—"It’s one thing
to continue history and
something else to repeat it," Jacinto Benavente,
Spanish playwright and filmmaker
Ariel B. Coya
ON December 11, Cuban football
celebrated its centenary and much has been said
recently about that first game played on Palatino
field between Hatuey and the Rovers – the former
winning with a single goal from team captain Jack
But I am among those who think that
the past, more than anything else, serves to better
understand current problems and, perhaps, with a bit
of common sense, can help make things better in the
future. Thus, I don’t pay much attention to the
record book and I’ll beg forgiveness before saying
that, given what we’ve seen over these past 100
years of football in Cuba, the truth is that it’s
hard to celebrate the anniversary with the
enthusiasm it deserves.
This may sound harsh, but it’s true.
In Cuba, you see it all the time, there’s lots of
talk and we watch more football than ever before but
the national teams, playing here in our
neighborhoods, are practically unknown. Cuban
football’s traditions, history, its rites and
legends are forgotten or live in anonymity, more
than anything else.
Those of us in the press are surely
somewhat to blame, since we often fail to cover
Cuban football events as we should.
There are other causes, however,
that go beyond our responsibility, such as, for
example, limited access to information. Things could
be done better, for starters, in the organization of
football, beginning with the National Championship,
which under no circumstances should amount to a
bureaucratic challenge or a phantom competition.
The calendar should not be
arbitrarily changed to avoid the sudden
cancellations that tend to occur in the months of
December and January. Last year’s season was
interrupted not just once, but two times and the
final wasn’t even broadcast on television.
In any event, I don’t object to the
broadcasting of up to four programs a week devoted
to international football. On the contrary, because
thanks to programs like Gol, the sport enjoys
unprecedented popularity within the country.
However, if Cuba competes in a tournament like the
Gold Cup, it should be broadcast, even if our team’s
performance is abysmal. And our players should not
be taking the day off when FIFA competitions are
scheduled, despite our financial limitations, since
facing other nations’ teams is precisely what we
most need, in order to evaluate our strengths and
see where we stand, before we get another clubbing.
A revealing fact, in this context,
is that a Cuban team has not faced a European rival
since 1988 when we tied Albania 0-0 and, since then,
we’ve only played teams from other federations
beyond CONCACAF five times: Cameroon (1997), South
Korea (2002), plus Venezuela and Chile (2007).
In reality, what is needed is better
development of the human resources we have on hand.
It’s not a question of hiring a foreign coach to
come up with overnight success, but rather of taking
advantage of the friends we have who are willing to
help us – and there are more than a few – to share
their experience in day-to-day training, as opposed
to special conferences or seminars, or even better,
in our work developing talent.
Football’s massive popularity seen
in our streets and parks is wasted if it is not
organized and developed. Work in the neighborhoods
is fundamental because football is not being
developed and it will never be developed in a lab.
It is a team sport, in which individuality matters,
but requires 11 players to work as a unit.
We have talent, as was seen in the
Guadalajara Pan Americans, but we need to learn how
to strengthen it and, above all, we need to get out
onto the streets, where so many children are playing,
to find it. We should never forget that Maradona,
like so many other greats, was discovered playing
barefoot in a vacant lot.
We must also recognize that, even if
we overcome these obstacles, success doesn’t come
quickly; even doing things well, it takes time for
such efforts to bear fruit. We must toss out the
tendency to focus solely on results and have
patience, working purposefully and diligently.
And by the way, this might be a good
time to debunk a few myths, such as the assertion
that football doesn’t flourish in baseball countries.
Or that Cubans don’t have it in our blood. Please…
Remember that the legendary Real Madrid player of
the 1960’s, Santiago Bernabeu, had a mother from
Not one of the proposals made here
is new. Perhaps, for that very reason, they can’t be
all wrong. It might be a good idea, therefore, for
them to be given some consideration, so that Cuban
football can finally, once and for all, grow up and
take off running. The whistle, we all know, was
blown a century ago.