In Argentina, football keeps kids on right track

BUENOS AIRES (Xinhua) – Living in a poor community in southern Buenos Aires, 14-year-old boy Carlos Nahuel Ramirez has his way to stay away from trouble in an area overshadowed by gang violence and drugs.

“I really like football. I began to play at the age of four and my big dream is to be a football player, if possible for Boca Juniors, Argentina’s top team,” the left wingback tells Xinhua.

Bajo Flores, his neighbourhood in the southern part of the capital, is also known as the 1-11-14, since it combines those three communities, which eventually merged into one after the 1930s financial crisis saw an influx of immigrants from nearby Bolivia, Paraguay and Peru.

Facing the neighbourhood is the home stadium of another popular Argentine football club, San Lorenzo.

However, Ramirez plays at the more modest Club Atletico Madre del Pueblo, a soccer field built by the locals with the help of a private construction firm.

According to the club’s Facebook page, its mission is “to create a preventive framework of sound spaces and positive leadership in the neighbourhood, providing children and youth with an identity and sense of belonging and promoting integration.”

In other words, the club aims to prevent local youth from getting into trouble.

“My idol is (Lionel) Messi. He’s a star, a good player and a good person,” said Ramirez, who displays all the trophies he has won playing football in his room.

The teenager is aware that the game is more than just a way to have fun and stay fit.

“Football is a form of distraction, a way to play, have fun, and stay away from other things, like drugs,” he said.

His father is a construction worker and his mother, Claudia, works as a cleaner.

“It’s very important that he finishes school. If he gets low grades, I won’t let him play football,” Claudia tells Xinhua.

Ramirez agrees. “I prefer football, but I know I have to finish my studies,” he said.

In November 2015, famed British footballer David Beckham visited their home as part of a documentary he was filming in different parts of the globe.

“I have Beckham’s autograph on a photo of mine from his visit to my house. I never dreamt of it,” said Ramirez.

His mother chimed in to say that the former pro footballer “seemed very cold on television, but was very affectionate in person.”

She hopes that if her son becomes a successful player, “he will have the same simplicity, the same modesty and that he always remembers where he came from.”