As the national Argentine soccer team, spearheaded by the team captain and star player Lionel Messi, continues to advance in this year’s World Cup, I began to wonder about the roots of soccer in Argentina. What are the backgrounds of the players and did they pursue soccer out of passion and talent, or because soccer was an accessible activity and a way to keep entertained?
As Argentina gears up for its semifinal match with the Netherlands, the team must prepare to defend its success streak absent two key players, Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria. Aguero, who hails from Buenos Aires, is an emblem of the city’s love and pride in soccer. Di Maria and Messi on the other hand, hail from Rosario, the largest city in the province of Santa Fe and located approximately 200 miles northwest of Buenos Aires. Rosario’s preliminary interest in soccer emerged with the immigration of the British, whose principal agenda was to construct railway networks in Argentina. Within a short time, employees of the Central Argentine Railway formed an exclusive soccer club for railway workers. In this way, soccer gained a foothold in Rosario and other clubs such as Tiro Federal, Central Cordoba and Argentino de Rosario were born.
Although soccer fever has caught on in all of Argentina, Rosario, being the breeding ground for soccer talent, is home to the country’s most fervent fans. According to a recent New York Times article, Di Maria considers the city so important to his development that he tattooed a phrase of gratitude to its streets on his arm. While Di Maria did not astonish spectators in the manner of Messi, who left for Barcelona when he was 13, or Aguero, who debuted in Argentina’s first division when he was 15, Di Maria has emerged as Argentina’s quickest player. During a World Cup qualifying match in 2013 against Bolivia – played 12,000 feet above sea level in La Paz – Di Maria needed to be given oxygen from a small cylinder. Fans have assigned Di Maria the nickname Fideo (translating roughly as noodle), a reference to his thin torso and lean face.
Not only is Rosario the soccer capital of Argentina, it also produced one of the world’s greatest revolutionaries, Che Guevara. Rosario is an authentic city with no touristic edge, according to a traveler’s blog, “What you see is an excellent representation of Argentina, right down to the incredibly friendly and welcoming locals.” For a somewhat less Westernized and out-of-your-comfort-zone experience not too far from Buenos Aires, travelers should definitely consider visiting Rosario.