Brazilian side São Paulo’s Lucas Pratto would look more at home on a rugby pitch than a football field but on a journey that’s taken him from South America to Italy and back again, he’s developed some odd superstitions, writes Brazilian journalist Bruno Rodrigues.
Lucas Pratto is a very peculiar man. A single look at the Argentinian forward is enough to see that. São Paulo’s biggest signing of 2017 looks more like a rugby player than a professional footballer, although his quality can be seen in less than three touches on the ball – with one of them probably ending in the back of the net. But there is something about Pratto, little known by press and fans, that is even more impressive than his style of play or his rugby physique: his superstitions, or “cábalas” as the Argentinians call it.
Lots of football players have their rituals before a match. Prayers, the order of the kit parts, the right foot to step onto the pitch… Lucas Pratto, however, has taken it to another level of faith as his friends from inside and outside football explain.
Pratto is a great enthusiast of The Simpsons series since he was a (not so) little kid back in La Plata, Argentina, and even sports a tattoo of Homer and Bart on his right leg. When he was at Boca Juniors’s youth side, he used to keep little figurines of Simpsons characters inside his boots to give him luck between championship matches. “He is a Simpsons fanatic. Of course, before playing he took them out. He just simply left them inside his boots when he was not using them. After matches, he would put them inside again,” says Josué Ayala, a former colleague in the Boca days and now playing for Atlético Tucumán.
Pratto’s brother, Leandro, reinforces the myth around the Simpsons dolls. “He always had some shrines. My mother and I love movies and we always gave him dolls and action figures. He made a kind of sanctuary with them”, Leandro recalls.
Are you a forward or what?
His first big experience in football came at Universidad Católica. In Chile, Lucas Pratto scored goals, won a national title and the appreciation of fans. The funny thing about all of it was the fact that he played for a whole year with the nº 2 on the back of his shirt, a very rare number for a striker. After playing a great Copa Libertadores campaign with the club in 2011, Italian side Genoa bought him.
There, Pratto had the opportunity to choose his own shirt number. Different to South America, Europeans are a little bit more open about shirt numbers, so it was almost inevitable that a number that suits a striker would be available. But instead , the nº 2 that impressed everybody at Católica was his choice for Genoa. “He chooses the nº 2, which for a striker, it’s very strange. It was very fun to watch him with that shirt”, Cristóbal Jorquera, a Chilean who played with Pratto in Italy, recalls with laughter.
Unfortunately for the Argentinian, his time in Italy did not go well. After just six months and few opportunities (or goals), it was time to seek a move. And, as a result of this run of bad luck, some new ‘cábalas’.
Poor ball boys
At Argentinian club Vélez Sarsfield, Lucas Pratto had what could be remembered as his best spell in football. After a bad period in Italy, his own country was the perfect setting to get back on top.
In the Vélez shirt, Pratto was chosen by the fans as the club’s best player in two consecutive seasons (2013 and 2014), and scored lots of goals – including the winner in a 1-0 victory over Newell’s Old Boys to clinch the national title in 2012. This success, however, didn’t come without its supertitious aspects. At least not for Lucas Pratto. “Everytime he stepped into the field, he had to go out with a ball in his hand and then he would kick it to one of the touch lines”, remembers Diego Canali, one of Pratto’s best friends who played with him in the Boca youth side.
Spare a thought for the poor ball boys who had to collect Pratto’s superstitious kicks every game.
Around the chest
After succeeding with Vélez Sarsfield, Lucas Pratto was acquired by Brazilian club Atlético Mineiro. He needed just a few matches to gain the respect of the fans and his teammates. But there was something strange about the Argentinian in the Galo’s locker room during training. He used to sit next to the door, but everytime he went out for training, he first came to the other side of the dressing room, passing around a chest placed in the middle of the room and then walked out to the pitch. One day, defender Edcarlos noticed this ritual and decided to dig into the story.
“I used to sit at the opposite side of him. One day I wondered: ‘Man, why does he come and walk around instead of simply going out? I thought he came to say ‘Hi’ to somebody. But it was to walk around the chest, and then he went out. One day I closed his path. I got the chest, and some other things so he could not come and walk around it. It was the day everybody discovered and laughed about it. ‘Come on, man. Everyday you come here, for God’s sake’, I said to him. Every player has its superstitions, your intimacy with this stuff. I admit that it was funny”, says Edcarlos, Atlético’s Sherlock Holmes.
Making his own way
At the begining of the current season, Lucas Pratto decided to move from Atlético to another Brazilian powerhouse: São Paulo Futebol Clube. It was the club’s biggest signing in 2017 and as, happened at his former side Atlético, the forward gained the confidence of fans very quickly, becoming one of the favourite players among ‘Tricolor’ supporters. And of course: new club, new rituals. Every time he comes to the field of Morumbi (São Paulo’s home), he needs to pass behind the goal before stepping onto the pitch. 99% of his São Paulo’s colleagues just climb the stairs of the home team changing room and straight out. But a single player walks behind the goal and joins the group at the other side.
That man is Lucas Pratto. A man of (strange) faith. The king of superstitions. The king of the Argentinian cábalas.
Bruno Rodrigues is a Brazilian journalist based in Sao Paulo. Follow him on Twitter: @bh_rodrigues