By Santiago Carbone and Raul Martinez
Salto, Uruguay, Nov 9 (EFE).- Long before Luis Suarez became a star forward for Liverpool, FC Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, people in this small city on the east bank of the Uruguay River remember he once left a soccer match because the hot dog his brother was enjoying in the stands was more interesting than the action on the field.
That and other memories of Suarez and fellow 34-year-old Uruguayan soccer great, Edinson Cavani, remain fresh in the minds of some long-time residents of Salto, a city known for its hot springs, cattle ranches and citrus farms that is their shared birthplace.
Although Suarez’s mother later corrected the story and said her son went in search of a slice of pizza, the anecdote remains equally charming.
Even so, Salto’s real favorite son, though no one says it out loud, is Cavani, the famed “Matador” who starred for Paris Saint-Germain for many years and now competes for Manchester United.
Unlike Suarez, who emigrated with his family to Montevideo as a young boy and rarely is seen in his hometown, Cavani returns whenever possible, visits relatives who still live in Salto and even enjoys milking cows and working in the fields.
Salto is near and dear to Cavani’s heart, as was apparent in an article about the so-called Ice Cream Goal that the striker recounted in The Players’ Tribune, a media platform that publishes first-person stories from professional athletes.
“It was the idea of the organizers of the youth league in Salto. How can you keep a bunch of six-year-old kids motivated no matter what the score of the game is?” he explained.
“You make a rule that the kid to score the last goal of the match gets an ice cream. The score could be 8-1. It doesn’t matter. It is a race against time to be the one to score that final goal. The feeling of hearing the coach blow the whistle when you’ve scored The Ice Cream Goal? Incredible. Pure joy.”
The building housing the offices of Salto’s soccer club, where Suarez and Cavani first developed their skills, celebrates the city’s two greatest players with large photographs showing each of them as both a young boy and professional athlete.
But Nacional Futbol Club de Salto President Francisco Cano said of the club where 500 boys and girls practice soccer and basketball that its main goal is to contribute to the development of well-rounded kids not train future professional athletes.
“Nacional is a place where children, future residents, good people and students are formed,” he said, adding that the youngsters are encouraged to study because only a select few reach the highest levels of soccer.
Even so, the city’s evident pride in its two most famous athletes is apparent in downtown Salto, where a stroll along one of its main avenues leads to a statue of Suarez celebrating a goal with his trademark three-finger gesture.
Some local residents, who may walk past the statue at a busier time of day, stop to take a photo of the soccer great after nightfall.
And a mural spray-painted by acclaimed Uruguayan graffiti artist Jose Gallino shows a smiling Cavani looking out on the Uruguay River, as equally connected to nature as its real-life subject.
Suarez’s soccer journey took him to the Netherlands, England and Spain, while Cavani has pursued his professional career in Italy, France and England, both of them showcasing to the world the talents they first developed as young boys with big dreams in the riverside city of Salto. EFE