GAMBETEAR HASTA LOS 50

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Ganador del primer Balón de Oro de la historia a los 41 años, Stanley Matthews jugó más de tres décadas en el fútbol inglés. Símbolo del Stoke City, nunca fue amonestado y a pesar de no pertenecer a un grande fue reconocido hasta por la Corona britanica, que le otorgó el título de Caballero.

En el fútbol actual en el que muchas veces se considera más importante la resistencia física que la técnica, sería difícil imaginarse a un futbolista dentro de los campos de juego por más de 30 años, pero a diferencia de los tiempos modernos, antes, durante y después de la Segunda Guerra Mundial hubo un veterano de las canchas inglesas que acaparó la admiración del público por tres décadas. Las crónicas de la época hablaban de un extremo veloz clásico, pero de muy buena técnica individual. Acostumbrados al juego físico y el pase largo del futbol inglés, se le reprochaba que “dejaba armar a las defensas rivales”, aunque le admiraban su habilidad para desarmarlas con sus gambetas indescifrables para los rudos marcadores, que muchas veces se proponían frenar sus avances decididos a lastimarlo para sacarlo del partido.

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Las descripciones parecían reflejar el juego de un talentoso sudamericano, pero Stanley Matthews, el hombre descrito en cuestión, era un inglés de conducta ejemplar que nunca recibió una amonestación en su larga carrera profesional de 33 años y ganó el primer premio del Balón de Oro con la increíble edad de 41 años al superar en la votación al mismísimo Alfredo Di Stéfano, el otro candidato.

“El Mago del Regate”, como lo apodó la prensa y lo llamaban sus fanaticos, perteneció a una generación de la que no se destacaban las jugadas elegantes improvisadas por el ingenio de jugadores de su talla, una de las razones de los fracasos mundialistas de su selección, la cual integró como figura principal en Brasil 50 y Suiza 54, cuando los ingleses todavía creían ser los mejores pero chocaban con la dura realidad.

Nacido en la ciudad de Stoke on Trent, su padre fue un ex boxeador obsesionado por el cuidado físico que le inculcó la disciplina deportiva desde muy pequeño, lo que ayudó a su admirable longevidad futbolística y por lo que su capacidad de encarar y desbordar por los laterales nunca se opacó con el paso del tiempo. De hecho, lo mejor de su carrera llegó cerca de los 40, cuando a los 38 años ganó la FA Cup de 1953 con el Blackpool en el partido recordado como “La final de Matthews”. A pesar de que no sobresalía por ser un goleador, sus características asistencias permitieron dar vuelta un marcador de 3 a 1 en contra durante los últimos minutos de juego en el legendario viejo estadio de Wembley. Durante la campaña previa al título, su técnico Joe Smith le había pronosticado con acierto: “Muchos dirán que estoy loco, pero aunque tengas 37 años, creo que tu mejor nivel está por venir”.

Símbolo del Stoke City, club que militó en dos etapas (1932–1947 y 1961-1965), volvió para jugar el campeonato de segunda división y ascender a la primera categoría. Ya contaba con 48 años cuando conquistó su segundo premio a mejor futbolista inglés de la temporada (15 campañas después de la primera), por ser la figura determinante del conjunto rojiblanco campeón del ascenso en 1962.

Matthews nunca jugó en un poderoso, pero sus hazañas deportivas populares en todo el Reino Unido despertaron el interés de los propios reyes de Inglaterra, que le otorgaron el reconocimiento de “Caballero comendador del Imperio Británico”, cuando todavía estaba en actividad, un año antes de su partido homenaje, del que participaron los mejores jugadores de Europa, muchos de ellos admiradores, como Bobby Charlton o Ferenc Puskás y Lev Yashin, quienes lo levantaron en andas al terminar el encuentro despedida ante miles de espectadores presentes en el estadio, y millones que lo vieron por televisión.

Estatua con los movimientos caracteristicos del futbolista más longevo de Inglaterra.

Embajador de Honor de la FIFA desde 1992 y presidente honorario del Stoke, falleció pocas horas antes de un amistoso que se iba a disputar en Londres entre Inglaterra y Argentina, a los 85 años. Hasta el primer ministro Tony Blair tuvo palabras de reconocimiento en nombre de Gran Bretaña. “No fue solo uno de los futbolistas más elegantes que este país haya visto jamás, sino que también fue un referente de la deportividad y jugaba como se debe jugar, sin ser sancionado o expulsado ni una sola vez. Los aficionados al fútbol del mundo han perdido esta noche a uno de sus mayores héroes”, dijo ese día, aunque la leyenda de ser el hombre con la carrera más larga de la historia del futbol inglés continúa vigente en la actualidad y parece imposible que pueda ser superada.

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Estudiante de periodismo en la UNLZ. Se juega como se vive. Un, dos, tres y a lo que salga. Que gane San Lorenzo.

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