Travel back 11 years to the Argentinian village of Cuatro Bocas, and you would have had difficulty finding anyone among its 100 inhabitants who would have tipped Lucas Alario to score the goal that would send River Plate into the final of a FIFA Club World Cup.
There would have been various reasons for their scepticism. Firstly, there was the fact that he was a little boy from a small, remote village. Secondly, he was a self-declared Boca Juniors fan. And thirdly, and most significantly of all, he was a largely reluctant football player. “He didn’t really enjoy it,” his father Abel declared a few months ago. “He liked to do other things.”
On moving to the town of Tostado to start secondary school, however, the young Lucas began to feel an uncontrollable passion for the game. Having once played barefoot in his home village, he began to dream of making it as a professional, a dream he duly fulfilled with Colon, fighting relegation and promotion battles with the Santa Fe outfit before leaving the nether regions of the Argentinian top flight behind in July this year, when he signed for River Plate.
Alario’s rise has continued apace since then, with the striker scoring the goal that made his new club Copa Libertadores champions and took them to Japan 2015, where he swooped again on Wednesday to trigger yet more delirium among the Millonario faithful.
“All of this is new to me. It’s a dream for someone like me, who’s always had to fight their way up from the bottom,” he told FIFA.com with the calmness that is his hallmark. “I’ve been through some tough times, like going down with Colon, but this has been a wonderful year for me on a personal level. I never expected to join a club like River or to play in the Libertadores or the Club World Cup.”
One characteristic that is barely noticeable in the 22-year-old striker off the pitch is his determination, a facet that soon becomes evident when he steps on to the field of play and was there for all to see on Wednesday, when River struggled to make headway against Sanfrecce Hiroshima’s well-drilled defence: “I always think positively, that something’s going to come my way. Luckily it did, and it won us the game.”
Alario leading the way
That determination has also been useful in helping the new arrival to make his way at one of Argentina’s biggest clubs. Having been brought in as a back-up option, he made the striker’s position his own within a matter of days, marking his debut at the Monumental with two assists in the Libertadores semi-final first leg against Guarani of Paraguay, a tie he then sealed by scoring a crucial equaliser in the return.
“I was convinced I could play,” said the man himself. “My dream, my goal when I arrived at River was to nail down a starting place and to keep hold of it. I fight hard every day so I can keep proving myself to the coach. He’s shown a lot of faith in me game after game, and I’m grateful to him because he’s the reason I’m here.”
Marcelo Gallardo has never had any doubt about the aerial ability of 6’0-tall striker or his gift for receiving the ball with his back to goal and then turning to make a beeline for it, qualities that that River coach sensed would bring something new to his attack. When Alario arrived at the club only for medical issues to delay the signing of his contract, Gallardo considered taking drastic action.
Revealing his thoughts in the book Gallardo Monumental, the coach said: “If I’d had to, I’d have gone and camped out at Los Cardales [where River had their pre-season training camp] until the situation got resolved.”
Nicknamed El Pipa, Alario has had the odd moment of doubt since finally signing on the dotted line for Los Millonarios, his biggest scare coming when he dislocated his shoulder in a Copa Sudamericana match in September. “I spent the first few days afterwards thinking I’d end up missing the Club World Cup, but thanks to the medical team, the coach and the physios I was able to make it.”
Make it he did, the young striker enjoying another unforgettable night in Osaka. Scarcely believing it all, he said: “I have to enjoy this. You don’t get the chance to be here and experience this very often, to soak up the amazing support of the fans in the stands. You have to be here to believe it.”
A final against Barcelona, with River emerging as world champions, would set the seal on an unforgettable 2015 for Alario: “We’re going for more. This is the title we’ve been dreaming about.”
Beating one of the greatest teams of all time will be no easy task, but then again, nothing is impossible for Lucas Alario, the goalscorer who spent his childhood days doing anything but dream of footballing glory.