The last decade or so has ushered in a new wave of footballing talent from our wee little country the likes of which haven’t been seen before. Uruguay for such a small country has produced some major talent that has graced leagues all over Europe and the rest of the world. Playing for the most regal of clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Manchester United, and Inter Milan. Making waves wherever they go, in whichever patch of grass they stomp their feet on, Uruguayan players have made an indelible mark that is hard to ignore and is quite simply put uniquely Uruguayan. During that time many of these players have had the good grace to represent their national team with honour, pride and distinction, knowing full well that the light blue shirt that they are wearing is not just a piece of fabric but a piece of history and a core piece of national identity. As if the sole embodiment and spirit of an entire nation is etched and weaved into a light blue football shirt. The recent exploits of Uruguay at the World Cup and Copa America are perfect examples of the garra charrua which cannot possibly be reproduced or re-enacted by any other national team no matter how good they are on earth! There have been several players who have worn the shirt with pride and vigour and some who…well…let’s just say the less said about them the better. And there have been the not too uncommon case of the footballer who deserves a chance with the sky blue jersey but has been criminally ignored wether for known or disclosed reasons. Players who could have made a positive mark on the field with Uruguay, but were given very little to no chance at all. For that these players are forever known as……the “couldabeen champions”. Here are some examples.
Walter “Mr. Sweaty” Pandiani has officially entered the twiglight of his career, having signed with second division side Villareal where his son Nico plays in the youth team. Since his days in Penarol in the late 90’s Pandiani has been scoring goals freely earning the nickname “El Rifle” for his goal scoring clout. During the peak of his career Pandiani had been scoring goals in La Liga for shits and giggles on a continuous basis. He was undoubtedly one of the most prolific goal scorers in the Spanish league for the past decade leaving his inimitable style and mark on whichever club he played for. However in his time he has only ever managed 4 caps for the sky blue of Uruguay most notably playing in the infamous Centenariazo of 2004 against Venezuela. His club form continued to peak however to the extent that his name was earmarked as a must have for the 2010 World Cup Squad. Unfortunately it was not to be and he did himself no favours for future call ups by personally criticizing Tabarez and his selections (saying he’s a good coach but a horrible person unlike Pinchon Nunez who was the other way around) Pandiani’s seleccion career has well and truly expired. El Rifle, man of immense talent who was never really given a chance at international level.
Santiago “El Tanque” Silva has been nothing short of a leviathan in Argentina. Sure his brief stint at Fiorentina wasn’t a success but he most defiantly has made his home in Argentina with excellent spells at Estudiantes, Banfield, Velez and currently at giants Boca. His goal scoring ability and size make him a handful for any opposition defender, yet since 2007 El Tanque has been systematically ignored by Tabarez, prompting instead to elect a list of others into the national set up at various intervals. His presence in the national team is not only long overdue and well deserved but could add that little bit of strength and guile that has been sorely missing up front in recent times. So far not much has changed in the fortunes of El Tanque which is a shame because he is more than anyone deserving of an opportunity to clunk down the field in a sky blue jersey. Rodrigo Mora and Carlos Sanchez who coincidently also ply their trade in Argentina may end up in the same boat as Silva, along with Penarol’s Juan Manuel Olivera likely to join the club of most deserving non players for la seleccion too.
Marcelo Tejera has plied his trade in Argentina, Italy, England and Mexico playing as the small, blonde streak of attacking midfield lightning at various clubs like Boca, Southampton and Tecos UAG. He was a little unfortunate to be playing during the time of Bengochea, Francescoli, Aguirregaray, and many others so competition for places was a little too hard. After a handful of caps in the early to mid 90’s Tejera made a brief comeback after Fossati bowed down to public demand (unlike someone we know) and capped him for a friendly against Spain in 2005, after that Tejera never played for La Celeste again. His attacking flair and flamboyant play making would have been a perfect fit for today’s Uruguay or indeed any era, however for “El Bambino” it was not to be. Why he was not called up again after the Spain match remains unknown.
Ivan Alonso was the driving force that propelled Alaves into a major Spanish side in the early 2000’s. From a mere small club to a contender for the UEFA cup Alonso’s goals had helped the modest team reach nebular heights. Recently at Toluca in Mexico he started to show glimpses of his former self scoring freely at will, but a heart problem caused him to have a recess and return to Nacional. Despite his goal scoring form he never got to play for Uruguay, only being called up on the rare occasion and even missed out on playing during the 2001 Copa America where he was seen as a chance to lead a young team to glory. I guess it was not meant to be.
Juan Albin, Alvaro Nunez and Pablo Granoche are 3 players who have done well in Spain and Italy respectively but have made only minor dints with la seleccion when given a rare chance. Albin has been a whirwind of talent in La Liga but had been overlooked constantly by Tabarez, while workhorse like Granoche was given one cap by Fossati against Mexico along with other Mexican based players. Since then he has never been in contention despite his form in Italy. Alvaro Nunez had been under the sticks at Numancia for almost a decade after his transfer from Rentistas. Despite being captian and doyen of the club for several trying seasons he was given only 2 chances with la seleccion. Carini was the number 1 while Munua was the understudy with Berbia and Elduayen fighting for third place, and thus Nunez was never really taken seriously by selectors, which is a pity.
There has been the rare case where a player has had to retire early due to injury forcing Uruguay to potentially miss out on excellent servants to the cause. With Inti Podesta in Spain and Adrian Sarkissian in France retiring early through injury both young midfielders missed out on a promising career for their clubs and country. Podesta had 2 caps while Sarkissian only 1 against Galicia. What impact either would have had in a growing side with new players is still a moot point.
Through, injury, bad luck and ignorance some of this countries brightest gems for whatever reasons have not been granted licence to shine on the world stage with Uruguay. Although there is still time for some of the players mentioned in this article the opportunity to play for Uruguay still remains lukewarm at the very best. There have been players who seemingly haven’t merited the honour of wearing the sky blue jersey but yet have done so on some and in other cases too many occasions (Cono Aguiar, Marcelo De Souza, Sebastian Taborda, Sebastian Eguren just to name a few). While there have been many others who have never even been afforded the luxury to be called into a player’s camp or to go on the field for more than 1 opportunity (Sergio Orteman called up never played, OJ Morales 1 cap, Alexander Medina 1 cap). There are many other players that you can surely name that can join the list of those who have been great servants to Uruguayan football albeit without wearing the la celeste. Promising and in form players around the world and at home have missed out on leaving their unique imprint on the national side and who knows they may have even swung results our way in some matches, however this will always be the case and there will always be “couldabeen champions”.
Guest Writer: In_your_bright_ray