The Spanish poet Gustavo Adolfo Becquer once wrote that “people with imagination have a gift for creating a whole world from nothing”. The same could easily be said of El Salvador’s national beach soccer team coach Rudis Gonzalez, who took a humble group of fishermen, some of them living on the poverty line, and laid the foundations for a team that is now going places.
Starting from scratch, the undaunted Gonzalez designed a special training schedule, set aside time to work with his players and focused on motivating them and preparing them for the mental challenge they faced.
“We knew we had plenty to work with because they live on the coast and are born athletes,” the 42-year-old visionary told FIFA.com. “Their physical ability was tremendous, but more than anything they had big hearts and were determined to make something of their lives. The national beach soccer team gave them the chance to take a step forward. I tried to get to know them and understand them and then use all that in my work as a coach.”
Warming to his theme, he went on to say: “We work four days a week with two sessions a day. The national FA have been right behind us from the start. They pay their travelling expenses and that makes up for the days when they’re not fishing. When they started winning things and their everyday lives began to change, it made them really motivated.”
Step by step
Their first foray onto the global stage came in the qualifiers for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup Marseille 2008. After failing to progress on that occasion the Salvadorans made their big breakthrough three years later at Ravenna 2011, when they made it all the way to the last four.
“That was so important for us,” said Gonzalez, happily recalling that glorious run. “That was the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to us because it was a measure of what we could achieve. Ever since then we’ve been getting support from everyone and that’s helped us to keep believing in what we do.”
La Selecta starred again in the qualifiers for Tahiti 2013, knocking out Mexico and joining USA as the CONCACAF Zone’s representatives.
“Some of the players have been with us since 2007. There’s seven or eight of them and they’re core of the team today,” explained the coach. “That core’s pretty strong and the results are there for all to see. It’s not been easy at all, but we’re going to carry on putting the hard work in and making the people of El Salvador happy.”
One area Gonzalez has made a special point of working on is the players’ ability to cope with success and the importance of keeping their feet on the ground.
“We’re very responsible when it comes to managing success,” he said. “We’re always talking about this being the right time, about improving and taking beach soccer to the next level in El Salvador. We are working on every aspect because we know there’s a lot of expectation and a lot of responsibility too.”
The stage is set for the Central Americans and they are determined to shine. With just a few weeks to go before the world finals get under way in Tahiti, the Salvadorans are bursting with enthusiasm, as Gonzalez confirmed: “We’ve put a lot of work in and been very diligent too, and we hope Tahiti will see the culmination of a process. We know very well that it’s going to be tough against Argentina, the Netherlands and the qualifier from Oceania (Solomon Islands), and that’s what we are preparing for.”
Only six years after starting out on their unlikely adventure, El Salvador have gone from being a motley crew of fishermen to a team feared by their rivals, all thanks to the imagination of one man. As they hope to show in Tahiti, however, La Selecta have plenty more progress to make.
“We have the ability to do it,” added their fearless coach. “We always treat defeat and success in the same way but it’s entirely up to us what happens. Here’s hoping for a positive result.”