In an increasingly fast-paced football world, Gerardo Pelusso has turned patience into something of an art form. Now 58 years of age, the hard-working Uruguayan has, after an apprenticeship at club level that lasted over two decades, finally shed his low profile to fulfil a long-held personal ambition: coaching a senior national team.
Recently handed the challenging task of leading Paraguay, a country he knows well from his successful spell at the helm of domestic giants Olimpia, he hopes to get his new charges back on track in a 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ qualifying campaign that has so far not gone to plan for the South American nation.
“I’m sorry to see another coach lose his job, but everything happened very quickly. I got the offer, and now here we are, ready to give it all that we’ve got,” Pelusso told FIFA.com, referring to his predecessor, Francisco Arce, who was removed from the post with La Albirroja struggling in second-last spot in South American Zone qualifying, having recorded one win, one draw and three defeats in their five matches so far.
“I don’t think any football fan in South America could have imagined that Paraguay would be right down near the bottom, especially when you take into account the last World Cup qualifying campaign, how they performed at South Africa 2010 and the runners-up spot they achieved in the Copa America,” said Pelusso, whose CV includes successful coaching stints in Ecuador, Uruguay, Chile and Peru.
That accrued experience stood him in good stead when he arrived at Olimpia, as he guided the Paraguayan heavyweights to their first league title in 11 years. “Right from the first day we arrived in the country, we felt at home. It’s very like Uruguay, and not just in terms of football – culturally speaking, we’re quite similar people. We identify with them completely,” said the veteran tactician, who describes Asuncion as “the closest thing to my home town Florida that I’ve ever seen”.
Pelusso, who began his tenure with a thrilling 3-3 friendly draw with Guatemala, is aware of the difficulties that come with his new post: less time with players, shorter training sessions and a stream of high-stakes matches. “I describe it like this: one of my players sends in a cross from England while another in Mexico gets on the end of it,” he explained, laughing. “But we can’t complain, that’s just the way things are. Now we need to get down to work,” he added.
The work in question could not be more challenging, in that it involves preparing for the first official match under his command, in Buenos Aires on 7 September, against a high-flying Argentina side that has won five matches in a row.
“They’re one of our toughest qualifying opponents, but they’ve not had it easy against us in recent times," said Pelusso. "We’re obviously going to try and keep that trend going, and among the many challenges we face, we do have one thing in our favour – practically no-one knows how this particular Paraguay team is going to play, and that’s a real ace up my sleeve.”
While not ruling out the idea of man-marking Lionel Messi – “That approach certainly wouldn’t be beneath us, and if we have to do it, we will; teams all over the world have tried to keep him quiet and none of them have managed it” – the ex-Uruguay international has also placed considerable emphasis on his second competitive game, versus Venezuela on 11 September.
“At present, as things stand, they’re one of direct rivals for a qualification spot. It’ll be another tricky match, and we’ll have to be up for the task,” said the former centre-back in a firm and assured tone. It is that same type of assurance that allows Pelusso to steer clear of the obligatory guarantees that are often banded about when a coach introduces himself publicly.
“It’s easy to excite fans with all sorts of promises beforehand, but that’s not really my style," he said. "What I am going to tell the Paraguayans? That their team will give 100 per cent? They already know that. That they should come out and support us? They would do that anyway, whether I tell them to or not. The important thing is to work, not talk. We aim high because we know that this is the way that goals are achieved.”
As far as Pelusso is concerned, those goals obviously include taking Paraguay to Brazil 2014, where he would be able to put into practice the Portuguese language skills that he acquired earlier in life. “Let’s hope we make it; that’s our aim.
"But I repeat, now is not the time for words, it’s the time to get down to work," he said as the conversation drew to a close. "Leading a team like Paraguay is like being asked to be a flag bearer – it’s something that extends well beyond the football team, and we hope to represent the country in the proper manner. This nation has given me and my coaching staff everything, and now is our chance to give something back.”