Chescandinavia Newsletter

1 2015

The Icon: Lobo Diarte – A Poet Wolf

by Pål Ødegård
Suggested soundtrack (Lobo Diarte - Tú Volverás)
  «Hi, I’m Lobo Diarte! And to show you that the wolf isn’t that ferocious, I will sing a song about love!” These were the words coming out from the TV sets in on New Year’s Eve in 1976 while Spanish families were gathered watching the annual show to kill the last hours of the year. And as Carlos Diarte, the Valencia striker nicknamed the wolf, appeared looking like a part of the Bee Gees crew, many of them choked on their bringing-luck-and-good-health-for-the-next-year grapes. And Diarte sang more than well in a recorded clip that featured all the characteristics of a 70’s music video. ‘Tú volverás’ – or ‘You will return’ – had been recorded a few weeks previously for the new year’s eve special. And ‘The Wolf’ sang the song smoothly as velvet, and would probably have fooled Little Red Riding Hood that he was her grandmother had he been the wolf in the folk tale.
  Lobo 4 Carlos Diarte grew up in Asunción as the youngest of eight brothers in what can safely be described as poor conditions. His father left the family when Carlos was two years old, leaving his mother to sustain the wolf pack. The only way was for the boys to look for stray jobs to bring food to the table. But she was adamant that they also studied well. It’s therefore remarkable how multitalented Carlos grew up to be. He was not only a good musician, playing guitar along with his silky voice. But he also had a grasp on poetry, and he was very fond of literature. But if the longshanked and elegant Paraguayan with his distinctive Indian features was known for something, it was for his abilities in the penalty area.
His debut came for the Paraguayan giant Olímpia in 1970, when Diarte was still 16 years old. Having spent his earlier years playing until dusk among his elder and bigger brothers, he was physically ready for the tough game of elite football early on. It was here he got his nickname from team mate Rivarola, who commented that his stride looked like a hunting wolf. He helped Olímpia win the title the next season. Fast, strong, explosive, aerially supreme, and with a devastating right foot, the goals poured in. Paraguay might have been a football backwater in this era, but it didn’t take long before European clubs noticed him.
  Still, it was no mystery that it was Real Zaragoza who brought him to the Spanish Primera division in the middle of 1973/1974 season. The white and blue from the north already had his fellow countrymen Saturnino Arrúa and Felipe Ocampos in their team, giving them all the nickname ‘Los Zaraguayos’. In two and a half season for Real Zaragoza, he scored 31 goals, and was part of the team’s adventures in the European Cup for two consecutive seasons after finishing third and second in the Primera table. In his second season at Zaragoza he scored 16 goals, and that was enough to catch the attention of Valencia and their sporting director and former star Pasieguito.
  Lobo2And at Mestalla he would form a formidable attacking trio with Alberto Mario Kempes and Dutch international Johnny Rep. Again he managed to get 16 in the bak of the net in his first season for Los Che, but the next season Sevilla’s Jaen sent the guaraní to the sick bed with a vicious tackle. Diarte’s injury would be felt by Valencia, despite Kempes scoring 38 goals in all competitions in the 1977/1978 season. But in the next season he was part of the team that took home the Copa del Rey. The Kempes/Diarte partnership is still regarded as a central part in a great era for Valencia, even if it didn’t bring any league title. But the Valencia fans who saw him will never forget him, especially not his long lived record of scoring eleven goals in six consecutive matches.
  By the time Valencia took home the European Cup in 1980, ‘Lobo’ Diarte had moved on to UD Salamanca on Pasieguito’s recommendation, playing alongside big names like Juanito and D’Alessandro. Here also he became a legend despite not scoring much, and helped the team from the university city to stay up in Primera, and even sniffing on a spot for the European competitions. But again, Diarte would only stay two years as he put on the green and white of Real Betis in 1980. He helped the Sevillan side to reach Europe (you could say this was Diarte’s speciality), and it was here he scored his most memorable goal against Athletic Bilbao. He started from the center circle, chipped the ball over the head of an opposition player (a so called ‘sombrero’), advanced in his characteristic zigzag dribbling style before whacking it into the top corner.
  Again he didn’t stay too long in one place, and in 1983 left Spain to try his luck in France. The reason was a row with Betis over unpaid wages. Saint Etiénne had come from some very good seasons when ‘El Lobo’ arrived, but was now mired in financial difficulties and administrative instability. ‘Les Verts’ was relegated the same season Diarte arrived, and until 1986 he was stuck in the French second division. This compromised his chances to be a part of the Paraguayan national team that qualified for the Mexico World Cup in 1986, their first participation in 28 years. Despite 45 caps for the ‘albirroja’, he was unlucky with his timing on another occasion too. Concentrating on Valencia, he would also miss out playing as Paraguay won the Copa América in 1979. But he would shine a last time as a prolific striker in Paraguay. His return to Olímpia in 1986 was instantly crowned with the league title. It was a fitting career end after all.
  Lobo5But the wolf hadn’t satisfied his hunger for football just yet, and went on to become a coach. Starting at Valencia’s youth team in 1988, he directed a number of mid range Spanish teams, including Atlético’s B team, Salamanca and Gimnastic of Tarragona. He also coached Guaraní and Olímpia in his home country, and was the national coach of Equatorial Guinea when he was diagnosed with cancer. As the fighter he had always been, he did his best to beat the sickness. But one sunny day in April he went down from his flat in Valencia towards his favorite bar to talk about football and literature with close friends. Not that he had anything alcoholic to drink. The cancer, by now having made him look much older than his 54 years, restricted him from his glasses of red wine, along with his steaks (the cornerstone of every South American’s nutrition).
  "When I feel a little better, I’ll go to play with my kids here in the park!", he said in an interview not long before. In the bar he had ordered a cup of tea, while the photographer Tania Castro from El País took his very last photo. Diarte had asked for it himself, as various other newspapers had taken pictures of him a few days earlier which really showed how much his health had deteriorated. He wanted his memory to be dignified. He admitted that even for him, the effects of the chemotherapy was hard to bear. In front of him he had a booklet with poems written by his favorite poet; Ángel González. ‘Lobo’ Diarte also wrote poems himself, and has 187 of them registered as official works of art. Apart from poems and songs (he learned to play the guitar by himself), he had good advice for young football players: -I never took drugs, even when a coach offered me pills! My ‘doping’ was wine, but I only went out on Monday nights, after the weekend match. The rest of the week I rested when not training. A footballer has do ration three things; drinks, sleep and sex! That April day was his last interview. A few weeks later, on the 29th of June in 2011 he took his last breath in Valencia, where had played, coached, ran his business, and where his kids had grown up.
  Lobo3Carlos ‘Lobo’ Diarte was , according to himself, one of a dying breed. –My most prominent strength was my heading ability. At Valencia, Rep was the one passing or crossing, Kempes the finisher with his potent shot, and me the tower in the area when the opposition parked the bus! You don’t see those players anymore that rule the skies! Roberto Ayala was the last one, and even he wasn’t like Iván Zamorano or Santillana! His stint at Valencia was short, but the fans who saw him won’t forget him easily. And personally I remember someone that thought he had travelled back in time when another Paraguayan, Nelson Haedo Valdez, rose among the Athletic Bilbao players in a tight match at Mestalla in 2013, heading in an impossible goal from a cross for an emphatic 3-2 win in the last minute. “That was just like seeing ‘Lobo’ Diarte”, an elder behind me shouted in a raspy whiskey voice over the roar of Mestalla. The wolf himself would have approved of the comparison. ¡Qué te volverás, Lobo!