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The slide of Peruvian football

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Tim Vickery | 15:01 UK time, Monday, 10 November 2008

When Peru burst on to the scene with beautiful and vibrant football in the 1970 World Cup, some compared them to the great Hungarian side of the 50s, most compared them to Brazil and all agreed that a new power had emerged.

Five years later they were South American champions - but it soon proved to be a tale of one generation, which had some good moments in the 1978 World Cup and fizzled out four years later. Peru were not too far off making it to Mexico 86, and only goal difference kept them out of France 98. But they have not been back to the World Cup since 1982, and barring a sporting miracle, they are not going to be in South Africa in 2010. With 10 of the 18 qualifying rounds completed, Peru are bottom of the table.

In 2005, when the country hosted the World Under-17 Cup, I had the privilege of running into Teofilo Cubillas, Scotland's executioner in 1978 and the brightest star of that 70s generation. Where, I asked him, had Peruvian football gone wrong?

He sighed and began by saying, "that's a big subject."

Teofilo Cubillas, v Poland, 1978

Three years later I suspect that an answer to the same question would be prefaced by a longer, deeper sigh. Peruvian football is now in utter chaos.

The country was set to stage the South American Under-20 Championship next January. On Friday it was replaced by Venezuela. The tournament could not go ahead in Peru because the government, through its sports institute (IPD) is in open conflict with the local FA (PFP), and especially its president Manuel Burga.

First elected in 2002, Burga and his team are accused of not bringing the FPF statutes in line with Peruvian law. The IPD gave him a five-year suspension, but in defiance of this Burga stood for re-election (a year late) and won a second mandate. As a consequence the IPD does not recognise Burga. It owns the stadiums that were to be used in the Under-20 Championship, and will not hand them over for use by a FPF under his administration.

It gets worse. Fifa traditionally takes a hard line on anything seen as government interference in FA matters. It has given a deadline of 21 November for problems to be sorted out or else Peru is facing a suspension.

It seems that the majority of Peruvians are in favour of the IPD's stance (I'm writing this while looking at an opinion poll where 87% blame the FPF for the current situation, and only 11% blame the IPD). Burga will hope that the support of Fifa will compensate for any lack of domestic backing, especially as a suspension from Fifa will exclude Peruvian clubs from international competition - which could prove a persuasive argument to rally forces to his side.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation, if Burga has lost the confidence of those in Peruvian football then his continued presence is surely counter-productive. But it is equally clear that changing the head of the PFP will not get close to solving all the problems.

One of the most striking aspects of contemporary Peruvian football is the cloying culture of negativity. Alone in South America, Peru has over the last 25 years developed a seedy tabloid press which specialises in grubby and falsely moralistic stories about footballers drinking and womanising.

After supposed high jinks following last year's draw with Brazil, some of Peru's top players were suspended from the national team - Pizarro (who still angrily declares his innocence), Farfan, Acasiete, Mendoza - players that Peru can hardly afford to leave out. One of Peru's top TV presenters is currently in prison after making unfounded remarks about the off-field behaviour of striker Guerrero. She was chasing the audience that such items seem to guarantee.

There is something very unhealthy about this fascination. There is no doubt that standards of professionalism in Peruvian football could improve. But there seems to be a dose of self-hatred in the local obsession with footballers straying off the straight and narrow, as if the reader is confessing that he too would succumb to the same temptations if he was in the same situation.

Former Peru player and coach Juan Carlos Oblitas has drawn attention to the insecurity and lack of self-esteem of the Peruvian players. His point is emphasised by the team's campaign in the current World Cup qualifiers.

Daniel Diaz, Argentina (left); Johan Fano, Peru (right)

They have yet to lose at home - despite playing Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, among others. They haven't played much football, but they have run and tackled and scrapped and tried to show the Lima crowd that they are not just a bunch of drunkards.

In their 5 away games, without the same emotional backing, they have collapsed, losing all 5, scoring 1, conceding 17.

