About my professional career as a footballer… by Pablo Veroli.

At the end of the year, it is not unusual to find extracts of the best moments lived, chronicles that highlight the most outstanding events (both positive and negative), figures that summarise the 365 days of the year in a few numbers… In this context, during this month of December I came across an article about me, published on the website of the Association of Historians and Researchers of Uruguayan Football.

From here, I would like to thank the author, Pablo Veroli, for taking the time to write my story, in a quite reliable and real way. Reading every single line of “Poyet: el futbolista del siglo XXI que defendió a la Celeste en los noventa, pero al que le costó encontrar su lugar” has made me relive unique moments of my professional career.

That said, I am proud to be able to share this article with all of you, so that I can keep it as a memento of my career. If you prefer to read it in its original version, in which you will find, in addition to the text, a good number of graphic material illustrating each stage, you can do so by clicking on this link.

Poyet: the 21st century footballer who played for La Celeste in the nineties, but who struggled to find his place

He was a pioneer and, therefore, a misunderstood player.

He was misunderstood because his football at South American level was tactically and technically advanced.

Because, at that time, the “8” or “10” were just emerging, that is, right and left midfielders, as wingers, as outsiders, as dynamic pistons who not only scored but, technically gifted, generated, accompanied the play and came to define.

Because Víctor Espárrago was also an advanced and misunderstood player when in his youth he went from being a striker to a “fan striker”, that is to say: further back on the pitch, but fulfilling the function of a constant double based on incessant physical work.

The arrival of Gustavo Poyet, born and raised in River Plate, but since 1988 in Europe, was, in principle, a balm for the Celeste when there were still no players of his style, but the bad oriental period between 1993 and 2000 -the years in which he defended the glorious four-time world champions’ shirt-, except for the 1995 Copa América, meant that his work has unjustly gone unnoticed.

Poyet was, not coincidentally, the second Uruguayan to arrive in the Premier League and the first to succeed, when that league was on the verge of becoming, in its own right, the best in the world.

It happened in 1997, when as a mature athlete (29 years old) he left Zaragoza, becoming the foreign footballer who had defended the “maña” institution for the longest time up to that moment.

Between 1990 and 1997, in seven seasons, he played 294 games and scored 80 goals in all kinds of competitions, playing as a right or left midfielder and as a midfielder on both sides and in the centre. On occasion, he even fitted in perfectly as a second striker or centre-forward, the position of his beginnings.

Midfielder or “all-rounder” because Poyet appeared here and there, but always applied to the tactical system, until the consecration of Luis Suárez, Diego Forlán and Cristhian Stuani, he competed hand in hand with José Luis Zalazar for the honorary title of top Uruguayan goalscorer in the Spanish League. The “Cabeza” – an attacking midfielder – added four more goals to bring his tally to 67, to the 63 of “Gus”, the nickname he was given in England.

He was born in Montevideo on 15 November 1967, son of an oriental basketball legend, Washington Poyet, the popular “Indio”, five-time federal champion with Tabaré and champion with Peñarol, captain of the Uruguayan national team, player in South American, World Cup and Olympic Games. Washington went down in history for wearing the number 7, while Gustavo would record the number 11 in the football team.

He inherited his fighting spirit and stature from his father, but “Gus” decided to take up football, as he had more than enough ability.

He started playing as a centre-forward. Of course, even a 1.88 metre man like him could not be, in the eyes of the average fan, more than a goalkeeper, a central defender or a “9”. And there were no players as tall as him in our country.

But he always knew he was more than that. Because, yes, he was tall, corpulent and scored many goals with his head, but at the same time, without being a gazelle, he was adorned by an agility improper of the typical centre-forward, by a superior dynamic, by a marked combativeness, but with good touches of the ball, with solid technical traits, a man who, in short, could play round the ball.

But in South America, the 8 was still the classic “pawn” and the “10” the talented, but slow playmaker! Change was coming, but it was still to come.

At the age of 18 he made his debut in 1986 in the first division of River Plate.

In 1987 he broke the odds: as a “9”, he scored four goals in 10 games in the Torneo Competencia and 10 in 23 in the Uruguayan Championship. A total of 14 goals in 33 games for a boy who had just turned 20.

And here’s a tribute to his coach at the time, Fernando Morena. With his footballing wisdom, the popular “Nando” occasionally made him play as a “10”, that is to say, as a left midfielder, a position he would take up in the Celeste, imprinting his modern style on him.

In the same year 1987, as it could not be otherwise, this young player who scored goals in different ways showing his skills and not only appealing to the header despite the facility he had, was pre-selected by the senior team and, at the beginning of the year (January and February), he played in the South American Under 20 in Colombia.

To tell the truth: the tournament started off very well for the eastern side who, coached by Oscar Washington Tabárez, won Group B, beating Colombia, Chile, Bolivia and Paraguay in succession, but ended very badly by finishing last in the finals, drawing with Brazil, but losing to the home team and Argentina. Farewell to the World Cup in Chile.

However, Poyet performed: he played six games and scored three goals, becoming, along with “Polillita” Ruben Da Silva, the top Charrúa scorer and just one behind the top scorer: Argentina’s Alejandro Russo. He would add one more friendly match, to close 1987 with seven matches and three goals in the U-20, always as number 9.

Attentive to his quality and with 17 goals in 40 games, in 1988 he was signed by Grenoble in France.

And it was in Europe where he finished his training and where he “found” his place, because although he travelled as a centre-forward, over the years he became a complete midfielder with an attacking tendency. At the end of his career, and due to a physical and age issue, he would end up as a mixed midfielder, with leadership, marking, passing, vision and still a lot of goals.

