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Before Maradona and Messi, there was Jose Manuel Moreno

This is the story of Argentina’s forgotten football hero, Jose Manuel Moreno. The man who was better than Maradona and Messi.

Footballers are infallible. As much as we look up to them as gods, the reality is their skin is just as soft and coarse and they grow hair inside their nostrils too. The only difference is that they are usually quite a bit better at running with the ball.

And of course just like us, their life is short too.

In fact, a footballer’s life can be even shorter. A footballer hits the pinnacle at a young age and he is tethered by commitments way before his career even begins. He is forced to sit idle in a time when his peers are enjoying the ignorant bliss of youth.

It’s hard to abstain from all that. Think about the time when you were a kid and you missed that one party where pretty much everything happened. And then think about having to live through that over and over again.

It can be a regimented life.

Back in the 1930s things were different however. Footballers were still revered, worshiped and idolised. But they were by no means role models. There was no media scrutiny to keep them at bay.

In those days footballers were free.

Jose Manuel Moreno

And that is exactly how Jose Manuel Moreno would have preferred it. The Argentine was brilliant.

He was an architect on the field. He’d build delicate paths meandering through the oppositions’ defence. He’d find countless ways to deceive the goalkeeper. He was so good thousands flocked to witness his genius. He became a renowned figure across South America.

Jose Manuel Moreno was also a drinker. He was a man of the night. A man who relished in the blissful fantasy of liquor. The intoxicating feeling which made one numb and forget the complexities of life.

Just like every kid of his age, Jose Manuel Moreno grew up on the streets enchanted by the ball. He’d play with rag balls and chase them with the local cohort deep into the balmy Buenos Aires’ nights.

And just like most kids he grew up worshipping Boca Juniors. He’d watch them with gleaming eyes as a kid. The whole time he dreamt of one day putting on that Boca shirt and showing what he’s got inside the giant football cathedral.

Imagine just how exciting he was when his boyhood club gave him the chance to take his dream one step closer. An opportunity to shine in a trial game, Jose Manuel Moreno must have felt like he was walking on clouds.

But his audition would prove to be catastrophic. Boca Juniors turned him away, unimpressed by the genius of Moreno and his exuberant energy. They deemed him too small. Too weak. He’d never make it at Boca they told him.

His eyes gleamed with vengeance upon his dismissal. Moreno screamed at the club’s coaches. ‘You’ll regret this.’

With clenched fists he walked away into the sultry night and vowed to prove his doubters wrong.

A rival hero

On the other side of the city, the less popular River Plate were more than welcoming towards Moreno. They saw the potential and the talent, and the fiery spirit and they thought; ‘we’d like some of that at River.’

They weren’t wrong. They loved all of that at River. The River fans loved the dashing Buenos Aires kid. They admired him like a star. By 18 years of age, Moreno was scoring goals left, right and centre. He scored a lot of them against his boyhood club too. Much to Boca’s dismay.

But the River crowd loved it. They couldn’t get enough. They watched their man immobilise defences as if they were mere practise cones and they’d watch him guide the ball into the back of the net with ease over and over again.

They’d roar his name in the stands. The ground would quake from their roars and they’d sing hymns of his legend in the streets of Buenos Aires.

Jose Manuel Moreno loved every second of it too. The thrill of the game was an addiction. They would call him the total player. He could do everything on the pitch and he didn’t even need to train. He was far too good for that.

There was only so much time one could devote to football. Twenty four hours in a day gave him endless opportunities and in his spare time Jose Manuel Moreno developed another pass-time. He liked drinking of course and smoking but it was no fun doing that on your own. So he’d spend his time flirting with the girls who adored him in the city. Dancing in the night clubs of Buenos Aires became a daily habit.

“It is the best training”, Jose Manuel Moreno would say, because “you take the rhythm, you change it in an instant, you manage all the profiles and you do waist and leg work”.

And that was his secret. He danced in the night and then he danced on the pitch.

Enduring legacy

He was so good they took him to Mexico, Colombia and Uruguay . The alcohol didn’t effect him. He played until he was 45.

In his latter day as a player/manager at Medellin, Jose Manuel Moreno would often be disgusted with the performance of his players and sub himself on to show them how it was done.

He’d usually succeed teaching them a lesson by scoring too, despite having a bit of a beer belly. He never lost his genius.

Jose Manuel Moreno was so good he didn’t even have to try. He made football simple and easy. He brought joy to the many. Forget Maradona or Messi, Jose Manuel Moreno was the real Argentine superstar.

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