"My generation were stronger physically and mentally," Cubillas told me three years ago. And there were other things on his mind - like the fact that in his day there were good coaches working in the state education system. As he says, the sad state of Peruvian football is a big subject.

Comments on the above piece in the space provided below - send your other questions on South American football to, and I'll pick out a couple next week.

A question about the 21-year-old Uruguayan striker Edison Cavani: Following his emergence at the South American Championship in 2007 he was wanted by AC Milan and Juventus before signing for Palermo. He has done well for them since he has been there, as well as featuring for his national team. He seems a strong centre forward with good finishing ability and has a good scoring rate for such a young player in Serie A. Do you think he would be suited to the Premier League? And in your opinion could he become one of Europe's best strikers?
Charlie Messenger

I picked him out in World Soccer magazine as one of the most promising players on show in the last South American Under-20 Championship, so I haven't been surprised by his progress. I was amazed by how hard he worked - it's a gruelling competition, games almost every other day in searing heat, but towards the end of the competition I remember him chasing some 60 metres back to break up an opponent's counter-attack. Whether it's wise for a striker to do all that running is debatable, but any coach would be delighted with his spirit. I was impressed with his finishing off either foot and in the air, thought that he turned and linked the play well. He's powerful - I think he could do well in the Premier League. It's early to talk about becoming one of Europe's top strikers, but he's certainly a prospect.

Lots of Brazilian footballers leave Brazil early for Europe and are forgotten. Years later they may be called up for national teams in Europe. Pepe at Madrid, Deco at Chelsea and Eduardo at Arsenal are just a few who stand out. Now Italy may call up Amauri of Juventus. Isn't Brazil worried about these players coming back to haunt them in the world cup 2010?
Lee Walsh

Don't forget Marcos Senna, champion of Europe! There was speculation that Brazil might call up Dunga for next week's friendly against Portugal, but it didn't happen in the end.
The short answer is no, Brazil's not as worried as you might think about this situation. We're talking about a giant country - population of around 190 million - which produces so many players but can still only have 11 in the starting line up. Pepe, Deco, Eduardo - they were unknowns at home when they got the chance to play for their adopted countries. If they believed at the time that there was a possibility of playing for Brazil they would almost certainly have waited.


  • Comment number 1.

    Peru is another enigma in south american football. They are similar to Colombia. It does seem they come in and out when they want to play. I read about El Nene Cubillas played and from what I have read he was a fantastic player in his prime. This is a trend in south american football all but Argentina,Brasil. Teams come and go, Ecuador,Chilie,Paraguay,Colombia are never really consistant nations. Peru might be dead last in the WCQ but take my word that is one team you do not want to face in Lima. They are no joke, the fans are on top of you and it might be the spirit of the Incas that pulls them through. I recall them just beating up on Argentina, kicking whoever they wanted and they gave Messi no space at all. Will Peru ever get back to its days, well I think it has to start sending more players out to Argentina,Brasil and Europe for the the players to develop.

    And I was reading about players joining other national teams. This bothers me a lot. Argentina has the same issue, Spain asked Messi to play for them when he was a youngster but he turned it down. They have asked young prodigy Mauro Icardi the same but he as well turned it down to play for Argentina. A few players have jumped ship to Spain or Italia, Gerardo Bruna the Liverpool talent declared he would play for Spain over Argentina even though he was born in Argentina. And Forestieri who was born in Argentina to Italian parents declared to play for ITALIA over Argentina. Also Higuain was asked to play for France but turned it down as well. I can understand why some of these players decide to jump ship because that they just will not be able to make the national squad.

  • Comment number 2.

    dont you mean "dunga might call up Amauri for next week"?

  • Comment number 3.

    That's ecaxtly what I meant! Well done for reading my mind.
    There was speculation that Brazil coach Dunga might call up Amauri.
    That's what you get for finishing off the piece at 2.30 at night!

  • Comment number 4.

