Last week, Bolivian football star Marco “el Diablo” Etcheverry held his tribute and farewell match in Santa Cruz. Traditionally these games finally mean retirement once and for all. Etcheverry held onto the hope to have one more go at it, but clearly, he no longer was the maestro that helped Bolivia qualify for its first and only World Cup in 1994.
On the guest list for that friendly and not-so-serious match were other aging South American stars, such as a pudgy Jose Luis Chilavert. Another surprising name that was invited was none other than the new Bolivian President, Evo Morales. A self-proclaimed soccer nut, Morales was looking forward to donning the #10 jersey. However, a tiny problem on the runways of Bolivian airports, caused a change in plans.
There might be another opportunity for Morales to play alongside Etcheverry. “El Diablo” also starred in the U.S. for four-time champs DC United. Much of his post-World Cup career took place in Washington, which coincidentally is home to approximately 300,000 Bolivians. It only makes sense to play a similar farewell tribute match here. Again, Etcheverry said he would be honored to have Morales play in this match in the United States. So, this may be Morales’ first visit to the United States and it may be for reasons other than relations with the U.S government.
It seems that Morales is just as big of a fan of the former player, as Etcheverry was recently given a portrait of himself made out of coca leaves, as good friend Hugo Chavez also received a similar portrait of Simon Bolivar.
“These things (coca portraits) are not given out so easily. I hope it serves as a reminder from me, a person who admired him during those beautiful days when the national team qualified for the World Cup in the United States,” said Morales.
No word on the date of this match.
Why this sudden buddy-buddy relationship between Morales and Etcheverry? It’s no secret that many of the ex-football players want to take control over the Bolivian Football Federation (FBF). Every qualifying cycle something always goes wrong. Money seems to be misspent, conflicts arise between National Team and league clubs and utter failure on the pitch seem to be the fault of everyone involved. However, the FBF holds the responsibility of administering the entire process and often is given much of the blame.
The ex-national team players think they have what it takes to run the show since they were players and know what is needed. Etcheverry clearly wants to be the eventual coach for the national team, as he is close friends with U.S. coach Bruce Arena, who is rumored to take him along this summer in Germany. Other ex-football stars like Erwin “Platini” Sanchez also have eyes set on helping Bolivian football advance past 9th and 10th place finishes. Julio Cesar Baldivieso, was a huge MAS campaign supporter, last December and was rumored to be the next Minister of Sports, if that position was created. The position remained as a Vice-Ministry.
Morales ran as the candidate of change. If there was a time to make these fundamental changes in the Bolivian Football Federation, now is the time to do it. With Morales on your side, these much-needed changes are much easier and it doesn’t hurt that the President wants to relive those beautiful days when the Bolivian National Team was a success.
Note: The 300,000 number is simply a guess. There currently is no reliable data regarding the number of legal and undocumented Bolivians in the Washington, DC area, which many include communities such as Woodbridge and Manassas and other cities in Maryland. I used the 250K figure provided by the El Deber article and bumped it up a bit. By no means, was this meant to be given as fact.