As far as Argentinian clubs are concerned, winning the Intercontinental Cup was always more than an objective or even a dream; it was an obsession. The same is true of the FIFA Club World Cup, the competition that has replaced it.
Taking on Europe’s finest gives the country’s top clubs a chance to show that the football they have honed on the potreros – the rough patches of ground where the country’s youngsters learn their skills – is good enough to beat the best.
The nation’s next representative on the global stage is San Lorenzo, who share the same hunger for victory as the great Argentinian sides that have gone before them. That hunger has been reflected in the last couple of months by coach Edgardo Bauza’s desire to see his team recover the kind of form that took them to Copa Libertadores glory earlier this year.
When El Ciclón’s form dipped after that momentous achievement, Bauza racked his brains looking for a solution and found one on the fringes of the first team, in the shape of Enzo Kalinski, and all just in time for Morocco 2014.
“I’m a classic midfielder,” the man they call Kali told FIFA.com. “My job is to link up with the two holding players and try to get the team playing.”
The two holding midfielders in question are Nestor Ortigoza and Juan Mercier, with Kalinski slotting neatly in alongside them. Discussing the virtues of his new-look midfield unit with Spanish newspaper El País, Bauza said: “Mercier and Ortigoza are very good on the ball, and now I’ve brought in Kalinski, who gets forward more.”
A substitute throughout the 2014 Copa Libertadores, Kalinski came into the side for the Torneo Transicion, as the ongoing Argentinian league season is known, replacing the absent Mercier. And when Mercier returned and Ortigoza found himself sidelined, Kalinski came straight back into the starting XI.
All was not well with San Lorenzo, however. After seeing his side beaten in six of their opening 12 matches, Bauza decided to pair the three together against Lanus. Though that game ended in defeat number seven of the season, El Patón liked what he had seen and stuck to his new midfield line-up, with victory over Boca Juniors the following week triggering a mini-revival of four wins in six outings.
“We’re different types of players and I think that’s why we complement each other so well,” Kalinski said.
While Mercier is the abrasive type and Ortigoza the organiser, Kalinski provides the cutting edge, operating as a kind of withdrawn striker and possessing a gift for stealing into the box undetected.
“We played 4-4-2 when we won the Libertadores,” explained Bauza, in an interview with Spanish TV programme Fiebre Maldini. “Now, in a bid for a bit more balance, we’re playing 4-1-4-1, and the team looks more solid to me. It’s a system that allows the midfielders to get forward more, which helps us carry more of a goal threat.”
Kalinski's ability to spread the play stems in part from his love for basketball, a sport he played as a boy at a club in his hometown of Santiago del Estero. He split his time between his two favourite sports until the age of 14, when he chose to devote his energies to basketball.
Football came back into his life for good when Buenos Aires club Quilmes invited him to join their youth set-up, and though he saw himself as a natural attacking midfielder, El Cervecero stationed him in a central holding position.
“I was a point guard when I played basketball and it really helped me develop better vision on the pitch,” explained the No8, who has a sharp eye off the field of play too. Born and brought up in the countryside, he began hunting and fishing at the age of eight, and whenever his hectic schedule allows him he takes off with his shotgun and his rod and gets back to nature.
Kalinski has fought hard to get where he is today. After cutting his teeth with Quilmes in the second division and gracing the top flight for a while, he arrived in 2011 at San Lorenzo. It was not a happy time in the club’s history, with Kalinski and his team-mates only just avoiding relegation at the end of that season.
“We went through some tough times,” he recalled. "Seeing the fans suffering so much because of our points average and because we came so close to going down really made an impression on me. We managed to turn things around by working hard, keeping our feet on the ground and sticking together as a unit. And fortunately, we managed to climb our way back up.”
Kalinski is gunning for his third title with El Ciclón in Morocco, having already picked up winners’ medals in the Libertadores and the 2013 Torneo Inicial, a triumph that proved the club had turned the corner.
As he contemplates his Club World Cup debut against Auckland City in Wednesday’s semi-final, the upwardly mobile midfielder can do so with the satisfaction of knowing that he has put a lot into getting this far: “I can enjoy this a lot more now because of all the steps I’ve had to take. This feels like a reward."