The world of football is much wider than it looks. The flashes and the media coverage many times get satisfied with only reaching the surface. But an infinite universe like football feeds off thousands of stories and lives such as Matias Alejandro Zaldivar’s. Born in Villa Porá, a humble settlement of Lanus, Argentina, 22 years ago, he was put aside from his club, Arsenal de Sarandí, after going through all youth leagues and making it to First Division, with 8 appearances between 2014 and 2017. Suddenly, an unexpected opportunity reopened the doors of a world that can be as fantastic as cruel.
Saldivar in a match against Los Ángeles Galaxy
Where are you playing currently?
-I’m playing for Rio Grande Valley Toros, of the US Second Division football (USL Championship).
How did you get to Toros?
-My manager got me a trial on February 2018. I went there, and I was lucky to succeed.
After the trial, did you go back to Argentina?
-No. After the trial I stayed in the US making all the paperwork to be in order, and I started to train and play with the team immediately.
How did you tell your family that you were staying at the US?
-They knew that I was coming for the trial, and that if everything went well I would stay. When the club confirmed that they wanted to count with me, I called home to tell my family, and they were all glad to hear the news.
Who was the first person you talked to?
-The first one I called was my girlfriend. I told her they had picked me to stay at the club, and then we made a video call with all my family. They were all very happy and everyone congratulated me, it’s a beautiful memory.
Until the American adventure, Matías had lived his whole life in Villa Porá with his father, his mother, his two brothers and his sister. In 2015, his girlfriend moved to Zaldivar family’s house in order to live together with his husband, and two years later they became parents of Liam. Before his son’s first birthday, Matías had to leave Argentina.
What is like to be far from your son?
-Actually, it’s quite difficult. And it gets tougher every day. I miss him very much, such as I miss my family and friends. But it’s a sacrifice I have to make.
Do you talk to Liam?
-Yes, we make video calls every day. Before the matches I always call him so he gives me a little more strength. All what I’m doing, I do it for him.
These are the most difficult things of your profession?
-People believe that being a football player is easy, that everything is fun, but the truth is that they know nothing about what an athlete has to go through to reach this level and stay at it. It’s a very big sacrifice.
Is it possible to enjoy playing football while being a professional?
-It never stops being a job. The whole time you’re defending your job, the food of your family. And it’s not only about your own work, it’s also about your teammates, the coaches and all the people that work at the club. Professional football is a job at every time.
A “villa” in the suburbs of Buenos Aires has very little in common with a city in the south of Texas as McAllen. Maybe the only point of contact between these places is the protagonist of this story. Adapting is a capacity of survivors. The distance with his loved ones, in addition to an unknown environment, can be a dangerous cocktail for someone that’s not prepared.
How’s your daily routine?
-Well, normally we train in the afternoon. In the morning I go to the gym for a while, I drink “mate”, watch TV and then I go training.
How do you get along with the language and with your daily necessities?
-Luckily, I became friend with a Colombian guy that has been living here for many years. He has a car so when we need something we go to the supermarket together. He also helps me with the language. He helps me with everything… Anyway, I’m learning English, at least the basics, and I’m eager to continue learning.
How’s the city and its people?
-McAllen is very nice, very peaceful. People are respectful and calm as well.
Do they recognize you in the streets?
-Here in McAllen players from Toros are well-known. Anyway, they aren’t as passionate as the Argentinean fans. They stop me, greet me, but always with a lot of respect.
What other differences do you note with Argentina?
-Here everything is always clean, very calm and organized. Weekends go by and nothing extraordinary happens, everything remains quiet, always.
Do you imagine yourself playing for the Argentinean National Team someday?
-Football has plenty of ups and downs, and you never know what might happen. Today you are here and tomorrow in a bigger club, with other level, other exposure. I don’t think about it, but if any player says that he doesn’t think about playing for his country, he lies…
Juan Manuel Ferrera.
Translation by: Julián Luppi
Zaldivar, when playing for Arsenal de Sarandí (Arg.)