    With players like Farfán, Guerrero, Pizarro, Solano and Vargas I think Perú has some quality in their national team. The problem is that things are not well from top to bottom. There is no way to make it through the long and hard road of qualifications with the FA, the coach and the players all fighting and dividing instead of the opposite. Look at Paraguay for example: from top (the FA) to bottom (the fans) everyone is pushing to get the team to SA 2010. Maño Ruiz once said, when asked why Paraguay was on its way to Germany 2006, that when the head is good then everything else is too. He was referring to the Paraguayan FA.

    Perú is in constant caos, clubwise too. Its football clubs are always a joke in the Copa Libertadores or Sudamericana. I remember a time when Universitario and Sporting Cristal were no easy opponents for the top South American clubs.

    Perú's FA needs to re examine everything and set forth new plans for the future of Peruvian football.

  • Comment number 5.

    tim what has happened to highly-rated brazilians kerlon and lulinha??

  • Comment number 6.

    Fascinating article Tim, so much better than the often bland BBC football blogs.

    Part of Peru's problems is the negativity you mention - but Cubillas is as guilty of it as anyone. In reality I'm not convinced Cubillas' generation were so much mentally and physically superior to the later players. He may have been personally, but anyone who saw their 6-0 capitulation to Argentina in 1978 knows that team lacked a lot - integrity for a start - whatever their technical gifts.

    They were made to look better by the fact that outside Brazil, Urugay and Argentina many of their other South American rivals in the 70s and 80s were very poorly managed at all levels. I personally think the advent of the brilliant Colombian restructuring in the 80s, and their subsequent rise up the world rankings (with some coaches moving onto Ecuador by the 2000s & acheiving great things there too) shows that its a management issue and not a player issue. Ecuador don't have a significantly better team than Peru have had, but they've been at the last 2 world cups.

    Its much easier for the criminally mismanaged FA to feed the media 'partying' players stories than to change the status quo. That's hard to change I appreciate. But ex-players with huge media clout putting down the current generation would be a far easier problem to solve. Otherwise its pretty easy to see why Pizarro, Guerrero and co just think to themselves 'this isn't worth it' - besides a sense of duty to your country, why should they have to take all the criticism? They've worked extremely hard to make lucrative careers for themselves, and proven their physical and mental strength already.

  • Comment number 7.

    Good article again Tim. Although I suspect you may get fewer responses than last week....

    From my (Scottish) perspective, it's interesting what you say regarding the Peru team of 1978. As someone who was bought 3 years after Argentina, that tournament is still etched into our footballing consciousness due to the 'embarassment' of the results, of which Peru is obviously mentioned.

    We are often told that Peru were a mediocre nation that we should have comfortably beaten, but as you have alluded to, they were certainly no mugs at that time. I'm sure however, given the lofty expectations of Ally's Army at the time that it may be difficult to argue that we shouldn't have won the match!

    Maybe the defeat wasn't as embarassing as we have made it out to be in Scotland?

  • Comment number 8.

    * that should read 'born 3 years after Argentina'. As far as I'm aware my parents weren't involved in the buying and selling of children.....


  • Comment number 9.

    * that should read 'born 3 years after Argentina'. As far as I'm aware my parents weren't involved in the buying and selling of children.....


  • Comment number 10.

    in 78 Peru were the reigning South American champions with a team full of proven international performers.

    Ally Mac's dismissal of them was perhaps symtomatic of that giant hubris bubble created around Scotland before that World Cup - the gods of football never seem to like such things.

    I have Scottish friends who tell me of the importance of that moment in the culture of the nation's football, the bubble being pricked by Peru and Iran and the consequent acceptance of mediocrity ('don't come home too soon' replacing 'we're going to do or die'). Is that the way it's still seen?

  • Comment number 11.

    Hi Tim,

    Interesting piece about a country I thoroughly enjoyed visiting late in 2006.

