JUAN CARLOS OBLITAS
Born: 16 February 1951 in Mollendo, Arequipa (Peru)
Career as a player: 1968-1985: Universitario de Deportes, Sporting Cristal (both Peru), Elche (Spain), Veracruz (Mexico), RFC Seresien (Belgium), Universitario de Deportes.
Honors as a player: Played in FIFA World Cup TM (1978 and 1982). Copa America winner (1975). Five-time Peruvian league champion. 64 appearences for Peru, 11 goals.
Career as a coach: 1985-1985: youth coach, Peruvian football association. 1987-1990: Universitario de Deportes. 1991-1992: Sporting Cristal. 1993: Assistant to Peru coach Vladimir Popovic. 1994-1995: Sporting Cristal. 1996-1999: Peru coach. 1999-2001: Sporting Cristal. 2003: Liga Deportiva Alajuelense (Costa Rica). 2004-2006; Liga Universitario de Quito (Ecuador).
Honors as a coach: Peruvian league champion (1988, 1990, 1991, 1994, 1995). Ecuadorian league champion (2005).
“THE BLIND MAN” PREACHES PATIENCE AND INTELLIGENCE
Alongside the legendary Teofilo Cubillas, Juan Carlos Oblitas is one of the greatest Peruvian footballers of all time. Now 56, he is currently spending time with his grandchildren and working on his tennis skills in his homeland while he waits for an opportunity to return to coaching.
In 1998 Oblitas was a member of the Peru side that were attempting to qualify for their third consecutive FIFA World Cup TM (after Argentina 1978 and Spain 1982). After a dreadful start, Peru were left with no option but to win their last two matches, which were both against Argentina. Although a 1 – 0 victory in Lima courtesy of Oblitas took them a step closer to a place in the finals, Peru eventually lost out in Buenos Aires due to a controversial goal. The 2 – 2 result secured eventual winners Argentina’s passage to the finals in Mexico.
After his World Cup dream went up in smoke, “El Ciego” (meaning “The Blind One”, a nickname alluding to the fact that he had to wear contact lenses) decided to hang up his boots. In the end, however, he did make it to Mexico 1986 after a Peruvian television channel took him as a commentator. This provided him with an opportunity for another triumph, this time in a tennis tournament organized for accredited journalists, thus taking a small measure of revenge on behalf of Peruvian sport. Oblitas has been playing tennis ever since and currently takes to the court three times a week.
“El Ciego” recalls a time in the winter of 1980 when Belgian club Seresien, for whom he was playing at the time, were left managerless. By a twist of fate, Oblitas happened to be suspended at the time and agreed to manage the club for the three fixtures that remained before the end of the season. After one win, one draw and one defeat, the club president offered him the position of player-manager. “But I said no because I wanted to finish my playing career first rather than mix it up with other stages in my life.”
Oblitas retired as a footballer in 1985 and by 1986 was already working as a coach. The Peruvian football association put him in charge of the youth team that took part in that year’s South American Games and the following year’s South American U-20 Championship.
In June 1987, he took over in midseason as head coach of the team at which he made his debut, became a star and ended his career after securing a hatful of national championships and a runners-up spot in the Copa Libertadores: Universitario de Deportes. His first year as a coach for the club, in which Universitario clinched the title in a decider against arch rivals Alianza Lima, was unsurpassable. Universitario were runners-up the following year and regional champions in 1989 and 1990.
He then moved to another Lima club, Sporting Cristal, with him he secured the championship in 1991 and runners-up spot in 1992. it was during his tenure at Cristal that he gave debuts to Nolbero Solano, Roberto Palacios and Flavio Maestri, who would go on to become stars of the Peruvian game in 1009s.
The following year, he became assistant to the Peruvian national coach, Vladimir Popovic, but the team performed very badly in the qualifiers for the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA TM. After that frustrating experience, he returned to Cristal to oversee one of the most spectacular periods in the club’s history. He won the league championship in 1994 and 1995, crafting a dream eleven for the fans.
As the years go by, one acquires many things. Oblitas, who turned 56 on 16 February, has accumulated knowledge, experience, a few gray hairs … and grandchildren.
