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In Fuerte Apache, home town of Carlitos, they still talk about a kid that was better than him. He wasn’t as lucky as his neighbor: he became a thief and shot himself when he was about to get caught by the police.
Words By: Nahuel Gallotta
It’s night time and the chase is taking place in Ciudadela, a town on the western border of Buenos Aires. La Bonaerense –the police force from the Buenos Aires Province- already knows too much about that guy that keeps escaping from them. They want him. They’ve wanted him for too long, now.
El guacho Cabañas runs. He hears the sirens and despairs. He knows what’s coming. Not a warning, not an arrest, not a shooting, not even juvenile detention. It’s revenge. Revenge is coming. It’s a matter of life or death. Either he does it or they will. Either he kills himself, or gives himself as a gift for them to finish him.
He is a block away from Fuerte Apache, his villa, his township, his home, his salvation. Inside the projects they couldn’t catch him. He runs up to Argentine Waters, a public building in calle Besares, and stops. He helps his mates jump the wall and looks behind him. He is the last one of the gang. He is completely alone and surrounded by police cars. There is no way out, so he doesn’t hesitate: he takes the gun to his head and pulls the trigger. In his neighbourhood he always said that before letting the police kill a thief, he would kill himself. That’s exactly what he did.
It happened in 2001. The kid that shot himself to avoid beeing killed by the police was 17 years old. Since that day, every time Carlos Tevez scores a goal, he points up to the sky to remember one of his best friends. Cabañas was, friendship aside, a fenomenal football player. Everyone in the barrio is pretty sure that he was better than Tevez.
El guacho Cabañas real name is Darío Coronel. They called him Cabañas because he looked a bit like a paraguayan striker that once played in Boca, one of Argentina’s biggest clubs. He had dark hair, dark skin, dark eyes and a short temper. As most kids in South America, he started playing five-a-side football with other kids his age. He went through many different clubs growing up: All Boys, Santa Clara and Villa Real, always with his friend Carlitos by his side. They were both born in 1984, they were meant to play together.
When he started to play in the bigger leagues, Coronel moved to Vélez Sársfield and then to Argentinos Juniors, both clubs from the capital. At first he played as a goalkeeper, but he really showed his talent later on, when he shone as a midfielder.
THOSE WHO REMAINED
Cabañas lived, as Tevez did, at the Nudo 1 of Fuerte Apache. El Fuerte, as they call it (literally: the fort), is an underprivileged township, to put it mildly. There, Cabañas met a gang of young fellows that went by the name of the Backstreet Boys. Those guys were thieves with a dressing code: loose clothes, wide pants and golden chains down their necks, much like american rappers.
Without football, Cabañas started to spend more time with them. He started to dress like them. To steal, like them. If you look them up at Google, you could find that time when they shot a police station to avenge the death of their gang leader. There is another reference: they used to travel to Córdoba and Tucumán, up north in the country, to rob banks.
Marcelo has thick lips, like an NBA basketball player. He also has dark hair, dark skin, and dark eyes, like most of his old neighborhood. He still remembers that picture: the big boys planning a robbery, smoking a joint, and Cabañas going out for training with his little bag.
Marcelo is not a Backstreet Boy anymore, he abandoned the gang and stopped stealing after his brother was killed. He is one of the few still left on that street .There were shootings against the Bonaerense and against rival gangs within the villa. Some of his old buddies got killed playing russian roulette, others hanged themselves… Some others are locked up for enough time to watch a couple of World Cups from jail.
When all the senior members of the gang died, the youngest remained: the kids, the guachos. The guns remained, too. Cabañas was a good kid who liked his first robbery. After that, he turned into a professional thief and left football. He had learned everything he knew about life from the older guys of the gang, so he had their mentality. He started using drugs. He’d rather be like those guys than anything else in the world.
The story of Cabañas had such an impact that F.A, the rap band of the barrio wrote him a song. It’s called “Cuando un amigo se va” (When you lose a friend) and it goes like this: “You always said that no policeman / would take your life / in your face there was always a smile / a playful smile / because, every time, you knew what you would do / I remember your brother getting the news / guacho Cabañas has taken his own life / all the good moves on the pitch were over / you only left us / a rain of bullets / when you lose a friend / your heart saves / those memories that will remain / foreverer in your soul”.
