A CHILD AMONG MEN

Nepotism has become a buzzword in British politics & you'll be pleased to know, it's alive & well in football to sometimes extraordinary lengths.

If you are reading this in the UK and have been following the news recently, you may have seen that beloved Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has recently "declared war on nepotism."  Detractors have suggested that this is hypocritical, noting that Clegg himself profited from his father's connections in obtaining an internship with Finnish bank Postipankki before starting at Cambridge University in the 1980s.

The unfortunate truth is that there has and always will be people who gain advantage through who and not necessarily what they know, in all walks of life, going unchecked and unnoticed. 

The problem for Clegg was that given his position, this story was always going to come to light.  How could he so brazenly decry a practice that he had previously benefited from without thinking he would be pulled up for it? 

The truth is that even when nepotism is so blatantly obvious, people tend to shrug their shoulders and begrudgingly accept it.  This applies across society, including football.  Anthony Pulis, son of Tony, worked under his father for four years between 2003 and 2008, and played only 7 league games.  Steve McMahon Jr was employed by his dad at Blackpool for three years until his resignation, and only found a new club when Steve Sr did too, both on the other side of the world at Perth Glory a year and a half later.  Darren Ferguson has found it very easy to loan Manchester United players to both Peterborough and Preston.  The list goes on.

It's a system intended to offer unfair advantages to a lucky few, and in the prior examples this has been the case, but on occasion the supposed beneficiaries become innocent victims at the centre of an international media circus.

In 2009, manager of Aurora in Bolivia Julio César Baldivieso made a promise to his son - if his team were winning in the first game of their defence of the Clausura against La Paz, he would bring him on for the final ten minutes.  It wasn't that ridiculous an idea, as his son was a footballer ("He's got a lot of talent," said Julio), but was also only 12 years old.

It was intended as a birthday present - Mauricio Baldivieso was just about to turn 13 - but it looked like an Xbox might have to suffice when with 10 minutes remaining Aurora were 1-0 down.

At this point Baldivieso Sr had two options.  He could refrain from bringing on his son, as he intended to do if they were not winning, and try and do something else to aid his teams push for an equaliser, or he could give Mauricio a game anyway, throwing him into a fiercely competitive environment alongside players that ranged between twice and thrice his own age and in some cases size.  Without considering the potential damage that could be done to his son's not even teenaged body, and all the other implications it could have for both of them, he went ahead with the substitution.

Mauricio, despite being thrown into the metaphorical lion's den, showed no fear.  He had a few touches early on, and was playing with confidence.  All was going swimmingly until La Paz defender Henry Alaca proved himself to be a man of great repute by intentionally hacking him down - a 12 year old boy - in an off the ball incident.  Incredibly, a free-kick was not given and Baldivieso was left rolling across most of the width of the pitch, head clutched in hands.  Meanwhile, Alaca and most of the other 20 players on the field were showing both their comparative seniority and maturity by collectively breaking into a melee.  Reports suggested that amongst the chaos Mauricio burst into tears; he later denied such accusations, denouncing them as the slurs of "jealous people".  After five minutes of treatment and brawling the match continued and eventually finished without further incident.

"A million thanks to everyone, I am the happiest man in the world," the new Aurora number 10 told a TV interviewer post-match, with an endearing lack of irony.  It wasn't long before local reporters were suggesting that his appearance was a record - to the best of anyone's knowledge no 12 year old had previously played professional football - and he became an overnight sensation.

The following morning Bolivian TV endlessly replayed the Alaca foul, replete with oohs and aahs from the  presenters.  The defender claimed that "I tackled him as I would any player.  I didn't know he was 12."  Cameras were sent round to the Baldivieso house, where Julio César proudly showed viewers family photo albums with pictures of Mauricio as a baby, surrounded by miniature footballs.  "We had an ultrasound scan which showed him kicking in the womb," he recounted.  Suddenly they found themselves right in the worldwide media glare, with news outlets reporting the story internationally.  Was this just a case of outrageous nepotism?  What kind of father throws his pre-teen son into the middle of a professional football match?  What kind of manager does that?  Julio had a lot of people to answer to.

As the fifth most capped player in Bolivia's history, Baldivieso Sr was widely respected in his country and although this respect was somewhat diminished by his ludicrous stunt, he was not phased.  He batted off all the protests and accusations with a staunch “I'll do what I want” attitude that could only belong to a man with a nickname like 'Emperor' and by the time Mauricio's birthday came around most of the global dust had settled.   As an extra surprise for his son he had a birthday cake brought to the training ground and coerced the other players into gathering around him and singing Happy Birthday as he blew out the candles.  The absurdity of the situation was lost only, it seemed, on Julio, who then vowed to play his son again in the club's next game the following weekend.  At this point the Aurora board felt they had to intervene, warning that he should not do so under any circumstances.  Incensed, and less than a week after the La Paz game,  he resigned.

"Sadly, a lot of people did not like my son's debut. It was then a question of my son or my club - and, of course, my son comes first. I'm not going to be told whether I play someone from my family or not," he told the local press.  It was his son who came out of the story the best; when asked how he felt about his father's resignation, he responded level-headedly.  "I'm sad but I have lots of time. It won't make any difference to my life. I'll go on working at both my football and my school studies."

The Aurora job was Julio César's first and so far only attempt at management.  The last heard of Mauricio, now 14, was his appearance in a charity game for the benefit of landslide victims in March.  Both Baldiviesos played, on opposing teams, with Julio's '94 World Cup squad triumphing over his son's combined La Paz team 3-2.  Mauricio did get on the scoresheet though, so perhaps even after two years out of the professional game there's life in the old dog yet.

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