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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Congratulations to Guillermo Barros Schelotto: A winner.

Winner. That is the word that comes to mind when I think of Guillermo "El Mellizo" (i.e., "the twin") Barros Schelotto.

Being a huge supporter of Argentine club Boca Juniors I watched him for over a decade win games, league cups, and international competitions. You name it and Barros Schelotto won them. Now it is true that he was surrounded by other great players including Riquelme and Palermo but when they left for spells in the more profitable european leagues he remained and he kept on winning. And whenever Boca played its bitter rival River Plate in what is the equivalent of Argentina's Super Bowl Guillermo Barros Schelotto always it seemed found a way to score a goal or deliver a timely and key pass. Another word that comes to mind when I think of Barros Schelotto is "clutch."

I remember him first coming up through Argentine first division club Gimnasia y Esgrima de la Plata, along with his brother Gustavo who also excelled those first years before dropping off and out, and how Boca bought the both of them. From 1996 to 2007 as pretty much every other name player in the league left to go play elsewhere in the world- including the really tough period of Argentina's economic depression in 2001-2002- Guillermo stayed and I often wondered why. I suppose Boca knew just how valuable he was as they were always willing to get rid of any of the other pieces of their winning teams but not Guillermo and I also think he just wasn't ready to leave Boca. When I heard that he was coming to Columbus I understood that by that point in his career (he was either 33 or 34) Boca was letting him go partly because he had fallen out of favor with Boca's new coach but also partly as a way to let him go cash in and earn some money abroad before he retired. I'm also sure that Guillermo was attracted to the idea of living in the US. He didn't have to play for Columbus he wanted to play for them and look at what he's done for them and how its all worked out in his favor with him now being called the new "poster boy of the MLS".

At the same time because he didn't play abroad while in Argentina with Boca Juniors it seemed to me that he wasn't given much of a chance with the national team whose coaches always had a bias for the players that played in the sexier international leagues the feeling being that if an international club bought you for millions of dollars you must be good. These coaches always forgot or failed to account for Guillermo Barros Schelotto's intangibles which include a total commitment to win regardless and an uncanny knack for making things happen or for being at the right place at the right time or for taking advantage of a little tiny window opened up to you. Guillermo was always the guy who would initiate that quick restart and catch the opposition flat footed or steal the ball and run into open space to score or set up that quick unexpected goal. A very opportunistic player if there ever was one. He wasn't and isn't the most naturally gifted player but when he darted down the right wing crossing towards the center and lofting a ball to the center of the box for say a Martin Palermo's header well boy was he effective and in his prime he was incredibly quick or rather he had a quick acceleration rate. The Guillermo/Palermo tandem is legendary in Argentine soccer and he's been pretty much setting up goals in Columbus the same way. He just knows how to loft a ball to find that open header in front of the goal. Well Guillermo never got to play on any of Argentina's World Cup teams but seeing the paltry results Argentina has obtained in the 1998, 2002 and 2006 World Cups one has to wonder if maybe some of Guillermo's winning pixie dust was just what the team needed to compensate for the loss of that other great argentine soccer "winner" Diego Armando Maradona. We'll never know but when a guy is always winning it does make you wonder.

It wouldn't fair to speak of Guillermo Barros Schelotto without at least a mention to his other characteristic that I and anyone who is a fan of a team he plays for will chuckle at while most everyone else will be driven insane by: his constant complaining, protestations and canny working of the referees! Watching a game with Barros Schelotto you will see a master complainer who constantly throws up his hands in disbelief when just about anything goes against him, wildly gestures the referee as if to say "Didn't you see that??? Are you blind??".. But in the end after one has watched him play a few years one understands that this is nothing more than the incredible INTENSITY (and that is another word that comes to mind when I think of Barros Schelotto) he brings to the pitch and that often times he is standing up for his team mates.. This guy wants to win badly and is wound very tightly and he can go off easily which can lead to the occasional red card or issues with the referees here or there... But to those that watch him week in week out its just another endearing quality like winning, and his penchant for the clutch and opportunistic play.

Winning is of course exactly what he's been doing for Columbus leading the league in assists this year and it couldn't happen to a more deserving guy. Fresh off winning the MLS MVP award this week and leading the Crew to victory over the New York Red Bulls today just minutes ago in the 2008 MLS Cup with three assists to three different Crew players for the 3-1 scoreline its hard to imagine the Crew not exercising the option which will mean he'll make a nice chunk of change next year. Often when I think of David Beckham I laugh at the thought that there is a much better player in fact a much better number 7 in the MLS that doesn't grab all the fanfare but gets the job done. While David Beckham is off filming his television commercials Guillermo Barros Schelotto is winning trophies.

There are two club teams in Argentina which can't wait for him to return: Gimnasia and Boca the former would like him to play and lead him out of the doldrums they've been in as their city rivals Estudiantes have been winning the past few years while the latter will surely some day soon count with him on the sidelines as their manager. People in Argentina appreciate Guillermo for his tremendous ability to win and get results. Its nice to see him getting the recognition he's getting in the United States. By all accounts the Crew will retain his services for another year or two. They'd be crazy not to as the guy even at the age of 35 is a winner through and through!

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