My Son Failed By An Inch: Chapter 3

A Story Ends While Another Begins

Moscow was half red and half snow when I was at the subway and a man, immaculately dressed and probably Spanish came to me and asked if I wanted to play for Real Madrid in the winter of 1956. I gave him a muddled stare and told him to find his way back home trusting that a deal to play for the elite club had to bear some sense of pomp and publicity. But all he offered was a pen and wanted a yes or no.
“I’ll come with the papers if you are willing” was what he told before he wasn’t to be found.
I wanted to tell him he was good at trying to put up a mockery but instead, “Who are you. Where do you want me to come?” poured out, probably due to a disharmony between my intellect and instinct. He told his name was Alberdo Sanchez and confessed that he had been scouting me for weeks now. Post a visit to the Santiago Bernabeu and a tour that gave me a glimpse of its glorious past, he signed me for the Real Madrid Youth Academy on the 31st of July, 1966.

Both of us were in our twenties when we began walking to where we are. He also managed the club for six years from 1990 to 1996 before hanging his boots. I am 71 now and I’m guessing he’d be 75. We spoke often, about life, football, families and food. I wanted to tell him about Santo, but some part inside begged me to wait for a while. Alberdo did guess it right.
“What else?”
“Not much for now.”
“You sure? There is something else.”
“Yes. I’ll tell you about someone special. But give me some time.”
“Fine. We shall talk later. Goodbye.”

Wishing Santo luck with the pair I gifted him, I used to sit through his playing sessions and mine for all the qualities a potential footballer should possess, especially when you want him at Real. We grew closer and he started trusting that I am not one among those wealthy people who have, over the decades, grabbed the poor man’s bread and butter. He spoke a lot about his mother, friends and life in India whilst he praised his mother land but complained of its lawmakers. I taught him a few tricks; all that age was liberal in letting me to. He dribbled, tackled, scored but never stopped running. Once I asked him where he drew his energy from.
“Life” he answered.
“I keep chasing it. So I’m fast and can’t afford to stop.”
I kept finding answers and not far from the last call, I felt the time has come to tell Alberdo. One night, I called him and told him about Santo and how he could be nurtured into another Alfredo Di Stefano. Alberdo knew the amount of respect I had for Don Alfredo. So he never bothered to question my faith in Santo.

Alfredo Di Stefano
Alfredo Di Stefano

On a rainy day, one of Madrid’s scouts Liusio Alamos called and told me the paperwork was ready and Santo has to be there to complete the signing. I knew this was Alberdo. He still managed to pull a few strings. That day, I went to see Santo at the beach. He came and we sat on a rock which was greeted by lofty waves that touched it and fell back. I disclosed the news to Santo and much to my awe, found out he was not interested. He couldn’t leave his mother behind. I took me two days and some patience to convince his mother he would be in safe hands and that this wasn’t a part of some scandalous child smuggling business. In the end, she would agree. I promised Santo I would take care of his mom and arrange for her well being. He agreed on the condition that I called him every weekend and put his mom on line. Came the day Santo packed his baggage and as he was leaving, as always, his mother had told him not to play dirty and get hurt. Both of them shed a silent tear that could do less to justify the growing distance between them. On a bright sunny day when the sand glittered and the sea shone, Santo boarded a plane that took off from Vasco De Gama and was on his way to Madrid chasing his dreams.


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