Memories of Chumpitaz and Cubillas: Welcome back Peru

That Brazil should have reached the final of the 2019 Copa America can hardly surprise anyone. After all, Brazil is the host nation, the disruptive Germans are nowhere to be seen, so the Brazilians have advanced pretty smoothly.

Though with a certain amount of good fortune. How did they manage to get past Argentina in the semifinal? This was surely the best game we’ve seen from Argentina lately, yet Brazil came out on top.

The Fates (yes, the Fates -- not the referee) decreed this to be Brazil’s moment. The 2-0 scoreline makes it look straightforward for Brazil. It was anything but that. So be it, the Fates have spoken.

Brazil in the final. There to face ... Peru. Peru? Peru? This looks like those damn Fates again, playing a sly joke this time. There is, after all, nothing in Peru’s recent history that suggests the team merits a place in the final. Peru won the Copa in 1975, and in the subsequent 15 tournaments the best it has done is a third-place in 2011.

There had been a brief period of Peruvian World Cup promise in the 1970s. That ended with a 6-0 loss to Argentina in 1978. Peru has qualified for two World Cups since then, in 1982 and 2018, but failed to get out of the first round at either event.

Even in the current tournament, Peru’s progress looks surreal. A win, a loss and a tie in the group stage was enough to secure a quarterfinal berth. But that one loss was a 5-0 clattering from Brazil. If that was not enough to quell any Peruvian notions of glory, the formidable Uruguay loomed as the QF opponent.

But a rather different Peru, Phoenix-Peru maybe, arose from the ashes of that 5-0 wipe-out. A Peru that was clearly not intimidated by Uruguay, a Peru that looked younger and livelier -- and better -- than Uruguay. At 0-0, their game went to the shootout. The Peruvians, cool, calm and confident, scored with all five of their attempts. Luis Suarez, of all people, made a mess of his kick, and Uruguay was beaten.

Next up, Chile. By this time, my mind was full of images from the Peru teams of the 1970s. The images came easily enough, those were teams that I had long cherished, that had convinced me that when it came to creative soccer, the Peruvians were second only to Brazil.

Two players dominate my memories: Teofilo Cubillas, who was a 21-year-old on the 1970 team. And the 26-year-old Hector Chumpitaz. Two quite extraordinary players. They were unknown in European circles. Logically, I suppose -- all 22 of the Peruvian squad played for Peruvian club teams. It was the same for Brazil, Uruguay and Italy -- none of whom had players with foreign clubs.

The Brazilians, such brilliant winners, overshadowed the rest, but the Peruvians had done enough to warrant more attention. Cubillas, probably the most promising youngster of the tournament, did go on to achieve a wider fame but the name of Chumpitaz never spread beyond Latin America.

Yet Chumpitaz was, I think, the most astonishing player I’ve ever seen. He astonished because he was always one of the smallest players on the field, yet he had the audacity to play as a center back. Wikipedia gives his height as 5-foot-6.

It’s difficult to recall such an assured player as Chumpitaz. His positioning, his tackling, quick and firm, never violent, his quite extraordinary ability to win head balls against much taller opponents marked him as special. That he was -- but how much more so when you realize that all those skills radiated from such a small body. Maybe, lurking in that body, there was a small darting center forward trying to get out, for Chumpitaz was ever eager to burst forward in fearsome attacking mode. As a club player, he scored 74 goals.

Chumpitaz, a wee man among tall defenders, starred because of his wonderful skills, his soccer skills. And his enthusiasm. This bubbling, busy, boisterous man was the essence of the 1970s Peru. They played exuberant, joyful soccer because they so obviously enjoyed what they were doing.

But soccer in the 70s was ceasing to be an arena for happy players. It was becoming a theater for worried coaches. The problem for the Peruvians was that they weren’t serious enough. Not professional enough was another way of putting it.

At the time, I asked Rinus Michels what he thought about that. “They are very skilled players,” he replied, “but they are not used to the atmosphere of the World Cup, to the concentrated professional training necessary. For one week, maybe two, they enjoy themselves. After that ... they want to go home.”

That was not an explanation that appealed to me. But it was irritatingly persuasive. I think I eventually came to believe in it, if only as part of my overall view that soccer was being attenuated, that the lively spontaneity of the players was being drained from the sport, replaced -- quite deliberately -- by the pre-planned formations and formulae of statistics-obsessed coaches and nerdy computer boffins.

Now here come the Peruvians again, the Phoenix-Peruvians who took care of Uruguay, then gleefully swept Chile aside, 3-0. Are they merely a throwback to an already-discounted approach? Or are they the guardians of the essential truth of soccer, that it is a game for players, not for stat-freaks and nerds? A truth that we continue to ignore?

During the Peru-Chile game my soccer heart exulted in the second half as Peru’s Andre Carrillo burst out of his own penalty area, setting off a wonderful, quick-passing counterattack. It ended, alas, in anti-climax as Yoshimar Yotun skied the ball over an empty goal.

But the play itself, until that final miscue, was pure soccer excitement. It didn’t work out because -- well, maybe because that’s not the way the game is played these days, or perhaps because the players were not good enough to execute.

I prefer the second explanation. Because I like the idea of a sudden burst of intense, instinctive soccer. A sudden raising of the dramatic and skill levels. I hope to see more of that in the final.