In two seasons, he scored eight goals in 40 games in France and moved to Zaragoza, where he made history and where he definitively became that modern and dynamic midfielder, possessing a wide range of resources rarely found in midfielders at that time at world level.

And the senior national team?

That is a more complex story because he only made his debut on 13 July 1993 when he was already… 25 years old! Because it was one thing to have the scarce information coming from France, but since 1990 he was already playing in Spain and the news from the mother country’s league, not at the chaotic level of today’s globalisation, arrived very frequently.

The strangest thing is that Tabárez, who gave him his debut in the Under 20s, did not count on him either when he was in charge of the senior team in his first spell between 1988 and 1990.

It took 159 appearances and 32 goals in Europe, as well as countless positive reviews, for Luis Cubilla to give him his first chance, which came in two friendlies before the USA 1994 qualifiers against Peru.

In the first leg in Lima (2-1), he started as a false right forward, a “7-8” with mixed functions, but was replaced after 66′ by Carlos Aguilera.

Four days later and against the same opponent in Montevideo (3-0), he came on for Daniel Fonseca with 20 minutes to go as a sort of playmaker, a term that was not common at the time.

The curious thing? He was dropped from the squad and was eventually eliminated from the finals.

He only appeared in the infamous friendly against Germany away on 13 October 1993, when a makeshift Celeste, without their best players, were thrashed 5-0 by the reigning world champions. He returned to play as a right-sided midfielder.

A connoisseur of Spanish football like few others, the team’s new coach, Héctor Núñez, included him not only in the squad, but as an undisputed starter, in a local environment that still struggled to interpret Poyet’s game.

The fact is that the Uruguayan style of play in the nineties, still classic, contrasted with the one that suited “Gus” like a glove: the modern style used in the best European leagues, which required technical-tactical and physical functions on the pitch that were very difficult for him to carry out here.

It is for this reason that two things should be acknowledged: to Núñez for trying to get Poyet to bring something different to the team, and to the player himself, who defended his country’s shirt without question, despite feeling a little “out of sorts” and knowing that he would rarely be able to give his best performance.

In 1995, he played almost all of Uruguay’s games (12), between official and friendly matches. With hard work, he managed to stand out as the midfielder of the 21st century on the left flank and even became captain in a couple of friendly matches (Colombia and the United States).

The “Pichón” was finally giving him the confidence that nobody had given him and that was due not only to the DT’s footballing knowledge, but also to his somewhat more modern vision than his predecessors as a tactician and the conviction he had of “Gus”‘s actions.

The “Pichón” was finally giving him the confidence that nobody had given him and that was due not only to the DT’s footballing knowledge, but also to his somewhat more modern vision than his predecessors as a tactician and the conviction he had of “Gus”‘s actions.

In the Copa América he was a vital part of the midfield alongside Álvaro Gutiérrez in the centre, Pablo Bengoechea on the right and Enzo Francescoli further up the pitch.

He scored a goal against Venezuela in the 4-1 win in the debut (his second Charrúa goal after the one scored against the North Americans in a friendly) and, except against Mexico, he started every game. He was undoubtedly the best in his position at that tournament.

He had finally achieved popular recognition and, at last, modernity was beginning to take root in our football systems.

But Poyet was a victim of circumstances. Disaster was just around the corner.

A triumphant debut against Venezuela (2-0) in Caracas, with a goal of their own, made us think that Uruguay would return to their rightful place: among the best at a World Cup, France 1998 in this case.

However, the slap in the face of reality was devastating and the wave carried the brilliant player away: Paraguay (0-2), Colombia (1-3) and Bolivia (1-0).

The results failed to materialise and, after the 1-0 defeat to Chile in Santiago, his main man, Núñez, stepped down as coach, with Juan Ahuntchain taking his place. And that was the beginning of the end for a man who was still winning plaudits on the European stage.

In 1997, he would only play two games in the qualifiers (Paraguay 1-3 and Chile 1-0, the latter with Roque Máspoli as coach).

After the elimination, in 1999 the newly appointed coach, the Argentinean Daniel Passarella, called him up for two friendlies against Venezuela (2-0, at the Centenario) and Paraguay (0-1, at the Campus de Maldonado), but he did not even complete the 90′, being substituted on both occasions.

His last two official matches came at the start of the qualifiers for South Korea and Japan 2002. Against Bolivia (1-0, 29 March 2000), at home, he started on the bench and replaced Álvaro Recoba in the 88th minute, and against Paraguay (0-1, 26 April 2000) he was replaced in the 60th minute by Nicolás Olivera.

At the age of 32, his time with the national team came to an end. In 2001, after 144 games and 49 goals for Chelsea, several trophies and eternal recognition for his outstanding performances at Stamford Bridge, he moved to Tottenham Hotspur (98 games and 23 goals), where he ended his career in 2004 at the age of almost 37, wearing the captain’s armband at the London giants.

He played 26 official matches for the Celeste, scoring three goals (plus three matches and one goal in internationals “B”). The ratio of games and goals for the national team contrasts shockingly with his records in Europe, which speaks clearly of the different realities.

He was American champion in 1995 and their mainstay was “Pichón” Núñez.

With 160 goals in Europe (181 in his entire career), he was the top scorer for years in Europe and by far the highest-scoring Uruguayan midfielder in the modern era.

Despite that, for various reasons, he was unable to make his mark on the Uruguayan national team as he did at the top level of world football.


I hope you enjoyed the chronicle, just as I did. Now you know a little bit more about me and my football career.