When we think of Uruguay national soccer team the names that come to mind are Luis Suárez, Edinson Cavani or Diego Forlán. Those are the visible faces of one of the smallest countries to have a real world class team that, win or lose, always leaves their all on the field. Their third place in the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa is cherished by any real soccer fan. But what few people know is that all of La Celeste’s success has the signature of one man: Oscar Washington Tabárez a.k.a. “El Maestro.”
Tabárez has been in charge of the Charrúas since 2006, making him one of the longest tenured coaches around the world. With his serious demeanor and the passion he puts into coaching, he has slowly won the hearts of soccer fans around the globe. That’s why it was so moving to see him in crutches while coaching his team during the Copa América Centenario. There was much speculation as to why he needed those crutches, and Tabárez, not the most forthcoming person with media, kept silent for most of the tournament. Some guessed he might be struggling with Guillen-Barré disease.
A few days ago, Tabárez finally decided to go public about his disease, acknowledging in a TV interview that he suffers from a chronic neuropathy. This disease, common in people with diabetes, affects the nervous system and limits the movement of arms and legs, which is why Tabárez has been using crutches and occasionally leading team training sessions from a motorized wheelchair.
That’s the bad news. The good news, is that it takes much than a nervous system disorder to stop El Maestro. “Some days are better than others. There are days where I can get around on my own, and others where I can’t. But nothing changes my work, nor my relationship with the players,” he said. He made it clear that at 69 years of age, a time where most people are planning to retire, he has many things to do with his team. He added, “I’ve learned that when any type of challenge comes along, the best thing you can do is to face it head on and try to overcome it. Later, time and circumstances will tell let you know if it’s possible or not.” No unnecessary drama and plenty of good humor.
Now you know where all the stamina Uruguayan players show comes from. How can you give less than your best effort to a coach like this?