, got his professional debut at 16 years of age back in 1997, and went to make his debut with the Paraguay national team at 17 years of age in the Copa America, scoring three goals in three games.

While Paraguay had some interesting talents over the years, young Roque was definitely something special and this was confirmed in the transfer window of 1999: Bayern Munich came knocking and decided to pay 7 million dollars for his transfer, making him the highest deal in Paraguayan football history at the time.

It's also worth pointing out that, in May 16 of 1999, Bayern had sent a delegation made out of Franz Beckenbauer, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Uli Hoeneß, Søren Lerby and Giovanni Branchinni to watch Santa Cruz play and he scored during that match, making a very good first impression.

However, despite the promise, his time at Bayern was ultimately uneven and lacking a lot of consistency. While he won every single trophy with the German giants, including the 2000/01 UEFA Champions League, the truth of the matter is that Santa Cruz never fully adapted to life in Germany and was never the consistent goalscorer Bayern wanted him to be.

During his eight years at Bavaria he had to compete with the likes of Giovane Élber, Claudio Pizarro, and Roy Makaay for the striker position, which ultimately led to him realizing that it was time for a change in the summer of 2007. A move to Spain's Real Betis collapsed, so Roque decided to look at the Premier League.

The Premier League and the journeyman route

Roque Santa Cruz's move to Blackburn Rovers in the summer of 2007 was a bit divisive, depending on the person's perspective. While most fans agreed that he had struggle to amaze at Bayern, Blackburn supporters were excited to see what he could do and the truth of the matter is that the Paraguayan didn't disappoint in that first season, scoring a total of 23 goals in 43 games across all competitions.

This was the version of the player that everybody wanted to see and he was proving his worth in the Premier League, which is why his running issues with injuries were even more annoying to the average football fan. He scored a total of 6 goals in 27 games across all competitions, which is something that showed how much of a decline he had in terms of output and availability.

The former Bayern man eventually signed for Manchester City for the 2009/10 season in a 17.5 million pounds deal. Santa Cruz reunited with his former Blackburn manager, Mark Hughes, and played regularly while he was there, but things changed when Roberto Mancini took over as head coach because he didn't fancy Roque that much and decided to replace him.

Santa Cruz had a short spell on loan with Blackburn in the second half of the 2010/11 but never managed to play regularly because of injury problems. The same can be said about his time in Real Betis and Malaga in Spain, and while he signed for the latter on a permanent basis and had some good moments in their iconic 2012/13 UEFA Champions League run, he never hit the stride most people were expecting of him.

Back to South America and the national team

It's fair to say that Santa Cruz had a very good run with the Paraguay national team as he played in three World Cups (2002, 2006, and 2010) and was part of the side coached by Gerardo Martino that lost the 2011 Copa America final to Uruguay. He ended up with a total of 32 goals in 112 games with the national team, often working as the team's symbol and leader because of his career in Europe.

After a short stint in Mexico and a brief return to Malaga, Roque Santa Cruz came back to Olimpia in the summer of 2016. He was a huge presence for the side, scoring a lot of goals and leading to several league titles, basically cementing his place as one of the club's top players, but there were some issues that bubbled into the surface when he signed for rivals Libertad in 2022.

Olimpia was in debt with Santa Cruz and didn't pay him what he was owed, so he packed his bags and head to Libertad where he is currently playing at 42 years of age. He also holds the record of the oldest goalscorer in the Copa Libertadores at 40 years of age.
Kelvin Tingling knows most things about football and also likes to write about it. Kelvin lives in Buenos Aires and his favorite team is Boca Juniors.