I don’t know that we will get it. That 5-0 defeat just two weeks ago must weigh heavily on the Peruvian minds. A situation that calls for caution. But can Peru play that way? I doubt it. To get the best from their soccer, it has to be attack-oriented. Up until maybe 10 years ago I would have said the same for Brazil. Today I’m not so sure.

It’s been quite some time since we saw the free-flowing goalscoring Brazil, since Brazil looked like Brazil. What I’d like to see in this final -- indeed, what we could get -- is a “spectacular and effervescent game” with both Peru and Brazil playing with “dash and spirit.”

The quotes are from 1970, by English journalist Brian Glanville describing the World Cup clash between Peru and Brazil. Of course there have been massive changes since then. In 1970, all of Peru’s World Cup players were with Peruvian clubs. This year, Peru has 17 players on its 23-man roster who play outside Peru. Similarly, all of Brazil’s 1970 players were with Brazilian clubs; today, of Brazil’s 23-man roster, 20 are with foreign clubs, all of them in Europe.

The ramifications of such a fundamental change are hard to verify. But whatever they are, it is to be hoped that they would not eat away at the sport’s heart. Can we still get a “spectacular and effervescent” game from these two teams?

6 comments about "Memories of Chumpitaz and Cubillas: Welcome back Peru".
  1. frank schoon, July 6, 2019 at 2:39 p.m.

    Guys, this Chumpitaz was something else.  He was a centerback with frontlline attacking skils. He not only had poise but also had confidence on the ball which you don't see with today's puppets playing centerback. I've got tapes of the '70WC and I think you can find it some of those games on Youtube. Brazil-Peru was a great game. Didi, who was the earlier mastermind, centerhalf (ball distributor)of Brazilian '58WC team coached the  '70Peruvian team.....I get goose bumps watching Chumpitaz, especially in the Brazilian game.
    As a matter of fact there is Argentina- Peru '70WC ,fullgame which Ijust found. 
    You will note that the Peruvians accented their passing skills with short quick passes in the opponents penalty area like it was nothing....

  2. Wooden Ships replied, July 6, 2019 at 9:46 p.m.

    Great look back Paul. Maybe when we are  younger things are more magical. I think yes and no. I still see magic now and then but it doesn’t occur with patterned play, even when demonstrated perfectly. I always prefer the unanticipated, the surprising. And Frank, I know you’ve discussed it before and I too remember Cubillas not qualifying for a coaching license. Even us geocentric-egocentric St. Louis players of the 60’s and 70’s recognized that we were far from the level of soccer maestros. Wish I could go back. 

  3. frank schoon replied, July 7, 2019 at 10:18 a.m.

    Ships, don't get me started on wishing to go back....YOU JUST DID, BUDDY!! When you compare the players of yesteryear to today's players with their patterned play that lacks real creative ability and thinking there is only one answer COACHES and the advent of the coaches school forcing you get a licensed in order to follow programmed garbage, that had the effect of producing such great technicians of the game today <SARC>.
    Rinus Michells introduced "Total Soccer" without the aid of the KNVB coaching school that was set up as he was coaching  Ajax. In other words the KNVB did nothing to contribute to this.
    The National coaching School stuff all this "programmed" crap into the minds of the coaches, license them and put it into their mind that they now  know something about the game.
    Even on the National Team they are clueless on how to build up an attack properly for none of the Instructors are able to teach it to the coaches. But the USSF know exactly who shouldnt be licensed...Like the Phenominal CUBILLAS. Yeah ,what is he doing there, he doesn't know anything about the game. I'm glad the Instructors caught that situation in time. Can you imagine Cubillas with a license, only with thanks to the USSF coaching were we saved by them<SARC>
    The reason why we have such patterned play is that the coaches lack creativity themselves, and usually are of the Defensive persuasion as so many are; and likewise learned from the USSF Instructors who themselves played at the level of Joe's Pizza Hut. This is why soccer is taught by the numbers, and programs and not by creativeness; after all how can you teach Creativeness.....This is why it is so refreshing to watch Rosie....

  4. Jogo Bonito, July 7, 2019 at 12:51 a.m.


    Every time I see the diagonal red sash uniform I think of him ... I watched some old videos of him right after they beat Argentina and it was joy to see him play again. My brother and I used to try to imitate his “sliding” free kick goal from 70 World Cup (plant foot slipped out but the ball still went in!) 

    Thank you again PG ... Well done 

  5. beautiful game, July 7, 2019 at 11:52 a.m.

    Thanks for great deja vu recap Paul. Watched both of these great Peru players bring an extra touch of amazing skill to the game. 

  6. ARISTIDES SASTRE, July 7, 2019 at 5:16 p.m.

    Those of us who were lucky enough to see Cubillas play for the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers  from 1979 through 1983 saw a player whose sublime skills made the most difficult plays look like child's play.  I will never forget him "catching" a 40 yard pass in the air while running at full speed, cradling it on his foot and then when the goalkeeper came out to confront him at the edge of the box he cooly tapped the ball around the goalkeeper with the outside of his foot and gently curled it onto the far post and into the goal.  I barely recall watching Chumpitaz play and don't mean to imply that he was anything other than a wonderful player (when Peru came and played in South Florida), but memories of Cubillas and the beauty of his game will stay with me forever.  

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