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Why Does Córdoba Province Produce So Many Players?


The province of Córdoba in Argentina has produced numerous players of note. Franco Vázquez, Javier Pastore and Paulo Dybala are some of the contemporary names, but it is a proud history that goes back much further than that.

In Argentina, perhaps only Buenos Aires and Santa Fe can surpass it.


    • Three traditional clubs in the provincial capital of Córdoba city with motive to seek out the best players in its interior: Belgrano, Instituto and Talleres.
    • Legendary scouts such as Santos Turza, a flamboyant character who bears a striking resemblance to the late wrestling great Dusty Rhodes. He has worked at Instituto for more than 40 years. From neighbourhood kickabouts to a kid doing keepy-uppies in a bus station car park, wherever talent is to be found, he is there.
    • Francisco Buteler, coach of Dybala at youth level at Instituto de Córdoba: “Why Buenos Aires, Santa Fe and Córdoba? Because in addition to having spaces to play in, they are also provinces that are more or less affluent. The kids are well fed. Because if you go to Rioja, Cajamarca, Jujuy or Salto you will also find kids who do amazing things with the ball. But they are undernourished and have a different mentality. In my time at Instituto and also at Talleres, we brought in a number of kids from those provinces, but they were always weak in relation to players from other areas. Or they missed their homes: they were often 300-1,000 kilometres away and found it difficult to adapt.”
    • Pablo Álvarez, head of youth teams at Instituto de Córdoba: “I don’t know if it’s the geography or the inherent cheekiness and daring of the Cordobeses. That could be the reason…”
    • Walter Obregón, ex-player and coach of Dybala at Newell’s Old Boys of Laguna Larga: “Football is big in Córdoba. Very big. It is the most played sport and the most attractive. Córdoba has a lot of football players. It has a lot of kids playing, lots of leagues… And I think this means that more and more, the big clubs come here looking for players.”

This is part of a series of posts on football in Córdoba province intended to complement my feature for Bleacher Report: Paulo Dybala: A Story of a Son and his Father. All of the entries can be found here.


Weekend Reading

The lead character from Mario Benedetti‘s short story, Sábado de Gloria, from his collection Montevideanos, on the joy of waking up at the weekend, “Knowing that I can become serious and think about important topics like life, death, football and war.”

This weekend’s reading:

Newell’s Old Boys… de Laguna Larga

Paulo Dybala was born and raised in the small town of Laguna Larga in Córdoba province, Argentina. He played his first organised football at Sportivo, but when he later returned to Laguna Larga for a brief time, it was to play for the town’s other club: Newell’s Old Boys.


How did the famous red and black of Newell’s Old Boys of Rosario, the club where Lionel Messi was once a youth team player and which launched the careers of Jorge Valdano, Gabriel Batistuta and Mauricio Pochettino, among many others, end up in Laguna Larga?

In 1945, two neighbourhood teams, Estudiantes and Chacarita, decided to merge. They sent letters to all of the Primera Division sides in Argentina asking for shirts for their new team. None responded. However, later a traveller from Rosario came into town and said he would arrange for Newell’s Old Boys to comply.

They did, and in their honour, the new club took on not only their colours but their name too. And so Club Atlético y Biblioteca Newell’s Old Boys de Laguna Larga was born.

Before Dybala became internationally renowned, the club’s primary claim to fame had been a visit from Diego Maradona in 1993. Maradona was playing for Newell’s Old Boys in Rosario at the time and surprisingly accepted an invitation to dine at the club house of their namesake in Laguna Larga. More than 3,000 people turned up to greet him. The police and fire service had to set up temporary barricades to hold back the crowd. The local newspaper quipped that any robbers would have had a free run at the town that evening.

A clipping of that article and a shirt signed by Maradona hang proudly above the desk in the club office. On an adjacent wall, the distinctive pink of Dybala’s number 9 shirt at Palermo enjoys equal billing.

Last year, the club unveiled a mural to its most famous son, painted on the side of the solitary stand at their Juan E. Verdichio stadium.

This is part of a series of posts on football in Córdoba province intended to complement my feature for Bleacher Report: Paulo Dybala: A Story of a Son and his Father. All of the entries can be found here.


Zico At 65

Zico turns 65 today. Here is what Brian Glanville wrote of him in the 1982 edition of his Book of Footballers, before the displays at the 1982 and 1986 World Cups that would expose a much wider audience to Zico’s brilliance.


To celebrate his birthday, Zico has launched a craft beer club bearing his name. Each month, subscribers will receive a crate of a particular style of beer. Offerings will include Bitters, IPAs, Stouts and Porters.


