Murphy: The Argentine town united by Pochettino, Gazzaniga and Spurs
Sat 18 May 2019, 11:29|Tottenham Hotspur
The unusually named town of Murphy in Argentina is entwined with Tottenham Hotspur more than one could ever imagine. Pedro José Caffa tells us the remarkable story...
It’s November, 2018, and there are two Argentines in the office of a football club in London. Both were born in the same place, a small village with only 4,000 people. One is a coach and the other, a player. The coach enjoyed a long career as a footballer and played for his national team. Now the story is different. The coach gives his pupil the news he’s dreamed of all his life: "You have been called up to play with the Argentine national team!"
It’s almost hard to believe it’s a true story. The club is Tottenham Hotspur. The coach, Mauricio Pochettino. The player, Paulo Gazzaniga. And that little Argentine town where their stories began is called Murphy.
Murphy is almost 400km west of Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina. Arriving at this quiet place, with low and disparate houses, you can see a large sign that adorns the entrance to the town by National Route 33 and Güemes Avenue: "Ambassadors of Good Football,” honours the professional football players born in Murphy in the south of Santa Fe Province.
"Some cities have monuments or landscapes to be proud of, we have this wealth of being a factory of players,” says Marcelo Camussoni, Mayor of Murphy, who in his office has framed shirts of all of them.
In the afternoon you can see deserted streets and shops closed. In Murphy, napping is a religion! Although you may be surprised to see tractors parked in the centre of town or lots of children playing with a ball under the sun.
Mauricio Pochettino and Paulo Gazzaniga grew up there with two common denominators; the countryside and football. These points armoured them with discipline, humility and an unwavering desire to excel. Murphy lives thanks to the countryside and lives for football.
It was on the farms where Mauricio had his first job and kicked a ball for the first time. "At dusk, before dinner, we always played with Mauricio and Javier," says Hector Pochettino, the father of our manager. "I always say that he headed well because we spent hours training that.”
Amalia, his mother, interrupts to claim Mauricio was breaking windows with the ball on their farm as well as in the house where they live to this day, the place where legendary Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa first discovered a young, promising Mauricio.
Every time Paulo returns to Murphy he seems to find a connection with his family and friends in the countryside. "The first thing he does is get together with his friends, eat barbecue and play football. The last time he even came to prepare ham in my farm,” recalls Chelo Gazzaniga, his uncle.
Chelo is one of the butchers in the town who is renowned for making delicious salamis. "I sent him 12kg of salamis once. He eats them with Juan Foyth, Erik Lamela and I also sent some to Mauricio... The English butchers do not know how to make it!” he jokes.
Murphy's story began on 22 January, 1911, when the railroad station with the same name was created. The nearby lands began to populate and it was the Pochettino family, from Piemonte, Italy, who were among the first to arrive. The Centro Recreativo Unión y Cultura was founded 14 years later. The club would be the cornerstone in the careers of Mauricio, Paulo and another dozen professional football players who were born in that town. Mauricio started at a very young age in the blue and white shirt of the club and at 14 he was already competing in the First Division with his older brother Javier.
"Javier and Mauricio both played at centre-back. There was a game where Javier scored two goals and Mauricio another one. I still have the video,” recalls Héctor Pochettino, looking at a fixed point, as if that match in Villa Cañas, a neighbouring city, had been played yesterday. He said when the matches got complicated, "Mauri" knew how to play as a striker or as a midfielder, always happy to show his versatility.
Javier still lives in Murphy, just in front the Unión y Cultura sports field, and trains the Academy teams of the club. "With my brother we complemented each other well, because we knew the strengths and weaknesses of one another,” said Javier.
It was against exactly the same team, Independiente de Villa Cañas, where Paulo Gazzaniga left his great childhood friend Maxi Pace speechless. Maxi is also a team-mate from the talented class of ’92 of Unión y Cultura.
"I never saw a goalkeeper do that. He saved a shot and the rebound was left to one of the opposition players to score. Paulo flew across and prevented the goal. I also remember that he wore a red shirt with blue sleeves,” he says, remembering the heroics of a then-14-year-old Paulo.
Unión y Cultura was important for Paulo and Mauricio, it almost meant everything. To get to the top of world football, they made many sacrifices and put in many "extra hours" that their friends and family recall every day in Murphy. "In summer, it was difficult to see my friends enjoying themselves in the club pool while I was training a few metres away," says Paulo.
And that comes from his father, who was also a professional and took the family goalkeeping passion. "At 11 or 12, my dad took me to the club to practice, I slept early to be ready for the games,” recalls Paulo’s father Daniel Gazzaniga.
There is a famous anecdote in Murphy, about the day that it snowed for the first time in 40 years, in July of 2007. That day, while all the children played and made snowmen, there was one who went to train a double shift with his father; Paulo Gazzaniga.
For Mauricio, that desire and enthusiasm came from his early years. "If he lost playing in the countryside, he cried,” comments Héctor about his son.
"Mauricio was very competitive since he was a child. It didn’t matter if it was a simple match in the farm with me, he played to win the same way. That competitiveness always led him to improve," Javier adds.
He continues: "Mauricio, aged 15, already lived alone in Rosario – a big Argentine city 150km from Murphy, being independent and with a difficult solitude. That is how his way was forged. He also went to Europe quite early and that made him as a person.”
Murphy is like a big family. A great family that Mauricio and Paulo had to leave at a young age to pursue their dreams. In the town, there’s also only one public school and a secondary college, where Paulo and Mauricio were educated. There, everyone knows everyone. Unión y Cultura was the only club in Murphy to play football. They were the champions of the regional Venadense League seven times. Anyone who played football in Murphy learned their values from the club.
