Beyond the Pitch

My thoughts on my most memorable World Cup and the transformation of Colombia

By: Sebastian Giraldo

There were men outside of our house in Jeeps, donning assault rifles – some wearing masks, some not. The men were threatening to kidnap a family member who was a political figure in the small town of Pamplona. Panic spread through the house, and my brother and I were scurried through the back exit to find safety. The police and military were called. “Guerilleros” had brought the violence and terror of Colombia to our front doorstep.

As the situation escalated, the adults began to quickly seek escape. As my parents were moving to safety, my father made a promise to my mother. He said he would not raise his kids in Colombia. He would not live a life of terror. He would not be part of the violence. He wanted better futures for his two children. Shortly after, we permanently moved to our new home: the United States. Colombia, however, has always remained in our hearts.

The World Cup brought me a joy and happiness that I feel is almost inexplicable to most. Yes, the games were exhilarating and the goals were magical, but for me, Colombia gave me pure, unadulterated joy. I understand that soccer is a game. I teach this to my players every day. You must keep perspective that in life, there are things more important than fútbol. During heartbreaking losses or season-ending injuries, the idea that fútbol is not life or death is a tough message to swallow. But we must accept that it is a game. However, this beautiful game has instances where its powers transcend the pitch.

Narcotic traffickers, guerillas and paramilitaries had Colombia trapped in their tentacles of violence and corruption for many decades. The result is that Colombia has been hidden to the world – our happy people, the rich culture, eclectic Latin beats and world-changing individuals. Colombia has changed, and it is being reintroduced to the world. For me, the World Cup serves as a metaphor for Colombia’s rebirth.

We had a world-class team in 1994 that was among the favorites to win the trophy. They were halted by the dangerous socio-political climate of the time. In 2014, Colombia again came in with high expectations and hope. Today, Colombia is a booming economy that has opened its doors to the world. There are still problems, but the change is evident and hope permeates throughout the country. This “seleccion” had nothing holding it back, and as a result, they gave me my most memorable World Cup.

My favorite moments:

1. The unity of the Colombian people
All Colombia was in yellow. With this team, there are no political or social divides. Everyone wore yellow for the same cause. We believed in and supported the seleccion, and they gave us a ride to remember. For one month, Colombia became a country united behind one cause. This is a significant change from the days where people feared to even walk the streets. This unity gives further hope that Colombia is transforming and entering a new age.

2. The dancing
I love to dance, and you will be hard-pressed to find a Colombian who does not. The team became the talk of the World Cup with their intricately choreographed goal celebrations. These were players who felt free and were enjoying themselves. When players are happy, there is beautiful fútbol. In my mind, the dancing celebrations were a five-second trailer for what Colombia offers the world: happy people who know how to have a good time.

I tell people constantly, “Go to Colombia; you will fall in love with the country.” But more importantly, people fall in love with the people. I am overjoyed that people are noticing what I have known for a long time. Colombia and its people are special.

3. The goals, the team and James Rodriguez
The narratives building up to the World Cup revolved around Brazil’s “joga bonito” and how a European team could not win in the Americas. Brazil played ugly, pragmatic fútbol, and Germany won the cup. The true narratives of the cup were constructed fluidly as the competition unfolded. Colombia brought the beautiful fútbol and showed that style and efficiency still have a place in the world game. The team came in with a lost superstar in Falcao. There were several recognized figures, but no one who was a household name … yet.

You could feel the unity of the team. In their tactical discipline, their celebrations and their prank videos, Colombia showed why player chemistry and unity still matter in fútbol. United as they were, James Rodriguez could not be denied. He is now a superstar, and all indicators lead me to believe that we are in for a treat with this kid.

So yes, soccer is just a game – and never forget to teach every player that there are more important things in life. But fútbol does transcend the pitch sometimes. And for those who were watching, Colombia’s success did not just mark our entry among the best of the world. It was a reintroduction to a country and its people. Colombia has opened itself to the world, and the world is better off for it.

Sebastian Giraldo is the co-owner of Giraldo Elite Fútbol. For more information, visit www.giraldoelitefutbol.com

 

 

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