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FIFA World Cup 2018: Ever Banega steps off from path to self-destruction to become creative force in Argentina’s midfield

Ever Banega surrounded himself with controversies early on in his career. Luckily for him, his clubs and now Argentina, all that temperamental issues are a thing of the past.

Written by Sriram Veera |
Updated: June 28, 2018 9:28:25 am
Luckily for Ever Banega, all the temperamental issues are a thing of the past. (Source: AP)

Ever Banega was naked in front of a webcam. The video would leak with the title ‘Banega, grande desde siempre’ (Banega, always big). It would create a stink in Valencia where he had just joined in 2008. He was in his teens, then. In 2012, he was hit by his own car. He had got down to fill petrol but had forgotten to pull the handbrakes. The car moved and broke his ankle. Not long after, his Ferrari again took aim at him — this time it burst up in flames. Banega managed to get down in time and tried his best to douse the fire.

Then, in 2013, he didn’t show up for training ahead of a big game, and the team searched everywhere only for him to saunter to the ground, drunk. Around that time, he was also pulled up by police in wee hours of morning for driving around drunk. And once, for some reason, the then Valencia midfielder thought it would be funny to post a photo of him wearing a Real Madrid jersey. That didn’t go well with the fans, as you would imagine.

Luckily for him, his clubs and now Argentina — for whom he made that spectacular aerial pass on Tuesday night that allowed Lionel Messi to unleash magic — all that temperamental issues are a thing of the past. He has credited his wife and family for the mental turnaround. It’s safe to say that life hasn’t been easy for him, growing up in Rosario, a city in Brazil where Messi also hails from.

Until Banega started playing as a professional, his family was in financial trouble. “At one point in time, all that was left was for us to eat was wet mud. It was a tough upbringing,” Banega once told La Nacion, an Argentine newspaper. His father had played football for the club but was essentially a bricklayer and Banega grew up with four brothers. As a kid, there were no toys for him; just a football. “I am entirely grateful for everything my parents did. Without them, and especially my wife, I wouldn’t have this incredible journey.” Not without the coach at both Valencia and Sevilla, Unai Emery, who has always had faith in Banega, and who now, as the new Arsenal coach, is trying to rope him into the team.

Humble beginnings

Were he not good at football, he reckons, he too would have become a bricklayer since studies weren’t his cup of tea. Luckily, he was good at the game but it wasn’t an easy rise. The family had one pair of football boots, and two of his brothers Luciano and Cesar were of a similar built and they would share the boots. “When a game was over, we would take off our boots and give it to the one who had to play,” Banega recalled.

It’s said that Rosario is an Argentine city where it’s best to walk looking up. The exquisite 19th century domes and sculptures that crown at the art deco houses demand that attention. Most young boys, though, spent their time staring down at a ball. The kids’ loyalties are split between two clubs: Rosario Central and Newell’s Old Boys. It’s at Newell’s that Banega first met up with Messi, who was comparatively from a more affluent background. Banega would watch mesmerised at the way young Messi would toy around with the other kids on the field. “He used to look like a dwarf then, his kit was way too big for him, but what he used to do was already far too good. Messi made us all look stupid.” Without Banega, perhaps, it would have been Messi and Argentina who would have been left heartbroken in Russia.

For some reason, Banega didn’t start in this World Cup. It’s been a theme with him for Argentina: he was left out of the last World Cup too. Things promised to change when Jorge Sampaoli became Argentina’s coach last May. In July, Sampaoli and his chief assistant coach Sebastian Beccacece met up with Banega in Rosario for lunch. The meeting went for two hours where they even watched videos of two friendlies against Brazil and Singapore, and even played videos of significant moments from Banega’s career. It seemed that Banega would be the creative centre-forward in Sampaoli’s plans, but it hasn’t always played out that way. He started a few games, missed out a couple and when he returned for a match last year, La Nacion reported it thus: “The return of Éver Banega could bring the filtered pass that was missing in Montevideo, which breaks lines and frees Messi of the obligation to back down to start the maneuvers. Sampaoli will seek with Banega to recover the value of “mediocentro”, (Centre forward) the man who defines the style of his team.”

Those lines could have been written during this World Cup as well. Fortunately, Sampaoli regained his trust in him in his time, and Banega has already freed Messi of the need to drop back defensively. Banega is the man who is defining the style of this Argentine team, and much would continue to depend on him if Diego Maradona intends to continue celebrating the way he has been doing in the Russian stadiums.

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