“You'll see, someday I'll be a famous footballer," said a young William Chiroque to his mother Sabina. This vow came after she – harbouring dreams of her son becoming a mechanic – had asked him for the tenth time to do his homework rather than play his favourite game, pointing out that a ball would not put food on the table. Only then did the young Peruvian finally obey his mother’s request, walking off the only pitch in the village of La Pilca, a dusty, stone-filled park with wooden goals.
Today, two decades later, little has changed in this humble community. In fact, Mrs Chiroque still lives in the same house, which, minor touch-ups aside, looks very similar to how it did back then. The same could be said of the playing surface, which still has a distinct lack of grass, although it now boasts metal goalposts and fewer stones.
That little boy is now 31, although his youthful features and pint-sized frame suggest otherwise. Following his tremendous performances at the 2011 Copa America, where he was one of the stars of a surprising Peru side that finished third, he has now fulfilled the promise he made that day. “To think that he was actually telling the truth, and that I didn’t believe him,” his mother recently reflected.
La Pilca is a tiny village in north-west Peru, located near Piura, the city to which Chiroque was drawn when, after years of kicking a ball around barefoot, he decided to pursue his dreams of becoming a professional. In doing so, he was leaving behind a place where he is better known as ‘Wilson’. “That’s what we wanted to name him, but the girl at the registry office misheard and put ‘William’, and it was only later that we realised,” recounted Chiroque’s father.
“That’s true. As if that wasn’t enough, my nickname ‘Periquito’ was also a case of mistaken identity!” Chiroque confirmed between giggles to FIFA.com. “The nickname belonged to one of my brothers, whose blond hair reminded people of a local bird. But even though I’ve got dark hair, I inherited it somehow,” recalled the deep-lying forward.
Renowned for his dummies and feints, Chiroque’s apprenticeship among the stones and dust has produced a footballer who is tough, brazen and resilient to knocks; surprisingly so, given his diminutive weight and size.
Playing at the World Cup would certainly round off a great career, but it’s a long road, and after the Copa America, expectations are high.
Every time he returns to La Pilca, he still removes his shoes and enjoys a kick-about with local children, who dream of nothing else but following in his footsteps. “I tell them I’m still the same person that I was before,” said the player who signed for current club Juan Aurich in 2009. "I’d prefer for them not to look up to me so much. But the warmth I receive from them is important, in that it reminds us what we can achieve during life’s long journey."
Starting off on that journey was not always easy for Chiroque. “When I went for a trial in 2000 at Club Atletico Grau in Piura, I didn’t have any boots, so they gave me a pair to use, but they were about three sizes too big," he recalled. "But I played well and they signed me.” Two years later he moved to a larger club, Alianza Atletico in Sullana, where he made his senior debut at the age of 22.
National highs and lows
His fine performances saw him called up to the Peruvian national squad in 2004 by then coach Paulo Autuori, who handed him his first cap in a 2-2 friendly draw with Chile, a match in which Chiroque managed to set up one of his country’s goals. “Although he regularly included me in squads, he always tended to leave me out of the 18 players he would name for the match,” the forward said of Autuori.
By 2007, despite performing well for new club Cienciano, Chiroque’s fortunes had barely improved with Peru, coached by Jose del Solar at the time. “He included me in his list for the start of the South Africa 2010 qualifiers, but I only played a few minutes against Paraguay and didn’t even make the bench for the Chile match.
"He kept calling me up for the next few games," he continued. "Although while my team-mates were taking on Brazil in Lima, a group of us were sent to train in Cuzco, as the altitude there was supposed to help us prepare for the Ecuador game in Quito. But because I was then left out again, I lost the urge to go (on national-team duty)."
The move to Juan Aurich two years later would relaunch his international career. “There’s no doubt a part of this unexpected success is down to the club, but I never gave up fighting for it, and now I’m making the most of it,” said the skilful Peruvian. Nor has he denied the role that luck – and injuries to other members of Sergio Markarian’s Copa America squad – has played in his recent rise to prominence, although it had little to do with his excellent displays at the actual tournament.
Chile coach Claudio Borghi, after watching his charges struggle to contain Chiroque in their hard-fought group-stage victory over Peru, humorously asked of his counterpart, “Where did you unearth that little racehorse?” The player has since acknowledged the compliment with humility, just as he has done with the local media’s habit of referring to him as 'the Peruvian Messi'. That label emerged after the match for third place against Venezuela, during which he scored a fine opener in his country’s 4-1 win.
“I take everything as it comes," said Chiroque. "Now I’m focusing on doing well for my club and continuing to be a part of the national set-up. Playing at the World Cup would certainly round off a great career, but it’s a long road, and after the Copa America, expectations are high, which is why we need to take things slowly.
“Despite Brazil’s absence, I think this qualifying campaign is going to be really tough," he concluded. "If we allow ourselves to think that everything’s easier now, we’ll just be asking for trouble.”
Just one question remains to be answered: did Chiroque promise his mother that he would play in the 2014 FIFA World Cup™? The entire nation of Peru will certainly be hoping that he did.