“The hardest part was telling my children. I found my daughter Keisi, six years old, crying in her room. I tried to keep my composure. But I’m too weak for that. I hugged her and we cried together for a while.”
This is an extract from the Argentine’s Facebook post in early September, which went viral in his home country. It’s a touching note, in which the doting father describes how tough it was for him to explain to his three children why he chose to travel and play in a country that was almost 15,000km away from home. Playing football in India, too, did not make sense to his children. Especially since he had had a long career in Argentina.
Oberman himself was unsure if it was the right move. But he was sure of one thing – his floundering career had to be revived. Once rated as one of the most promising young strikers in Argentina, he had made just 39 appearances in the last three years for three different clubs.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but my family, after initial apprehensions showed faith in my decision,” he says. “I was missing my children a little more than usual so I decided to write that post. And these days, there’s no better way than Facebook to do that.”
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Oberman was destined for bigger things. Along with Lionel Messi, Pablo Zabaleta, Sergio Aguero and Fernando Gago, he was a core member of Argentina’s golden generation of footballers that won the 2005 youth World Championship in Holland.
It was a breakthrough tournament for him, scoring a goal in the knockout round and then playing a brilliant supporting role in Messi’s emergence as football’s prodigious talent. In their match report of the final, the Associated Press mentioned how ‘Messi combined with Oberman and Zabaleta to entertain a sellout crowd of 25,000, including (then) FIFA president Sepp Blatter.’
“That’s the most beautiful time of my career. To play with the likes of Messi, Aguero, Zabaleta was an experience in itself. We all were playing only for one thing, to win the championship without thinking where we all will be after so many years. While the world then didn’t know that some of the players from this team would redefine the sport, most of us wanted to do that with the football at our feet,” Oberman says.
The youth world championship is where clubs scout for the next big star. Barcelona immediately extended Messi’s contract till 2010 and in the following years, Aguero would join Atletico Madrid for $25 million while Zabaleta was snapped up by Manchester City for an undisclosed amount. Even John Obi Mikel, who captained Nigeria in the final against Argentina, secured a $16 million move to Chelsea.
Oberman hoped some club would notice him too. “The biggest dream back then was to represent Argentina. While to play for the best clubs in Europe also was an aspiration, nothing gave us a high like that of wearing the Sky Blues and Whites of Argentina,” he says.
Neither happened for him. Mysteriously, he slipped under the radar of European clubs as well as the national team coach. Finally, in June 2008, he joined CFR Cluj for a modest transfer fee of $500,000.
Back home, they also call him Tintin for his striking resemblence to the famous cartoon character. Much like the fictional hero, Oberman’s journey would be rather adventurous following the move to Romania. Over the next few years, he would also play in Chile and Spain in desperate hope of securing a big-ticket move. But realising that his career was heading nowhere, he decided to return to Argentina.
Today, as his former teammates Messi, Aguero and Zabaleta mastermind Argentina’s road to another World Cup, Oberman finds himself in Pune, trying to help the ISL side shed its underachievers tag.
He had given up on his dream of playing for a big club or the national team even before he was 30. He was happy to just play, it didn’t matter where. “I would have loved to play more for my country. But the competition in Argentina is so high that not everyone who aspires to represent the Albiceleste can do it. I was amongst the unlucky ones.”