Tomas Granitto cannot be accused of making the easy choice. The midfielder had the option of pledging his allegiance to a country that has won the FIFA World Cup™ twice and produced some of the greatest players in the history of the game. And with a little luck he might even have been good enough to count tennis stars such as Juan Martin del Potro, David Nalbandian and Juan Monaco as his colleagues.
Choosing to nail his colours to a different mast, however, and playing his football in the USA’s college leagues, he has just been celebrating his new country’s first victory on grass in a FIFA competition.
Though his name and accent may be Argentinian, Granitto is very much an El Salvador player and is rightly thrilled with La Selecta’s defeat of Australia at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Turkey 2013 earlier this week, just as his father was when his native Argentina won their world titles in 1978 and 1986.
There have been a lot of jokes obviously. They call me El Che and they laugh at the way I talk, but they’ve welcomed me with open arms.
So how did Granitto end up playing for the Central Americans and not La Albiceleste? The answer to that question lies with his father, who fortunately for FIFA.com is in Turkey following his son’s exploits. A tennis coach by trade, Gustavo Granitto was for many years the International Tennis Federation’s head of development in Central America.
“I was running the project and they sent me to El Salvador on what was meant to be a five-month posting," he explained. "I ended up staying for five years. It was then that Tomas was born, a Salvadorean in an Argentinian family.”
While Tomas has not returned to the country of his birth in the 15 years since then and is now living in Miami, where he has attracted the attentions of the USA’s youth teams, he had no hesitation in accepting El Salvador’s invitation to play for them.
“I’m proud to wear this jersey, to sing this national anthem and to have helped make the whole nation happy with this historic victory,” said the new boy in the Cuscatleco line-up, who has been warmly welcomed since joining the side only two months ago.
“There have been a lot of jokes obviously,” he added in an unmistakable Argentinian accent. “They call me El Che and they laugh at the way I talk, but they’ve welcomed me with open arms. As far as I’m concerned, it’s great to be sharing a dressing room with them.”
While Granitto Sr is less effusive when discussing his son’s choice, he has had little problem in accepting it: “We are very proud of him and we support him. It’s a decision he made on his own and he’s totally at ease with it. He feels very much part of the team and he identifies with the country.”
When asked how he might feel to see his son playing for El Salvador against La Albiceleste one day, he said: “I’d have divided loyalties, that’s for sure. Obviously, though, we’d be rooting just a little bit for our son.”
Gustavo was equally phlegmatic when his little boy opted to pursue a career in football rather than tennis, the sport to which he has devoted his whole life.
“He works in and lives for tennis,” said Tomas, who in his father’s opinion was no slouch with a racket in his hand. “But right from the day I decided to play football he has never stopped encouraging or supporting me.”
Dad, Del Potro and Messi
While coaches Blas Belmonte, Marcelo Neveleff and Pato Nayar have all had their part to play in his development over the years, the Florida Gulf Coast University midfielder is grateful to his father for the contribution he has made to his career: “He knows what elite performance and sport at the highest level is all about, and he has helped me mentally. It’s the best support I can have: a father’s affection and his insight on professional sport.”
Gustavo interjected: “No, no. I’m not his coach. In fact I don’t know that much about football, if there’s such a thing as an Argentinian who doesn’t know much about football. I just said to him what I say to every player. I prepare them so that they can go and do what they love. And in my son’s case his passion is football and his dream is to play at the highest level.”
Tomas is not lacking in inspiration as he attempts to make his way to the top, citing tennis players Manu Ginobili and Juan Martin del Potro as his role models along with Lionel Messi: “They’re all champions at the peak of their sports, and they’re an inspiration for a young player who’s dreaming of turning professional. I learn a lot from each of them.”
All three have found success overseas: Del Potro as a US Open winner, Ginobili in the USA also, and Messi in Spain. Following suit, Granitto is attempting to find success in Turkey - and in the colours of El Salvador, where he feels right at home.