    Having stayed in Cusco I'm now the proud owner of an official replica Cienciano shirt (less than a fiver English clubs please note) and visited the ground. Sadly, the day they played at home, I was on plane to the Amazon and missed the home game against Universitario. However, the team from Lima stayed at our hotel with the riot police in attendance to ensure that local fans did not disturb them pre-match! Whilst they were wondering around the hotel, you could not help but notice how diminutive they were. For the country's traditionally top team they simply did not look like they could hold their own against the physically superior Europeans or indeed other South American sides. Perhaps this is a factor in their recent slide down the rankings as other countries now place great emphasis on improved athleticism.

    The other point I wanted to raise was that despite the article mentioning the poor state of clubs, Cienciano won the Recopa Sudamericana in 2004. What happened to the players in this triumphant team? Did none of them go on to win International caps?

  • Comment number 12.

    I thought when you wrote Dunga was calling Dunga I was under the impression that theres another Dunga out there. Like Pele.

  • Comment number 13.

    One player that deserves a mention is ex-newcastle and Villa midfielder Nolberto Solano. A model proffessional who some of the new generation of peruvian players could learn from.

  • Comment number 14.

    Tim, I think the creators of Football Manager picked up on your reccommendation of Edison Cavani. His stats and performances for teams on FM were phenomenal (especially if like me you took notice of what your scouts said and bought him for the relative bargain of £15m - still rate that as my best bit of business on FM).

    Back to the main article, as you say Peru have a number of good players but then you could say so do most South American teams, especially when it comes to technique.

    You also cite the bad press Peruvian players receive, do you think the behaviour of the press in England could be a factor in England's lack of success?

  • Comment number 15.

    tim, let's not forget about that generation of players lost in that tragic plane crash that killed all but one Alianza player. They were the champions and one of the best teams Peru has ever had.

  • Comment number 16.

    I simply want to agree with comment 13. Nolberto Solano is a superb professional who is an outstanding role model for Peruvian youth.

    I have lived in Peru for 18 years, and if you think the football is bad now, you should have seen it then. The national squad wouldn't have made the old fourth division.

    But then I'm a Newcastle supporter and I can date the decline of my club from the day that Nobby left us.

  • Comment number 17.

    Just a couple of comments. Solano rules, he was a superb player and he probably still is a good player (i haven´t seen him playing recently). I still remember his goal against us in WCQ2006....

    Anyway, a bit out of topic, talking about FIFA bothered with the Peruvian government involved in the FPF, does FIFA really believe that in countries without a democratic government, the government does not interfere with the national FA?

  • Comment number 18.

    #10 by Tim

    Certainly from my perspective, I would agree with your Scottish friends that 1978 has been the defining moment of modern Scottish football.

    I think we as a footballing nation learnt a very harsh lesson that summer and it has dented our confidence to the degree that rather than looking on the positives we look for the negatives in our game. Any optimism is quickly shot down with reminders of 78 and at every opportunity we remind ourselves that we are "only" Scotland and question if we deserve our place amongst the big boys.

    I'm not sure how we can resolve that, or if it's ever likely to be resolved, but as I said in my earlier post, even as someone who wasn't even born at the time, the scars left by Peru and Iran in 1978 are still felt to this day in the Scottish game.

  • Comment number 19.

    Great Article again Tim, a thouroughly enjoyable read on another nation not many people will know about.

    to me it does seem daft that a nation that has produced quite a good few players of late, pizzaro, farfan, guerrero, mendoza, solano etc., dont actually do better in the South American championships and qualifiers, i dont believe that it helps when any team has the media on their backs, let alone when they are actually making up false stories to sell papers or get people to watch their programmes, its disgraceful.
    I think that this has been a problem for the England national team for a while now, we have some of the most vicious and over-critical media around, they are an absolute disgrace how they have treated some of the players and managers.

    but politics also never help football matters, its just a downward spiral to ruins for everyone involved, it will all end in tears, with a massive rebuilding job to do.

    but i do think that like most say the South American football is swings and roundabouts for most of the nations down there, apart form the big two(Argentina and Brazil), as they have all had a relative bit of success in fits and spurts with decent teams at certain times, colombia, mexico, peru, uruguay all in the past and now its ecuador, paraguay in the present, which has all left us wondering what happend to them as they showed good promise.
    I feel as when most of us see a South American team, apart for the big two, doing well that we all begin to think and believe that they might go on to be the next South American footballing superpower.

