(22 Mar 2017) With the lure of international football holding an increasing wealth of riches, in Argentina home to global super stars like Lionel Messi the goal of becoming the next big thing shines bright and hangs heavy over a throng of young hopefuls.
The children in this concrete court located in a Buenos Aires working class neighbourhood play for Club Social Parque. It’s the same talent factory where some of the games greats like Diego Maradona, Carlos Tevez and Juan Roman Riquelme once honed their skills as children.
Ramon Maddoni, the legendary head of scouting at the club can recite by heart the names of the dozens of kids that he has coached over nearly four decades, and who went on to play with Argentina’s national team and some of Europe’s top clubs.
One of the up and coming talents at “Parque” is seven-year-old Benjamin Palandella.
Maddoni says he can pass with his back turned, he uses both legs, and he sees some of Riquelme in the way he moves the ball and some of ‘Carlitos’ Tevez in how he uses his hands and leans backward.
But for the thousands of talented youngsters like Palandella, only a small percentage will become elite players in the hyper competitive world of professional soccer.
“Most of them won’t make it because of several life circumstances,” said Maddoni.
While professional teams closely follow the academies scouting their next diamond in the rough, some will struggle along the way to overcome the psychological pressure at home or on the field.
During a children’s league game played on a recent weekend in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, some parents cling on to a metal fence and scream as if this was the World Cup final, hurling insults at the referee. A coach barks orders at their kids on the sideline.
Thiago “Coco” Perugini, is another of the top young talents from Club Parque. The 12-year-old is so skillful that he was invited to play the game with kids two years older than him.
“The environment is very competitive,” said Thiago’s mom, Karina Estrada.
She said the children have a lot of pressure from all the parents.
In some ways the business of football in Argentina has become a victim of its own success, leaving the sport facing a quagmire of problems. It is home to some of the world’s greatest players, but also fan violence, endemic corruption and several generations of soccer bosses, trainers and scouts who run the often unregulated business of discovering and selling young promises.
“Unfortunately in this country that we live in there are a lot of extreme circumstances, where it seems the mark of happiness or success is all about money and in many cases the parents associate football along with this”, said former professional player, Leonel “Pipa” Gancedo.
Gancedo had a long international career playing with some of Argentina’s biggest names before plying his trade among Europe’s most renowned clubs.
He said it’s critical that they have responsible people taking care of their development.
It’s not even easy for the only five-time World Player of the Year and one of the best players of all time.
Messi, who moved to Barcelona at age 13. Although one of sports biggest names, the 29 year old has often faced criticism in Argentina because he has failed to deliver the country a major title – in contrast to his repeated success at Barcelona.
When he announced his shock retirement from Argentina’s national team last year, sports figures, artists and even the president urged him to return. It came after Argentina lost the final of the Copa America in the United States – his third final lost in three years, after the Copa America 2015 and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
A couple of months later, he reversed his decision, saying that his love for the country and the shirt is too great.
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