Even the most informed football fans will have needed to look twice when watching matches involving the various Panamanian national teams. At first glance, it would appear both the senior side and the U-17s have the exact same coach. Of course, the real explanation is that while Julio Dely Valdes is in charge of the full national squad, his identical twin brother Jorge coaches the juniors.
"We have a unique relationship," explained Jorge in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. "Football has often come between us, but it always brings us back together again. We work together as coaches now. I'm part of the training staff and have been responsible for the U-20s and U-17s since those teams were introduced. We've both had more than 25 coaches during our careers, including Victor Tabarez and Sergio Batista, so now we're passing on that experience to our players."
Their collaboration recently extended as far as discussing the line-ups of Panama's opponents at the Gold Cup on the telephone prior to matches. "We always do it like that. We give each other tips and decide what to do together."
Just like his brother, 44-year-old Jorge enjoyed a successful playing career until 2005, scoring 13 goals in 34 internationals and gaining valuable playing experience in Japan and the USA. Meanwhile Julio netted 22 goals in 32 caps for his country and had spells with Paris St. Germain (France), Malaga (Spain) and Cagliari (Italy) among others.
Football has often come between us, but it always brings us back together again. We work together as coaches now.
Tragically, the duo's elder brother Armando died after falling into a coma at age 40. The 'Panamanian Pele' was one of the finest footballers the country has ever produced and, following his death, the main stadium in Colon was renamed the Estadio Armando Dely Valdes in his honour. "We played two matches there in 2004. It was an emotional moment for us and our family," said Jorge.
During the course of their near 20-year careers, the twins have amassed a number of amusing stories as a result of their similar appearances. "When we were both playing for Nacional in 1991, Julio scored in one match and the commentator did an unusually long 'Goooool!'. It turned out he wasn't sure which of us had scored the goal, so he kept shouting 'Goooool!' until he could see the shirt number."
There are many more anecdotes where that came from: "When I was playing in Chile, Julio arrived shortly afterwards. He went to see the team doctor and everything was okay. The next day he went in again, complaining of an injury. The doctor examined him again, then I walked in to ask if everything was alright. The doctor's eyes nearly popped out of his head!"
These days the duo are hoping to give something back to the sport and have been working to improve football in their homeland for the past five years. "The foundations are improving and there are more and more football schools appearing," said Jorge. "There were a lot of individuals in the past who didn't function as a team. Now we play as a team, although we still have several individual talents."
Panama's progress at international level is reflected in the senior side's recent charge to the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup in the USA. The nation was also represented at three consecutive FIFA U-20 World Cups (2003, 2005, 2007), while Jorge's juniors are currently competing at the FIFA U-17 World Cup in Mexico: "We're obviously delighted at how things have been going. We beat Burkina Faso, the African champions, and we held our own against Ecuador [losing 2-1], which was very positive."
The Central Americans are still in with a chance of qualifying for the round of 16, although they face a tall order in their final group game against a Germany side who won each of their opening two games convincingly. "Of course there's a chance. There are 90 minutes to play and we'll be giving it our all," said Jorge ahead of this Sunday's clash.
Should Panama indeed progress to the knockout stages, fans will need to pay close attention to which Dely Valdes is which as Julio will be flying out to assist his brother in Mexico. Thankfully it should at least be clear which of them is on the touchline, as Jorge explained at the end of the interview: "Unfortunately he can't sit on the bench with me because we don't have enough space!