July 8, 2018


South America's World Cup is over but Uruguay are an example to everyone: Uruguay were eliminated in the quarter-finals in Russia but their approach to football - and life - should be applauded (Jorge Valdano, 8 Jul 2018, The Guardian)

When the most epic moment of Uruguayan football came, the famous Maracanazo, his figure took on heroic proportions. "There are 11 of them and 11 of us too" he told his team-mates in the tunnel, adding: "they're made of wood". Outside were 200,000 Brazilians who had no doubt that glory awaited them that day. But glory awaits no one. You have to go and find it. Legend has it that in the silence after Uruguay scored, Obdulio could be heard asking for "more blood". Given that every time we talk about Uruguay we talk about Garra Charrúa, that warrior spirit, it is appropriate to clarify here that the blood he demanded was that of his team-mates, not his opponents. There is mythology too, the tales are not always entirely true: this Uruguay team in Russia has again demonstrated that.

In the midst of that surreal atmosphere, described as the "Waterloo of the tropics", Ghiggia scored the goal that my friend Mario celebrated, for the umpteenth time, in a café in Milan. A small country, proud in the best sense of the word, with players for whom humility appears to be a profession, continues to pay tribute to those who laid the first stones in the edifice of Uruguay's footballing glory, and in the best manner imaginable: by imitating them, or trying to.

 They fought for every centimetre of turf; killed for every ball; never felt like visitors anywhere
Obdulio was the incarnation of a great player. To define what it is that makes a great team, you need only hear the story of Jorge Fucile during the 2010 quarter-final when Uruguay played Ghana. Fucile offered to sacrifice himself, volunteering to take the place of condemned man and cause celebre Luis Suárez. You will remember it: in the last second of the game, Suárez reached out with his hand to make a save on the goalline. Penalty, red card. With swift reflexes sharpened over thousands of games on the street, Fucile approached the referee and said: "You're right, sir. It was me: send me off." It didn't work but that's not really the point. The theory says that to be a true team-mate, you have to be prepared to subsume your individuality into that of the group, to put yourself at the service of the collective. Fucile did something that goes well beyond that: he was prepared to sacrifice the natural desire for glory that every footballer feels at a World Cup because he understood that Suárez was more necessary than he was in that battle and, if it came to it, in the next battle too. Ghana missed the penalty and Uruguay went through.

In 2018, Uruguay are still Uruguay. At this World Cup, they were the same collective they always were, a lesson in life and in defeat too. They appeared at the team hotel in shorts and flip flops, drinks of mate in hand. I feel admiration every time I see the first team to encounter footballing glory living with such extraordinary normality. Extraordinary and normality might seem mutually contradictory terms, but in this case and in these times they go together because remaining so normal having reached a footballing level this high is an almost heroic feat. And this is a subject worth pursuing. Given that more than one team departed the World Cup because of the sin of frivolity, afflicted by something approaching vanity, Uruguay pose a question: could it be that humility is more important than we think?

They have departed now, it is true, knocked out by France. But they did so on the same day as Brazil - a nation of three million against a country of 208 million. None of the countries in the Americas that dwarf them outlasted them. This is a loss, yes. But it is a lesson too. Uruguay are different, unique. They may lack the resources that others on the continent have in abundance, but they have something that those nations do not, that the rest could benefit from embracing. That allows Uruguay to compete, yet it goes beyond the pitch. It is lasting.

The BBC podcast had a great interview about Uruguay with Suarez's old strike-partner Diego Forlan.

Posted by at July 8, 2018 11:26 AM