Estudiantes of Argentina have long been famed for their youth academy. And the youngsters they nurture always remain a member of the Pincharrata family, no matter where their careers might take them. The depth of feeling between the La Plata club and the home-grown talent it rears perhaps explains why outsiders often find it hard to win the affections of the demanding Estudiantes fans.
Two players who have nevertheless managed to buck that trend are Rodrigo Brana and Mauro Boselli, both of whom earned the undying devotion of the club’s faithful by making key contributions to last season’s Copa Libertadores triumph. Should they inspire another success at the upcoming FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009, one can only imagine the kind of adulation they might receive.
The heart of a lion
Brana began his career with unfashionable Quilmes in the Argentinian Second Division in 1997, moving on to Mallorca B in Spain and returning to Quilmes before pitching up in the city of La Plata at the end of 2004. Diminutive in stature but fiercely committed, El Chapu, as he is known in the game, became a fans favourite thanks to his work rate and defensive abilities, which made him the ideal foil for Juan Sebastian Veron in the Pincha midfield.
Such has been his success in the role that Diego Maradona called him up for Argentina’s last two games in the qualifying competition for South Africa 2010. And as he tells FIFA.com, the 30-year-old never imagined such riches when he signed for El León. “The club wasn’t thinking about winning the championship when I arrived but avoiding the promotion and relegation play-offs. The return of Sebastian (Veron) in 2006 was just the boost a developing team needed, though. Things began to work out after that. First we won the league and then we reached the final of the Copa Sudamericana. The Libertadores was just the logical result of all that.”
Brana was on the verge of leaving for Mexico following the Libertadores win, but was persuaded to stay by Veron and the club’s directors. “I feel respected and loved by the people here and by my team-mates,” he continues. “That means a lot to me, especially in a league like Argentina’s, where you’re great if you win and a disaster if you lose. And it’s also fantastic to have the Club World Cup coming up, which will be a wonderful challenge.”
As for Boselli, Dubai 2009 will be his second appearance in the competition. El Chapa was a member of the Boca Juniors squad that reached the final in 2007 before losing to AC Milan. A Xeneize youth product, he started his career with the Buenos Aires giants, making his first-team debut in 2003.
A bright future was predicted for him, but with the likes of Martin Palermo, another idol who came through the Pincharrata ranks, ahead of him in the Boca pecking order, he decided to move on. It was Estudiantes who came in for the bustling, hard-working centre-forward with a commanding aerial presence, purchasing a 50 per cent stake in the player in the middle of 2008.
It has proved to be a sound investment. Boselli has scored 31 goals in 55 matches in the red-and-white jersey, eight of them coming in the Copa Libertadores, making him the top scorer in the competition. One of those strikes was the goal that clinched a 2-1 win for the Argentinians in the second leg of the final against Cruzeiro.
Yet as he also explains to FIFA.com, Boselli felt the warmth of the fans even before his goalscoring feats. “They got behind me right from the start. I grew in confidence and I repaid them by scoring goals, which made the relationship between us even stronger.”
It is somewhat surprising then that people still ask him if he regrets leaving Boca. “With every passing day I become more and more convinced I made the right decision. Estudiantes are one of the best sides in the world and the trip to UAE is proof of that.”
Ready for the challenge
Estudiantes’ opponents in the semi-finals in Dubai will be either Mazembe of Congo DR or Korea Republic’s Pohang Steelers, two unknown quantities whom Boselli will not be taking lightly. “I always prefer to play against teams you know,” he explains.
“The same thing happened with Boca in 2007. We played an African team in the semis (Etoile Sportive du Sahel of Tunisia) and they made life difficult for us. We won 1-0 and they ran us close. You might have an idea about how they play and who their stars are but there are lots of little things you don’t know and they can be decisive sometimes.”
Brana agrees with his team-mate, but believes Estudiantes’ experience will see them through. “We never underestimate anyone,” he says. “We’ll be trying to make sure we put in a good display in the semi-final, because if you start thinking about the final too early, you might get knocked out.”
Despite his caution, the midfielder still ventures an opinion on Barcelona, the side they are tipped to meet in the tournament showpiece. “We watch them a lot. We know their game and we’ve been studying their weaknesses. But then Iniesta or Xavi get hold of the ball or Messi goes past six players and it’s all over. If we do play them we need to use our heads.”
“Their full-backs like to get forward and sometimes they leave space down the flanks,” says Boselli, offering his views on the European champions. “We’ll have to see what happens if we can work an overlap. You also have to challenge them for the ball and make the most of any openings they give you.”
And as far as objectives are concerned, the popular Pincha imports are both in agreement. “The team’s got used to fighting for major trophies and always tries to win while keeping its feet on the ground,” says Brana, leaving the way for Boselli to make a genuine statement of intent: “If this club doesn’t fight for the title in every competition, then it’s a failure. And the Club World Cup will be no exception.”