Chile 2015 marks Paraguay’s return to the FIFA U-17 World Cup after a 14-year absence. One man to play a big part in ending that lengthy spell on the sidelines is the team’s coach Carlos Jara Saguier, who took the country’s U-23s to silver at the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament Athens 2004.
As one of seven brothers to play the game professionally in Paraguay, the 64-year-old Jara Saguier is by no means the only member of his family with strong links to football.
Commenting on that unusual distinction in an interview with FIFA.com, he said: “I don’t think there’s any other family in the world that’s done that. And that’s not all. My father also founded Rubio Nu, who now play in the first division. I’m one person who can definitely say that I’ve got football in my blood.”
The birth of a dynasty
Jara Saguier has no fewer than six sisters and six brothers: Dario, Toribio, Enrique, Angel, Alberto and Crispulo, who, like him, grew up football fanatics, which meant a lot of broken windows at the family home and a fair bit of damage in the garden.
“That’s the way it was,” he recalled. “We had to put the whole house back together after every family gathering. We never had a single fight though,” he added, as if making a point for his young charges in the Albirroja U-17 side.
With the exception of Alberto, the male siblings all played for Cerro Porteno. Four of them were star players and league champions and are still remembered at the club today. Some say that Carlos was the best of them.
“We all had something to offer,” he explained. “I was an attacking midfielder but I played for Cerro at the same time as Saturnino Arrua, who was in a class of his own, so they put me in the centre of midfield. Thanks to my vision and skill on the ball I was still lucky enough to score quite a few goals.”
Carlos won three league titles with El Ciclón between 1972 and 1975 before joining Mexican club Cruz Azul, where he also became a firm favorite in picking up two league winners’ medals. He then returned to Cerro, where he called time on his career in 1985. Four years later he returned to Mexico to take up his first coaching position, with Monterrey.
The experience factor
Five of the seven brothers played for Paraguay: Dario, Enrique, Angel, Alberto and Carlos, who had the longest international career of them all, featuring in the FIFA World Cup™ qualifying competitions for Germany 1974, Argentina 1978 and Spain 1982. Each of those campaigns ended in failure for Los Guaraníes, hence his delight at the U-17 side’s qualification for Chile 2015.
“I don’t see it as payback in any way,” said the coach, who has been in charge of the side since 2014. “For me it’s a wonderful opportunity to find out how it feels to be involved in a World Cup. I tried hard to achieve that when I was playing and I know how difficult it is.
“That’s why I’m thinking about these kids. They have to know that they might not experience something like this ever again, and they need to enjoy it. They have to show the same kind of responsibility as they did at the South American championships, but they still need to go out there and have fun.”
Jara Saguier’s experiences as a player are helping him to bridge the generational and cultural gap between him and his players: “Teenagers like to rebel but if you give them the right kind of guidance you can help them acquire the experience they need.
“We chat to them so that they can understand just how important this phase is in their careers. I’m happy with these kids because they listen and they give their all in everything they do.”
Lessons to learn
Jara Saguier’s “kids” came through a baptism of fire in hosting the South American Championships. After winning their first-round group, La Albirroja beat direct rivals Uruguay in their last game to secure the fourth and final World Cup berth.
“They really felt the pressure but you’d expect that with 16-year-olds,” he explained. “We weren’t always able to control it and that’s why we were inconsistent.” The Paraguayans showed plenty of promise in qualifying for Chile 2015 and boasted the most prolific attack in the tournament.
“We played well up front. Averaging two goals a game is no easy task,” said their appreciative boss. “We did have problems at the back, though, and we must find some balance. You have to do three things if you’re going to play well: create chances, convert half of them and don’t give the opposition any chances. We’re going to work on the third one because you pay for your mistakes in a World Cup.”
As he went on to explain, Jara Saguier is not waiting for August’s draw to set his objectives for Chile 2015: “I’d be lying if I said we’re going there with designs on winning the trophy or fighting for it.
“What I’m concerned about right now is making them understand that they have to work as hard as they can, because there are a lot of things that can work against you in football: your opponents, the ball, the referee, the pitch etc. One thing people can’t stop you from doing, though, is giving your all in trying to play good football and getting a result.”
That sound philosophy stems from his family life, and even today the experienced coach continues to seek advice from his brothers: “I ask for their opinion on things and we exchange ideas. I always try to look for what’s best for Paraguay.”
In taking charge of the country’s talented youngsters, Jara Saguier is also proud to maintain the long-established links between his family and the sport he loves: “It’s great to keep the name in a prominent place in Paraguayan football.”