The links between Ireland and Argentina go back centuries from the Chief Admiral of the Argentinian Navy, William Brown, to Che Guevara and, like any cultural exchange, there are significant footballing ties also.
Argentina is said to be home to South America’s largest Irish community and the world’s fifth largest among the Irish diaspora. As early as 1535, two Irish brothers Juan and Tomas Farrell are thought to have participated in the expedition of explorer Pedro de Mendoza to the River Plate, and are believed to be the first Irishmen to set foot in Argentina.
The missionary priest Father Thomas Fehily, whose ship on the passage to Brazil was captured by English pirates, was transferred to the La Plata region in 1587. He was later followed by Fr. Patrick O’Gorman and Fr. Anthony Fahy who became important leaders of the Irish community. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries names such as Murphy, Cullen, O’Hara and O’Donnell began appearing in the country. The celebrated Ernesto Guevara Lynch is descended from an important family of merchants in the middle of the 18th century while the 2012 Nobel Peace Prize nominee Juan Carr also has Irish ancestry.
The most famous immigrant of all was William Brown of Foxford, Co Mayo who led the revolutionary war with Spain and became the Chief Admiral of the Navy, as well as Governor of Buenos Aires. The cultural links between the countries, then, are significant and, typically, they extend to football.
The club Valez Sarsfield was named after a judge called Dalmacio Velez Sarsfield who descended from Irish immigrants employed in the military in Argentina during the mid-18th century. There are several regional teams called after William ‘Guillermo’ Brown.
James Wensley Bond from Armagh and Henry Murray from Dublin played in what is believed to be the first organised football game on Argentine soil on 29 June 1867 in Palermo, while compatriots also served as committee members for the Buenos Aires Football club.
The establishment of Lobos Athletic Club in the south of the capital city on 3 July 1892 by a group of Irish-Argentines is considered to be the first Irish sports club in the country and Irish-Argentines were included among the first selections for the national team.
In more modern times, the first Latin American country to play Ireland was Argentina, who won 1-0 at Dalymount Park in 1951. During the Falklands War, the FAI risked the wrath of the British by requesting the release of players for a tour to South America that would include a meeting with the Argentines. Eventually the fixture was scrapped, but not before many Irish players were refused permission to travel (though not Liam Brady), and the tour led to Ireland’s record defeat, a 7-o loss to Brazil in Uberlandia.
Argentina provided the opposition for Eoin Hand’s first game as caretaker coach in 1980 before assuming the role full-time. A teenage Diego Maradona lit up Lansdowne Road as the visiting world champions claimed a 1-0 win with a goal from Jose Daniel Valencia.
The Argentines and Lionel Messi were Ireland’s guests once more for the opening game at the redeveloped Lansdowne Road in 2010.
In the wake of Giovanni Trapattoni’s exit from the Irish dugout, two Argentine managers were said to be among the list of candidates to replace the Italian, Hector Cuper and Marcelo Bielsa.
Representatives of the former Inter, Valencia and Parma boss, Cuper revealed his interest almost instantaneously following Trapattoni’s departure. The then Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola hailed Cuper as a ‘defensive master’ during his time at Racing Santander but it was another Argentine and another apparent candidate for the Irish job, whom Gaurdiola made it his mission to learn from, the man known as ‘Loco Bielsa.’
Argentine journalist Xabier François, who has a deep interest in the fortunes of the Irish team, noted at the time:
“Regarding Bielsa he is the best choice you’ve got if you want to change Irish football, from under youth level to the senior team. Guardiola rated him as the best coach in the world. When he was learning the trade, he visited Bielsa for advice at his countryside manor in Rosario. Pep studied what he did at Bilbao.”
“If Ireland wants to change things around, go for an Argentinian, like the Vatican did.”
Maybe one day, the Boys in Green will.