In 1996, he was appointed head coach of the Peruvian national team, with whom he oversaw the side’s best results since the last time they qualified for FIFA World Cup TM. Although the team only missed out on qualification on goal difference, the team failure polarized opinion and stoked intense passion, both in favor of and against Oblitas. He eventually resigned after Peru were knocked out of 1999 Copa America at the quarterfinal stage.
His experiences with the national side left their mark on him, as for months he was the target of the most savage criticism in the history of Peruvian sports journalism. Looking back at a safe distance, he is able to voice the following original explanation for them: “The whole hostile atmosphere was fired by media controlled by the intelligence service of Alberto Fujimori’s government. Football was manipulated for psychosocial purposes because it was an everyday product.” Nevertheless, the period earned him respect both at home and abroad.
During those years, Oblitas also experienced a change in his life that he would shout about excitedly to anyone who would listen: he became a grandfather. First of all his eldest daughter, Gisella, gave birth to Maria Jose and Francesca, then his son Fernando added Paula and twins Andrea and Ariana. All that was missing was a grandson, which his other daughter, Vanesa, contributed by giving birth to Sebastian last year. “I’ve got five beautiful granddaughters, but I am really delighted with Sebastian. Now we’ve got a grandson I feel we are complete.” Top footballers always live in hope that a descendent of theirs will follow in their footsteps. If Sebastian did become a footballer, however, he would not represent the Peruvian national team who were champions of South America in 1975: “He was born in the USA and if he did make it as a footballer, I would have conflicting emotions on seeing him play for another country.” It is for this reason, perhaps, that his parents think he will be a surfer.
The turn of the century found Oblitas lacking motivation. Following his departure from the national team, Obltas endured an unsuccessful return to Cristal between 1999 and 2001 before deciding to devote himself to his family, tennis and reading (he recommends Embers by the Hungarian, Sandor Marai).
He was then tempted back into television and became a panelist on a cable channel before developing a desire to manage abroad. In 2003 he moved to Costa Rica to take over at Liga Deportiva Alajuelense. Results did not go his way; however and he soon came to an agreement with the board to leave the club.
In football, as in life itself, you need to have enough patience and intelligence to wait for the right moment and grasp it with both hands. Oblitas possessed both this qualities. This is illustrated by the goals he scored, in particular his strikes against Chile in the 1975 Copa America, when Peru went on to win, against France in 1982, which gave his country one of its most famous wins, or against Argentina in 1985.
CALM AND SATISFIED
Following his disheartening experience in Costa Rica, patience and due consideration were required before he would take up another coaching position outside Peru. He turned down some offers before receiving the right offer from ambitious Quito-based club Liga Deportiva Universitaria. He spent two intense years there, from August 2004 to August 2006, in which he had to prepare his team for at least two fixtures a week against both national and international opponents. He guided Liga Deportiva Universitaria to the national championship in 2005 and the 2006 Ecuadorian Apertura , the semi-finals of the 2004 Copa Sudamericana and the last sixteen and quarter-finals of the 2005 and 2006 Copa Libertadores, respectively. After experiencing moments of great emotion together with his son, whom he took on board as his assistant, irreconcilable differences with the board led to his departure from the club and a return to Peru, this time feeling satisfied with the job done.
This is where we find him today, enjoying himself with his grandchildren and seeing in the new year at the magnificent seaside resort of Mancora in northern Peru, one of the world’s most beautiful beaches and probably remembering his beginnings as a footballer, when he would play as a child on another Peruvian beach in his native Mollendo in southern Peru. Far from the hustle and blustle of Lima, Oblitas says he has decided to take a rest before thinking about his future. He knows that he is a strong candidate to return to the Peruvian national team, which is something he said that he had not the least intention of doing a few years ago, although he now explains (thus demonstrating his twin virtues of patience and intelligence) that this could change in the future.
Maybe the time will come, maybe not. Some love affairs are eternal and others have no ending. Oblitas departs with a remark that neatly summarizes his thoughts on football: “The most important thing in this sport has always been and always will be the footballers. The coach is never more important.”