“When I see the young players here, all nervous before their games, my mind’s flooded with so many memories and emotions,” said Juan Francisco Viveros, with a smile. Leading scorer for Chile at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Egypt 1997, back then he never would have imagined that now, 18 years on, he would be once again experiencing an U-17 World Cup first-hand – this time in an organisational role.
“Taking part in the organisation of an event like this was something new for me, but I’ve really enjoyed the experience. That said, it’s very intense! Over the last few months I’ve lost four kilos!” said Pancho, chuckling good-naturedly once more.
Viveros, venue director for Chillan at this year’s U-17 World Cup, chatted to FIFA.com at ‘his’ stadium, the Estadio Nelson Oyarzun Arenas. “Working on the hosting of this World Cup has changed my life,” he revealed. “When I hung up my boots, I was 100 per cent convinced that I wanted to be a coach, and I still want to, but this has also opened up the possibility of being involved in the organisation of sporting events. That’s something I’d never considered before but I’ve discovered that I enjoy it. I’ve learned so many things during this tournament that I think will be useful in the future.”
Making the jump to Europe
“After the World Cup [in 1997] I received offers from clubs all over the world, and Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon sent people over to Egypt to secure my signature,” recalled Pancho, on how his first U-17 World Cup experience also changed his life. “When the tournament finished I had a week to go back to Chile and get my stuff together, before heading to Portugal. I was only 17 and because the youngest Chilean player to earn a move to Europe.”
All of which, understandably, proved something of a whirlwind situation for the former player and his family: “I was still very young to be living alone, as I hadn’t even turned 18, so my family had to divide into two. My mum stayed in Chile with my older brother, who was at university, and my dad and younger brother came to Portugal with me. Every three months or so my dad would go home and my mum would come and see me. I’ll be forever grateful to them. Right from the start they supported me and were by my side.”
What followed were five seasons at Sporting, a league title success with Os Leões, and a priceless life adventure – all on the back of his displays at an U-17 World Cup he was close to missing out on. “Even though I was scoring loads of goals for my club side Huachipato, I wasn’t selected on the preliminary squad list [for the South American U-17 Championship]. But the goals kept flowing and, in the end, I made the cut,” he said, looking back.
“I went on to finish [joint] top scorer at that Sudamericano!” Pancho added, with a grin, on a tournament at which a young Ronaldinho also starred. “Listen, I remember saying to my team-mates that he looked as if he was dragging one leg a bit. And look at everything he achieved afterwards!”
Finishing at the summit of the scorers’ charts at that Sudamericano swiftly turned Viveros into the hottest young striker in Chile. “My school-mates started to ask me for autographs, the local press was following me… I think that one of the good things about my character is that I’m very straightforward, so things never went to my head, either then or later on. That has a lot to do with my family and how they brought me up,” he underlined.
Two unforgettable experiences
Nor did Pancho find himself overwhelmed when, mere months later, he played in front of 60,000 partisan supporters in Egypt. “At that World Cup, when we took on the hosts the stadium was packed,” he said, on a game which ended 1-1. “It was a shame that we couldn’t make it past the group phase, because that team was capable of achieving more. Playing at a World Cup is unforgettable.”
A scorer of two goals in three appearances at Egypt 1997, Viveros was not the only member of that Roja squad to make it in the professional ranks. “Eight of us went on to turn pro, playing at a high standard in Chile, Brazil, Argentina and in Europe… And we’re still in touch with each other! Two of them, for example, are doing the same coaching course as me.”
His studies for said course have fallen a touch by the wayside in recent months, given Pancho’s extensive duties for Chile 2015, though he fully expects to get back on track and believes the sacrifice has proved well worth it. “As soon as I saw at the draw that we’d be welcoming Mexico, Germany, Argentina and Australia to Chillan [for the group phase], we felt that, as a host venue, we’d won the jackpot. We’ve had a lot of people coming to the stadium and, on top of that, we later got to welcome the host nation… that was the icing on the cake,” he said, beaming from ear to ear.
So, what will he do now that there will be no more matches in Chillan? “With experiences as intense as this, until they’ve finished and a bit of time has gone by, what you’ve done doesn’t really sink in,” said Viveros, as the conversation drew to a close. “It’s like when you’re a player: you don’t really take stock of your career until you’ve retired. So, I’ve still not had much time to stop and think but I know that, when I do, I’ll feel very proud.”