"To see the same person five times a day and say hello five times and even talk a little, that's what I miss about my hometown,” says Paulo, whose friends Santiago Mercanti and Ariel Yufra still remember when he first left for Europe.
"At the beginning, when he left Murphy, we talked by email or MSN. It was difficult, for him especially, to leave all his friends here and go to Spain alone with his brother Gianfranco, who plays in goal for Ponferradina, and his father,” they both recall. "When he returns here, we go fishing, play football or go to videogame rooms. It's like reliving the lost time.”
That courage also allowed Paulo to go alone to Gillingham from Valencia and, after impressing with the Kent club, move to Southampton in 2012. It was at Southampton where the first meeting between the two took place. Paulo was already a member of the first team squad when Mauricio took over as manager.
"That was incredible, that two people from the same Argentine village should meet together at a Premier League club. It was like a movie,” said Paulo.
Mauricio had a great start to his career as a player at Newell's Old Boys where, when he was only 20, he had already been a two-time champion in the Argentine First Division. He later became a legend of Espanyol, from where he sent shirts of the Catalan club for Unión y Cultura to use in 1996. Then, he enjoyed seasons at PSG and Bordeaux. His career as a coach began at Espanyol, then he moved to Southampton, where he met Paulo. Since May, 2014, he has been in charge here at Spurs, of course.
“I love football, but I never ever thought about someone from the village being the manager of a club like Tottenham. I find it unbelievable that my brother is there,” says Javier.
After the good experiences together in Southampton and a great year for Paulo in Rayo Vallecano, Mauricio and goalkeeping coach Toni Jiménez signed him for Spurs.
"When Palin – as his relatives call him – went to Tottenham, we could not believe it, how two of Murphy were going to meet at the end of the world," says Alicia, Paulo’s grandmother, in the grocery store in front of the San Martín square in Murphy. "The only thing that bothers me is that my husband, Mario, could not get to see them. He was the first keeper in the family, he was crazy! He loved to play with his feet and had fun dribbling against the strikers.”
Lucas Pochettino, Mauricio's nephew, now lives in Murphy again after three years dedicated to football in Spain. The 24-year-old plays as a midfielder at Unión y Cultura and has had the opportunity to visit White Hart Lane and Wembley. "I was proud to breathe the admiration and respect that they have for my uncle, which is deserved. It's wonderful to feel that through a family member of yours,” Lucas says.
Mauricio’s mother Amalia describes it as ‘magical.’ “When they sing that chant at the stadium – 'He's magic, you know' – I become emotional,” she said, holding both her hands to her chest.
People from Murphy have already had many emotions in London, as Paulo’s friend Maxi Pace explained. "When I went to Wembley and we were waiting for Paulo with my daughter after a match, I heard 'Come on, Murphy'. I turned around and it was Davinson Sánchez. I could not believe that some world-famous football stars are friends of my friend and that they know my town,” he said.
"Murphy is a town with a lot of Spurs fans, of course,” Ariel Yufra said. "When Paulo plays, everyone, even those who do not like football, watch the game. I prepare some beers with cheese and salamis and I enjoy it." But Paulo’s grandmother Alicia suffers whenever our rivals approach her grandson's goal: "I scream and everyone asks me to shut up during Paulo’s matches!"
The Pochettino family obviously does not miss a Spurs game and both Hector and Javier find a parallel between how Mauricio was at the beginning of his career and a player in our current first team squad, Juan Foyth, who, for them "has the same style of play and is a rough diamond."
The 2018/19 season changed everything for Paulo in Tottenham. After just one appearance in his first season with us, this term he has enjoyed more minutes and started games in the Premier League, Carabao Cup, FA Cup and the Champions League, where the massive final against Liverpool in Madrid awaits on 1 June. He produced some impressive performances that attracted attention in his country and he was called up to the Argentine national team.
“He’s a fantastic goalkeeper and he’s showing his quality and why we signed him. I know him as a kid, his dad, his uncle, his grandfather and he’s a very good family friend,” said Mauricio about Paulo after giving him the news that he would play for Argentina earlier this season. And it was news that touched the hearts of everyone in Murphy.
"I sat under a tree and started crying,” said Paulo’s father Daniel. “In those moments, you look back and all the sacrifices we made were worth it.”
During Argentina’s friendly matches against Mexico last November, a caravan from Murphy went out to support the goalkeeper. "I went to see him in Córdoba and of course I brought him salamis. Then in Mendoza he played and even made two great saves,” says his uncle Chelo.
Paulo was not the first player born in Murphy to wear the famous shirt of Argentina. Before him, there was David Bisconti and, of course, Mauricio, who played for his country in the 2002 World Cup. That, and a great career, is why Lucas Pochettino idolizes his uncle. "When you are a kid, you look for someone to copy, a reference, an example. And, without doubt, my uncle was a mirror to look to when I was a child," he said.
Today, Mauricio Pochettino and Paulo Gazzaniga are far away from Murphy and the beloved Unión y Cultura, but everyone who lives there has them in their thoughts. The fans of Tottenham Hotspur should know that in the heart of Argentina, there will always be 4,000 people who support Spurs in every game and will be behind us for the upcoming showpiece final in Madrid.
About the author
Pedro José Caffa is an Argentine journalist also born in Murphy. He works for Samba Agency, where for two-and-a-half years he has been working on the Spanish social media channels of Tottenham Hotspur.
This article first appeared in the official matchday programme for our UEFA Champions League quarter-final, first leg against Manchester City at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in April, 2019.