Eighteen months ago I had a unique experience while taking a Hertz rental car bus for the seemingly endless miles from the rental car facility to my terminal at Denver International Airport. Several Brazilians were on the bus with me each curious about footballing setup here in the United States. They had known Romario and Zinho had played for Miami FC but I had to explain to them that was in fact a second division club. When I mentioned the players in MLS from Brazil I got stares and even some laughs. When talking about Beckham and Blanco signing with MLS I got more laughs. “Those aren’t real footballers,” was one of the responses. Then I said ” well Schelotto signed today for an MLS club in Ohio.”
Suddenly the conversation changed. Guille, one of the Brazilians asked? I said, yes Guille. “Why would he play HERE?” I did not know until that moment what a legend Guille was in South America. Sure I knew all about his exploits with Boca Juniors. After all I live in South Florida where Boca is probably more popular than the local sporting teams other than the Miami Dolphins and College Football’s Miami Hurricanes. That’s how large our Argentine population is down here.
What I did not realize was the Schelotto’s exploits in Copa Libertadoras had made him one of the biggest names in South America. I was instantly told he was bigger and better than Beckham. “We see alot of Real Madrid in Brazil and Beckham is not a true footballer,” I was told. Now perhaps its a cultural bias because when I hear true footballer I see images of Bobby Moore, Kevin Keagan and Geoff Hurst, while the folks I was conversing with obviously did not see English players as true footballers. My orientation is such that I see Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi and even Blanco as unsporting cheats while I think of someone like Teddy Sheringham, Paul Ince or Alan Shearer as the embodiement of a footballer.
However, the heads up those Brazilian tourists gave me about Schelotto was spot on. As one of the most decorated players in Argentine club history, his signing by MLS was far from automatic or logical like the signings of Beckham and Blanco. Unlike Blanco, clubs in Europe were interested in Schelotto, and unlike Beckham he had no personal affinity for the United States.
The signing has been massive. Schelotto is the best field player in MLS. He has essentially led a group of journeymen players and youth/developmental types to be clearly the best team in the league. At one point he had played a role in ten straight Columbus goals. Can you imagine that? Moreover his class on the ball and on set pieces is unrivaled in MLS since perhaps the retirement of Carlos Valderrama.
Schelotto’s success often times looks like that of a seasoned accomplished professional showing up a group recretational league players. After all the standard of MLS is nowhere near the standard of Argentine football but with signings like Guille, the future can only be bright for the Crew and MLS.