Pelé In Valparaíso

During the 1962 World Cup in Chile, Brazil were based in Viña del Mar, where all of their group-stage fixtures were scheduled. But they trained and took part in warm-up matches in Valparaíso, a colourful, architectural hodgepodge of a port and home to one of Pablo Neruda’s residences.

The location of those sessions was the Estadio de la Compañía Chilena de Tabacos, a stadium built by the company of the same name for their workers based in the city. It served as a Sunday meeting place. The workers would play football, while their wives gossiped over picnics and their children frolicked amongst the nearby jacarandas and palm trees.

The visit of Brazil in 1962 left an impression on those who were fortunate enough to see them in action. “I was a kid and my friends and I went to watch Pelé, Garrincha. It was a real spectacle,” remembers Luis Zamora, later a gardener in the adjacent Jardín Suiza. “The pitch was like a pool table. It was so well-maintained.”

The photograph above supports his claims. The pitch is a crisp and clean and provides vibrant contrast for the bright yellow and two-tone blue of Pelé’s kit. Groups of well-dressed onlookers gather in the background. There is a clear sense of time and place.

The stadium no longer exists. It was sold to the Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez in the late 1990s. In 2013, the land in which it stood was purchased by the investment consortium behind the controversial Parque Pümpin development, which is currently paralysed following dogged demonstrations from local residents.

But the stadium still lives on in the memories of those who once gathered there.


Enterreno Chile – Estadio Sausalito in the 1940s

I recently came across Enterreno Chile, an ever-expanding, user-submitted archive of photographs of Chile. There are entries for all tastes, including a solid collection of football-related images.

The photograph below is of the Estadio Sausalito, perched on the edge of the Laguna Sausalito in Viña del Mar. It was taken in the 1940s. Since then, the stadium has twice been rebuilt following earthquake damage: first, in the build up to the 1962 World Cup following the Valdivia earthquake of 1960; secondly, following the 2010 earthquake that took more than 500 lives.


At the 1962 World Cup, the stadium played host to eight matches, including the quarter-final between Brazil and England.

The current football archive at Enterreno Chile also includes images of matches from the 1962 World Cup, the 1945 and 1951 Clásicos between Universidad de Chile and Universidad Católica, and of the Estadio Nacional in Santiago during various eras. Check it out here:


Book Review: Idols and Underdogs

Despite its status as the dominant sport in South America, football has traditionally been considered unworthy of serious intellectual treatment by many of the continent’s prominent thinkers. The tide does, however, slowly seem to be turning and in Idols and Underdogs (Freight Books, 2016), Shawn Stein and Nicolás Campisi have collected 11 contemporary short stories from the region that take football as their primary plot point.

The two standout entries are those from Sérgio Sant’Anna (Brazil) and Carlos Abin (Uruguay). Sant’Anna (further reading: The Extra Flight) uses the thought-train of a down-on-his-luck coach as a vehicle to expound his own football philosophy in the engaging In the Mouth of the Tunnel, while Abin’s The Final Penalty is a neat story of lives that intersect through football and a rumination on the tales we tell of childhood involvement in the game.

There is merit also in Edmundo Paz Soldán’s frantic retelling from ever-shifting perspectives of a murder on the pitch, in Juan Villoro’s story of a retired player who takes on an impossible coaching job in an isolated oil boom town and in Sergio Galarza’s tale of a boy from a conservative family seeking social acceptance through football.

But there are missteps too. Selva Almada’s exploration of the way in which women support the game never really finds its rhythm, while Football Inc. by Javier Viveros takes its time to reach coherence following a befuddling opening. As can often be the case in sports fiction, some of the on-field scenes struggle to engender emotional investment in their outcome.

The quality of the translation also varies. There are some fine passages but others that read a little awkwardly. Most jarringly for a book focused on football, some of the translations seem to display a lack of knowledge of the sport’s parlance. Goals are “made” instead of scored, a team is said to have scored “lots of ties” instead of lots of equalisers and a corner kick is referred to as a “corner shot”. A more thorough eye (or perhaps a bigger budget) could have yielded a better end product.

The stories are accompanied by author interviews that provide interesting, if brief, insights into how football is viewed at a cultural and societal level in each of the continent’s countries and the ways in which football and politics regularly intersect. But they too feel like somewhat of a missed opportunity, reading more as question-and-answer exercises than genuine conversations.

Idols and Underdogs serves as proof of football’s ability to carry a fictional narrative and provide a platform through which to explore societal issues, and those behind its publication should certainly be commended for adding something new to the literary gamut given that the majority of these authors have never before been translated into English. It is a worthwhile and at times engaging and enlightening read but one that struggles to achieve the consistency required for a title-winning effort.