Lionel Messi’s backup comes from Laguna Larga, the top striker is from Calchín, and the coach hails from Pujato.
Little-known farming towns on Argentina’s Pampas, fertile flatlands that supply the globe with crops and beef, formed the backbone of the nation’s World Cup-winning squad. Several players have journeyed back from Qatar to their rural birthplaces to celebrate, gold medals in hand, with elated locals.
The homecomings provide a welcome interlude for farmers grappling with a third consecutive drought that’s frazzled wheat plants and is now hampering soybean planting. Crop exports are a lifeline for Argentine government finances.
The squad’s rural make-up also marks a change from national teams in years past, when football stars were more likely to have risen from the gritty streets of Buenos Aires or Messi’s home city of Rosario.
Part of the reason may be recurring economic crises this century that have racked cities in particular.
To be sure, the Pampas have long been a seedbed of talent, including a group of players in 1986 that helped Argentina to its previous World Cup triumph.
“The national team’s essence has traditionally had an urban-rural mix,” the award-winning writer Eduardo Sacheri said in an interview. “Though an unfortunate deterioration of living conditions in the last few decades in the sprawl of Buenos Aires and Rosario, compared with towns on the Pampas, is probably contributing to fewer players now coming from big urban areas.”
One of the current crop who grew up on the Pampas is England-based defender Lisandro Martínez. He received a hero’s welcome on Thursday in Gualeguay, Entre Rios Province.
“Every day that I go to train for Manchester United, I remember my family and my people from Gauleguay,” he told reporters.
by Jonathan Gilbert, Bloomberg