Chris Nee1 Comment


Chris Nee1 Comment
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It seems strange to say it in the age of online gaming whizzbangs and Football Manager Disorder, but a game of Championship Manager 2 was a truly social event round our way.

I never owned the game outright but I knew a pair of brothers who did, so off I would go down to number 140 to pit my managerial wits against the Callaghans and our mate Dave, all sitting around the computer while Metallica backdropped our quest for glory. You don't get that in 2013.

Those sessions were a might more successful than previous spells in charge of Bromsgrove Rovers on Premier Manager and the signing of the Brazilian Zinho was a guaranteed winner, provided one was willing to shout at the screen to chivvy him along. (I remain convinced to this day that this actually worked.)

But it was securing the signature of Peñarol goalkeeper Óscar Ferro from under the noses of my three rivals that was most satisfying transaction of all.

In my young imagination Ferro was a giant of the South American game, an exotic colossus who straddled Montevideo parrying away shots from the gods with immovable gloves of gold and black. Here he was; a swashbuckling modern day Lev Yashin, a superior competitor for Jose Luis Chilavert, a rich man's Taffarel.

The reality of Ferro was somewhat different. He was a shaggy-haired goalkeeper who wasn't above the odd fumble, including a particularly untidy effort in a Uruguayan Clasico against Nacional in 1992. He played just nine times for Uruguay, primarily under Héctor Núñez, but is looked back upon as a man who was merely proximate to the spotlight at international level.

However, Ferro's pre-internet mystique was aided by Peñarol's success during his heyday. The Carboneros won the Uruguayan league title for five consecutive seasons between 1993 and 1997, with Ferro playing a big part in the first two and adding to the two titles he won with the club during the 1980s.

He'd almost been part of intercontinental success, too. After a young Peñarol squad won the Copa Libertadores in 1987, Ferro played in goal as they faced Club América of Mexico in a rain-delayed meeting of South and North American champions in Los Angeles. América won on penalties.

After ten years with the club, the Montevideo-born 'keeper - recently to be found coaching one of Peñarol's youth teams and also said to be driving a taxi - left to fulfil his destiny as a trivia geek's dream. He didn't impress at Ferro Carril Oeste in Buenos Aires but as one Ferro playing for another it was a signing that made history regardless.

At international level Ferro was a nearly man and his career was overlapped by more highly regarded goalkeepers. Rodolfo Rodríguez of Peñarol's rivals Nacional, Uruguay's third most capped player, played 78 games between 1976 and 1986 as part of a career that took him to Brazil and Europe. Fernando Alvez preceded Ferro at Peñarol and went on to win 40 caps while a third former Carboneros 'keeper, Robert Siboldi, played 34 times for his country.

Ferro had to settle for nine appearances and some close shaves. He was used in friendlies and played twice in 1988 before returning to international duty to play in a 5-0 defeat by Berti Vogts' Germany in Karlsruhe in 1993. He enjoyed a run of games in 1995, pitting his wits against the likes of Jorge Campos, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Savo Milosevic, Alexi Lalas, Dejan Stefanovic, a typically strong Brazil side and perhaps the greatest foe of all: Barry Venison.

It wasn't until his eighth Uruguay game that Ferro experienced a win. His club team-mate Pablo Bengoechea was the team's captain throughout Ferro's brief period in possession of the number one shirt, and it was the Professor who scored from the penalty spot to win the El Inca Cup against Peru at Centenario in 1995; the referee was Uruguayan. Ferro's only other international clean sheet of the 1990s came against England at Wembley.

The final years of Ferro's career took him to Peru, Spain and Paraguay before he returned to Montevideo to be a part of the squad that won him his fifth Primera División title, a fine end to his last season. He was signed as squad depth, third choice rather than first, but it was another medal in a collection not as famous as my teenage self would have hoped.

Ferro was never named in a World Cup squad despite Uruguay's qualification in 1986 and 1990. He was a part of Uruguay's Copa America squads at the ages of 26 and 28, undoubtedly his prime, but never made it onto the field even when Uruguay won the competition on home soil in 1995. They beat world champions Brazil in the final at Centenario, a stadium with whose penalty areas he was intimately familiar.

Nevertheless, for a pre-FM generation of virtual managers he proved an almighty pretend purchase, a fizzing reminder of the days when letters with funny squiggly bits on them signified a player who was impossibly foreign and almost completely out of reach.

Chris Nee is an IBWM content editor and is the author of The Stiles Council, a website about the England national team.