  • Comment number 20.


    Is there any chance I could have your job?

    Or at least be your assistant.




  • Comment number 21.


    Obviously the state of football in Peru is a complex issue, but all political and administrative problems aside, what do you make of the talent of the Peruvian players?

    Although I have only a superficial knowledge of their players it seems to me that they do have talented individuals in the likes of Farfan and Pizarro and I see that a few players in their squad are playing in Europe.

    Is the potential there for them to be a more prominent competitor in South America?

  • Comment number 22.


    Wonder if you could give me an insight.

    Rafael is playing, in parts, for Manchester Uniteds first team & he looks a gem of a player.

    I understand that he joined United along with his twin brother Fabio, who I believe to be a left-back. I have not seen anything of him as of yet.

    Is he not as good as his brother, will he ever make the cut at United - it seems as though Rafael will.

    Thanks in advance.

  • Comment number 23.

    It is funny everyone mentioning Nolberto Solano...because I do remember a couple of years ago he was also accused of being an alcoholic and been caught drunk in control of a vehicle when visiting Peru...another fabrication of the Peruvian FA?
    As others have rightly said, lots of things in Peru are in chaos, so it is no surprise that corruption is rife in their FA (even more so than ours). It's a shame, for a country I have visited twice in the last 7 years, and whose fans are just as pasionate about the game as any other country's, they deserve more!

  • Comment number 24.

    #22 Sir Bobby Dangles

    Check out Tim's article from 29 September about young South Americans going to Europe early.

  • Comment number 25.

    Thanks TomMansell82.


  • Comment number 26.

    you are probably right about the fact that Brazilians don´t worry too much about our youngsters moving to Europe.
    Nevertheless, we must state there is a growing moviment towards not calling up Brazilians playing abroad to our national canary squad.
    Brazilian economy is growing fast and steadily and most our domestic top players still make a lot of money working here. So the idea is that they would have to choose between this latter and the consequent elegibility to play for Brazil or being a millionaire in (c)old European club football.

  • Comment number 27.

    hi tim.have a good is suarez who plays fo ajax and uruguay.think the boy is come no 'big' move yet.secondly.i am a brazil frend love u have heard this one before.who was better and why.pele or maradona.
    cheers mate

  • Comment number 28.

    in reply to comment 22.

    the reason you see rafael da silva playing more than his brother is because of the simply reason that evra is such a good left back and has not been injured or out of the team where as brown has been injured and gary neville is on the way out........ or he's just not as good!

  • Comment number 29.

    An interesting take on life outside of South America's big two.

    Make sure you read the link about the Peruvian broadcaster in prison. (

    It sure loses something in translation!

  • Comment number 30.

    post 22, Fabio is much better than Rafael. i think he's either injured or has found competition at left-back too strong (unlike Rafael's easier battle vs Weak Brown and Old Neville).

    Every once in a while, a new Peruvian star is born and he's expected to be the next so and so, or surpass so and so's achievments. Right now, its young Raymond Manco. But that's the problem. It's all based on individuals, not the collective. The U17's relied on Manco, U20's on Ismodes, senior team on Solano, then Pizarro, recently Farfan and probably Vargas soon. The Peruvian FA is not building a team, it relies on individual talent, like Cubillas once was, to lift the entire team. Gone are the days of this strategy, even Maradona can't do that today. Football is more on the collective. You can have a successful team of average players rather than one built around a single star

  • Comment number 31.

    Tim, i'd kill for your job...but i got a question for now. Chile seems to be producing a new attacking midfielder on a daily basis! Valdivia, Villanueva, Mati Fernandez, Fabi Orellana, Sanchez, Beausejours, Vidangossy, Pedro Moralez...what do you think is the reason behind this? and can there be a system o fit so much talented individuals? we've seen Chile trounce Argentina in a 3-4-3 that the way forward? thanks


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