- Peru midfielder Renato Tapia is seen as a 'Future Captain' of Los Incas
- The 22-year-old plays his club football with Feyenoord in the Netherlands
- Tapia: "Some people still cannot believe that we’re going to Russia"
Asked during a radio interview who administered the national team’s WhatsApp group, Peru international Luis Advincula answered: “Who else but the ‘Future Captain’… Renato Tapia.”.
Speaking with FIFA.com, Tapia laughed, as he explained how his team-mate had come up with the moniker after Peru coach Ricardo Gareca stated publicly that “Renato has leadership qualities. He’s a lad who speaks up and even the older players listen to him.”
That said, the 22-year-old central midfielder was keen to point out that “the captain’s armband deservedly belongs to Paolo Guerrero, and we respect that. If one day I’m asked to fill that role, then hopefully I’ll do it well. But this team has more than one leader, which is a good thing given what lies ahead.”
What lies ahead is nothing less than the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ - a tournament Los Incas last graced in 1982 when Tapia and his team-mates were not even born.
“Some people still cannot believe that we’re going to Russia,” said the player, who can also operate on the right side of midfield or even in central defence.
“When I arrived in the Netherlands as an 18-year-old, I never imagined I’d make the national team so quickly, and even less that we’d qualify for a World Cup. Sure, I dreamed about it, but making that dream a reality seemed a long way off.”
(Someday, I will tell you what this day was and that we went to Russia with your mother. I love you infinitely!)
From envying to being envied
What’s more, the player had not even made his debut with FC Twente or with Peru's senior national team when he had to live through all the Dutch celebrations during Brazil 2014. “The day they clinched third place, the party went on until four in the morning, and I envied them. I wondered when our turn would come.”
Now it is the turn of the Dutch to envy Tapia, who has been on the books of Feyenoord since 2016. “They don’t talk much about the World Cup, as missing out is still a sore point for them, but they do give us a lot of credit for what we’ve achieved. Some of my team-mates have even promised to cheer for Peru,” he said with a smile.
Nicolai Jorgensen, however, will not be one of those. The Feyenoord striker will be in the opposite corner when Peru get their World Cup campaign underway against Denmark on 16 June in Saransk. “We’re friends and have agreed to swap jerseys afterwards, but there won’t be any bets on the outcome. We both know it’ll be a very tight and crucial game."
Asked to rate from 1 to 10 the degree of difficulty of Group C, which also features France and Australia, Tapia was in no doubt: “10! Nothing has been nor will be easy, and we never start as favourites. None of us have been here before, so we don’t yet know how you play a World Cup.”
Which is not to say, of course, that Tapia is putting any kind of limit on how far his team can go, even looking at possible Round of 16 opponents. “Why not, even if it is dependant on our finishing first or second in the group. Pre-tournament tags and expectations don’t count for anything – what matters is what happens out on the pitch. In that respect, we feel ready for the challenge ahead.”
1,501 - With 1,051 minutes played in 14 games, Tapia ranked fifth among Peru's players with the most playing time during the South American qualifiers for Russia 2018. Only Paolo Guerrero (1,480 in 17), Christian Cueva (1,300 in 16), Pedro Gallese (1,260 in 14) and his central midfield partner Yoshimar Yotun (1,076 in 13) had more. Tapia also scored one goal during qualifying.
(I hit that ball with all my soul, heart, and life. The whole country kicked with me!! I love you, Peru!!)
Two for Tapia
How was it that you never played senior football in Peru?
“At the club where I did my academy training, there were only age-category sides. At 15, I competed in the South American U-17 Championship and then I had trials at Liverpool, who rejected me because they thought I wouldn’t be tall enough for a defender, and at Tottenham [Hotspur]. The following year, my club agreed terms with Twente, and I left for Holland, where I’ve been ever since.”
How would you describe yourself as a footballer?
“I have a lot of confidence, I’m crafty and a bit cheeky, and I have good feet. I prefer to play in central midfield, but I can adapt to wherever my coach wants me to play.”
Did you know?
· Tapia has the Peruvian coat of arms tattooed on his chest, near where his heart is.
· His most treasured shirt is from the senior team debut handed to him by Gareca for a friendly against Venezuela on 31 March 2015.
· His father has the shirt Tapia wore on the night Peru qualified for Russia 2018, “and I’m not allowed to even touch it”.
· He already knows what he will do with the shirts he wears during the World Cup: “The group phase ones have to go to my father, my wife, and my daughter, along with two or three that I’ll swap after games. Hopefully, I need to use more, then we’ll see what happens to those.”