Like a lover who feels their partner slipping away, Peruvians are desperately trying to convince Ricardo Gareca to remain as the coach of the national team, going to extremes to show their devotion and prove that he won’t be as loved or appreciated anywhere else.
Gareca’s contract expired at the end of June and the Argentine coach decided to take a break and consider his options, leaving the door open for other possible suitors: “I’ve asked the president of the Peruvian Soccer Federation to give me time to think about renewing, if there’s still interest after that, we’ll surely analyze the proposals,” he said in a press conference that had undertones of a goodbye.
Peruvian fans are not willing to let the coach who led them to their first World Cup in 36 years go without a fight. They’ve taken to social media to thank him with videos, cartoons and emotional messages that also implore him to come back and continue with his work throughout Qatar 2022. But some have taken an extra step to attract Gareca’s attention.
Last week, the district of San Miguel in the east of Lima unveiled a statue of Gareca and Peru’s other soccer hero, Paolo Guerrero, as the centerpiece of the newly renovated Argentina Park. The coach and his pupil are depicted standing as Gareca points to an imaginary soccer field in the horizon. According to local press, the statue was built through a private-public partnership between the company Domos Art and the district, and cost 20,000 soles ($6,000).
But not everyone was happy with the homage. Many Peruvians see the statue as a political maneuver by the local mayor to win votes before the upcoming elections, others question the aesthetic of the work and others see it as excessive, given that Peru didn’t advance past the group stage.
Some neighbors objected to the use of funds to build statues instead of using them for other public works, but representatives of the district told the Peruvian daily El Comercio that the idea for the statue came from the residents of a nearby building complex and that they went door by door to ask the opinion of other neighbors and more than 60% were in favor of building it.
Some Peruvians have opted for less flashy, but more direct appeals to Gareca. A fan identified as Maru wrote an email to an Argentine radio station to request a song for a very special someone. The DJ read it on air without realizing it was for Gareca until it was too late: “I’m writing from Peru. I want to request a song for the man of my life. His name is Ricardo and he has asked me for time to think things through. The song I’m requesting is “Vuelve” by Ricky Martin and it’s for Ricardo “El Tigre: Gareca.” The DJ, chuckling, granted the request and added: “How sweet that they value our Argentines, sometimes we don’t value our own. Let’s hope he’s listening. You never know.”
Gareca has been rumored to be on the shortlist for the job of national coach of Argentina and rumors have linked him with Colombia as well. Peruvian media has speculated that money doesn’t seem to be his main concern, but the freedom and work conditions to choose and train the players he deems worthy.
Gareca is expected to announce his decision by the end of the month, until then the Peruvians will keep finding creative ways to convince the man who gave them so much happiness to come back and make them dream again.