Papu Gomez: We want to give Messi the chance to win the World Cup

  • Argentina face Uruguay and Brazil as they close in on World Cup qualification

  • Confidence still high after this year’s Copa America triumph

  • Papu Gomez talks about that continental title, the road to Qatar, his famous dance, and playing alongside Messi

Back in May 2017, when Alejandro ‘Papu’ Gomez collaborated with some Italian Youtubers to make a humorous video clip, little did he know that it would go on to become his signature celebration and be forever associated with him.

The video became known as ‘el baile del Papu’ (the Papu dance) and, whether celebrating a title like the Copa America or a goal for his national team or club side Sevilla, or indulging requests for it by young kids, Gomez does not hesitate to do his trademark dance and show off his funny and charitable side.

The Argentinian was 29 when the dance went viral, although by then he had already spent eight seasons in the Old Continent. A superb 2016/17 campaign with Atalanta enabled Gomez and his club to make a name for themselves in Europe. This in turn led to a call-up from then Albicelete coach Jorge Sampaoli, a move to Sevilla and eventual glory with the national team at this year’s Copa America.

Next on his horizon is no less a target than the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, which he spoke about in an exclusive interview with that also touched on his famous dance, career ambitions and what it means to share a friendship, dressing room and goals with Lionel Messi. Can you start by telling us where the 'Papu dance' come from?

Papu Gomez: This idea came about around four years ago. Three Italian youtubers who go by the name of Gli Autogol, have this Fantacalcio (Fantasy Football) series that does a lot of parodies and jokes on the game. I’d done some sketches for them and the idea came after they saw a video of me doing a jokey dressing-room dance. They told me that if I wanted to put out a charity song with me doing the dance, then I could donate all proceeds to whatever good cause I wanted. At the time I was patron of an association of disabled boys who play football in Bergamo. So we put the video together, never imagining that it would play out like it did. Incredibly, it really took off and was a hit that summer.

And you’re still doing it today...

I'm a little tired of doing it as so many people say to me ‘Go on, do the Papu dance!' I’ve got used to it now, although sometimes I ask them to stop (laughs). When I came to Sevilla, I knew they’d get it out of me. I'm happy to celebrate my goals with the dance, and I keep doing it for the young kids, as I know they’re the ones who enjoy it most.

What do you remember about that 2016/17 season, when you broke through with Atalanta and made your debut with the Argentina senior team?

I understood I had to get into goalscoring positions more often. That Atalanta side were very attack-minded and built around a particular style of play with me as the finisher. It was quite extraordinary. With Argentina I won the U-20 World Cup at Canada 2007, but I was never called up after that (to the senior team). Italy wanted me to declare for them, but I couldn’t because of the 2007 tournament. It was my best season and Argentina were need at the time with things not going great in their quest to qualify for Russia 2018. It was incredible and something I’d long been striving for. It also coincided with me re-joining old team-mates from 2007 like Banega, Di Maria and Kun [Aguero].

Not winning it since 1993, Leo's tears...What did the 2021 Copa America title mean for the team?

It was something epic and historic. The team was fine but we started slowly and got better as it wore on. As a group of people, we were very good, like a family, and that’s what brought Argentina the long-awaited title. There were a lot of celebrations as there was an entire generation that had never seen Argentina as champions. And after losing so many finals, we needed that title. It was something of a millstone for veterans like Leo, Kun, Otamendi, Di Maria, along with many others who, despite losing finals, performed very well. We were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - JULY 10: Lionel Messi of Argentina lifts the trophy with teammates after winning the final of Copa America Brazil 2021 between Brazil and Argentina at Maracana Stadium on July 10, 2021 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images)

You sound emotional just recalling it...

It was something unique. I came to Sevilla to compete in a top league and with the idea of the Copa America. I got the chance to take part and managed to score two goals, winning a title with Argentina at the age of 33 after just a handful of games. Someone must have waved a magic wand at me – there’s no other explanation.

Now you face two tough assignments in the qualifiers, Uruguay away and undefeated Brazil at home. Winning those would be a giant step towards Qatar…

We have to keep working well and continue the project started in 2019 with young players, which is bearing fruit. It’s important to achieve our goal of qualifying as soon as possible to take the pressure off and use our final games to try different things. We need a few more points, as the media tell us that anything above 25 points is usually enough to guarantee qualification.

What does Leo Scaloni bring to the team?

He inherited an Argentina side that had just been eliminated from 2018 World Cup, and he’s done very well in first assignment as head coach. That deserves a lot of credit. He’s surrounded himself with people like Walter Samuel, Roberto Ayala and Pablo Aimar, all experts and former internationals, and has assembled a good group focused on working hard and improving. The coach has given a new face to Argentina and proven his worth. He also has a clear idea of how the team should play, and he puts us at ease and makes us all feel important without complicating things.

What does it mean to play with Lionel Messi?

For us, he is number one and the main man. Messi makes us feel like an intimate part of his life. It's a gift, something we enjoy when we're with him. In terms of the football, there are no more adjectives to describe him... Seeing him on a day-to-day basis, on different occasions and in diverse situations is crazy. You try to learn from him, but it's very difficult to imitate a genius, as they possess special qualities and come along maybe once every 50 years. When you see him do his thing, sometimes you have to laugh, but what we enjoy most is being close to him – sharing many small things and details.

Messi involves us in his life. It is a gift that we enjoy when we are with him.

Papu Gómez

Has he talked to you all about his ambition for the next World Cup?

He already came very close to winning it, within one game... It's going to be a different World Cup: a November one and maybe his last due to his by age. Also Argentina will go into it in good shape and enjoying a nice moment, with the weight lifted from us thanks to the Copa America title. All Argentinians as well as his team-mates want to help him, and we want to give him the opportunity to win the World Cup. He hasn’t asked us for anything, but we know it. Are Argentina favourites to win the World Cup?

With its history and name, Argentina start as favourites. If I’m totally honest, we have some of the best players in the world and won the Copa America undefeated. But you have to respect others and keep in mind that there are five or six European teams plus Brazil who are very strong. It's going to be a very nice World Cup with a surprise or two. You also need a bit of luck too. It will be hard, but I think we have the requisite tools to go as far as possible.

Will we see the ‘Papu dance’ in Qatar?

That’s my goal. Hopefully it will be my first and last World Cup, something extraordinary to crown my career. I have to keep doing things right with Sevilla, stay competitive and try to help the team. The time will pass quickly. There’s about a year to go, and my aim is to be among the 23-man squad and be able to play at that World Cup.