The football team that has a country
“Whoever believes physical size and tests of speed or strength have anything to do with a soccer player’s prowess is sorely mistaken. Just as mistaken as those who believe that IQ tests have anything to do with talent or that there is a relationship between penis size and sexual pleasure. Good soccer players need not to be titans sculpted by Michelangelo. In soccer, ability is much more important than shape, and in many cases skill is the art of turning limitations into virtues.” – Eduardo Galeano, Uruguayan writer
Recently someone asked me where I was from and when I told him I was from Uruguay, he replied: “ohhhhh, that’s the football team that has a country, right?”
As funny as it may seem, it does have a bit of truth to it. Almost every country in the world has its own national football team, but in Uruguay the impression seems to be that it’s the other way around and it’s actually the football team that has a country.
Football is a big deal in Uruguay, a really big deal, and people take it very serious. It’s by far the most practiced sport in the country and it’s played not only in football fields, but also in parks, beaches, streets, school courtyards and other unimaginable places.
The history of Uruguayan football is full of glory and wonderful accomplishments; from the first World Cup, which we hosted and won, to the great current success of many Uruguayan football players in class A teams all over the world. We are in the Guinness book of records for having won more international tournaments than any other country.
One of the great mysteries of the world of sport is how a country so small and with so scarce population has given birth to so many successful and renowned professional football players and has earned so many international titles. It’s a real and undecipherable mystery, a miracle really.
For sure one of the main reasons is related to the fact the children start playing at a very early age and they take it very seriously. There is a children’s league here called Baby Football, FIFA TV recently did a short video about this phenomenon entitled: “The amazing secret of baby football”. Check it out:
Another interesting aspect is that Uruguayan football players are extremely courageous and play the sport with their hearts and souls, leaving everything in the field. A common expression used here during matches is “pone huevo!”, which means something like: “play with your balls!”. This clearly reflects the essence of how we conceive the sport. For us our players are like warriors, and they are worshipped as so. Here is a fair description of the character of Uruguayan players by Craig Foster:
You can see this emotional aspect of the sport in a video Diego Lugano, the captain of the Uruguayan national team, made to motivate the rest of the players during the last world cup:
Of course, when talking about football, not everything is a fairy tale in Uruguay. The sport can be taken to unhealthy extremes. People are very passionate about their local teams and acts of violence can occur. For many, football is like a religion. They worship their teams as if they were gods and acts of violence between fans of different teams is not uncommon. The Merrian-Webster online dictionary defines religion as “an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods”. This pretty much sums up what happens in Uruguay with football. The two biggest teams are Peñarol and Nacional, both with over a hundred years of history and many international accomplishments, basically divide the country in two.
Despite these occasional confrontations between local teams, Football in Uruguay is a way of life; it’s part of who we are and when the national team plays all barrios disappear and we are all one.