Pumas’ Argentine Star on Feeling at Home in Mexico and Why He Won’t Play as Himself in Video Games

Ismael Sosa, the Argentine star of the Mexican soccer team Pumas, is all about speed. His goal during Pumas’ debut game at Copa Libertadores 2016 was the fastest in the tournament’s 10-year history – a blazing 16 seconds. Ecuadorian team Emelec didn’t know what hit them; they couldn’t even see it coming and Pumas went on to win the game 4-2. But it’s not just on the field that Sosa races. He also has a fascination with race cars, in the tradition of his countryman and Formula One multichampion Juan Manuel Fangio. Sosa says one day, maybe when he retires, he would like to fly around the racetrack as he does now as Puma’s right wing.

We had a chance to sit down with Sosa, the new Pumas idol, who has scored five goals this season (three in Liga MX and two in Copa Libertadores), and talk about his beginnings in Argentina, Messi’s humility, and how he feels at home in Mexico.

What’s the meaning behind your tattoos?
I have the [number] 18 [tattooed]. It’s my barrio in Buenos Aires. Each tattoo means a lot to me; they are the experiences of my life, where I live, what I went through, religion, the names of my brothers, of my parents, of my wife. I have too many. There’s that phrase: “If you forget where you came from, you don’t know where you are going.” I never forget where I am coming from.

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Who is in charge of the music in Pumas’ dressing room?
Fidel Martínez. He’s tremendo!

What do you listen to there?
Lots of reggaeton, but a little bit of everything. Lots of banda. Emmanuel Ludueña loves cuartetazo [Editor’s note: cuartetazo is a musical genre born in Córdoba].

“If you forget where you came from, you don’t know where you are going.”

It seems like there is a very good vibe on the team.
Yes, we are a very united team. We are excited that we are happy playing Copa Libertadores this year, and that we played the final last season [Apertura 2015].

Pumas made it to the dramatic final and lost against Tigres after regular time for the Apertura 2015 title. What did you learn from that?
We became a solid team. I think that with the squad we had last season, and the new players that have arrived, we have a much stronger team now.

Do you think Mexico doesn’t value Copa Libertadores enough?
The truth is some people don’t care about it that much, but for those of us who grew up watching it, it’s like playing the Champions League. Despite the CONCACAF Champions League giving you a spot for the FIFA Club World Cup, it is not the same to play against U.S. teams than to play against teams from Brazil, Paraguay, Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia; it’s much more competitive, anybody can win, and visiting those countries is hard. The game is played more roughly. Over here in Mexico, the referees take care of the player, while in Copa Libertadores, they let the game flow more. Over here, there might be one U.S. team that is playing well, but not the rest; it is not as intense as in South America.

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Many people criticize the high number of foreign players in Liga MX. In fact, Pumas has 10 of them. Do you agree with the critics?
Yes, there are a lot of them, but it is not the foreign player’s fault. A foreigner plays where he can play. I am a foreign player, and I do think there are many foreigners in the league, but this is a matter to be resolved by the management of the league, not by players.

“There are a lot of foreigners in Liga MX, but it’s not foreign players’ fault. A foreigner plays where he can play.”

You started on Independiente, and after, left Argentinos Juniors to play in Turkey. From there, you went back to South America to play in Chile with Universidad Católica. With tons of that experience, how do you compare it to the level of Liga MX?
Good – you train very well. It’s a such competitive league, and anybody can beat anybody. In Turkey, the training was more intense. It’s a medium European level. You spend the whole day in the sports facilities, and you train more, and become stronger. I became more muscular while I was there because we spent more time at the gym, but I lost speed.

On his return to Boca Juniors, Carlos Tévez realized that in Europe you improve the physical aspect of your training, but you lose a lot on the technical side. Do you agree?
Yes, like I told you before, I lost some speed, but improved my physique a lot. I retained the muscle I built in Turkey, and regained the technique, because over here you train with the ball more.

Would you go back to Argentina to retire, like Tévez?
I don’t know. Who knows. But for now, I love Pumas a lot. The people are amazing, and I would like more time [here]. I feel at home in Mexico; I’m so happy.

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Is violence in soccer one of the reasons you don’t want to go back to Argentina?
I love my country, but there are many things I do not like. What can I tell you? One time, blood-filled syringes were thrown at us, to demand that we show more huevos, más sangre. On another team, they threw dog food on the field. The fans are always present and ask you for things – for tickets, for trips, soccer jerseys. It is such a different atmosphere there than here.

“It’s enough to manage myself in real life and do it on a console too.”

When you play the FIFA video game, do you play as Ismael Sosa?
No, che, it’s enough to manage myself in real life and do it on a console too [laughs]. I usually choose Real Madrid or Barcelona.

Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo?
Messi, but Ronaldo is another phenomenon, from another planet. The little difference is that one is more humble than the other.

What do you think: in this Messi vs. Ronaldo debate, is the Argentine player more humble?
[laughs] I don’t know, but perhaps that’s the reason why Argentines haven’t completely accepted Messi. Maradona was a legend on the pitch – probably the best – but what he did outside of it was very questionable [Editor’s note: Maradona struggled with drugs and domestic violence problems]. But at the same time, many people identify with him and recognize themselves in his flaws. With Messi, it is completely different. He is from another planet; he is a crack on and off the field. They always look for flaws in him, but they will never find them.