GIFTED, BUT REBELLIOUS
Carlitos Pérez was born in Floresta. He was doing time in Ezeiza and was transfered to Esquel. He has been in prison for three years, and was the central midfielder of the All Boys 1984 team, right beside Cabañas and Tevez. After that, he played in Vélez with Cabañas, and in Boca with Tevez.
“Their relationship was awful” –says Pérez, on the phone, from jail. “On the field, they were always insulting each other. The thing is Cabañas was always the top scorer, and Tevez couldn’t bare it, he was just jealous. Tevez tried to be the boss in the dressing room, but Cabañas didn’t listen. ‘No me jodas’, he used to say. ‘Don’t bother me. You can play your game, I’ll play mine’. Cabañas always defended me when Tevez told me I never passed the ball to him. It was true: Cabañas was better and scored more, so I preferred to pass it to him”.
Pérez recalls that, in a tournament played in Córdoba, the team reached won the title with a superb performance from Cabañas in the final. He scored twice. Pérez scored once. Cabañas was chosen as the best player of the tournament. He got a trophy for being the top scorer as well. Pérez laughs, maybe he even forgets for a second that he is locked up. “That day, Tevez was furious”, he says.
After the match, Cabañas left and was missing for a few hours in Córdoba. He was pissed off because they didn’t let him swim in the pool of the club. In Fuerte Apache, the only pools were used to cook drugs.
Pino Hernández works for the youth squad of Villa Real and Vélez. He was the one that, after watching Cabañas and Tevez on a five-a-side game, took them to a tryout in Vélez. Cabañas was picked to join the club. Tevez wasn’t. They were eleven years old.
“He played as a right midfielder –says Hernández- he was released as a free agent when he was only 15. He was a great project. It looked like, eventually, he would make it to the first team. He wasn’t only good with the ball on his feet, he was a fighter too. He always played for the starting eleven”.
At the Nudo 2 there is an artificial turf football field. It’s surrounded by barb wire and stands. There are lights. At night time, players from the villa can rent it. That money is usually used to buy football shoes and clothes to the poorest kids in town. Didí is the manager of that particular area. He wants to make a small monument to Cabañas right beside the corner of the field. He already asked his family for permission.
Didí coached Cabañas in Santa Clara, and remembers when he told his team that Cabañas was going to be the captain. Even Tevez agreed. Cabañas played with number 10 shirt. Tevez used number 9. They were always the first to arrive at training, and the last to leave. Yair Rodríguez, who played for the first team of Independiente in 2003, also played in that team.
JUST A LITTLE BRAT BEING NAUGHTY
They were always fighting on the pitch, but off the pitch they were the best of friends. Segundo, Tevez’s father, took them both to training in a Fiat 128 that not even the most cunning gypsy could sell. He was the provider for both of them. He bought them clothes, shoes, a drink after training…
They once tried to punch each other just to drive a small scooter, property of Tevez’s brother. Five minutes later they were friends again. They were mischievous in an innocent way. They trhew water balloons at buses that went by Jonte avenue, they lit firecrackers on the door of the local brothel at the calle Gualeguaychú. They used white aprons, the uniform of public school, just to pay less when they traveled on public buses.
“When he played for All Boys, Cabañas had a quarrel with another kid. The next day, he went to the club with a gun –recalls Carlitos Pérez, from Esquel. He was naughty from a very young age. He started stealing when he was 12 or 13”.
His dream was to own a pair of white boots. As his family could never buy them, he went ahead and painted with Liquid Paper a pair of his black Pumas. He traded them to a colombian team mate in Argentinos Juniors who, after a few kicks, realized the paint was rubbing off and sticking to the ball.
“I think he missed a solid father figure to make it –says Pino Hernández. Family and friends are most important for a young lad trying to make it in football. We lose a lot of guys to drugs. They escape of their everyday life for a while during a match, but then they go back home and life continues”.
Boca and River, the two biggest clubs in the country, wanted him for their own. But he preferred to stay on Vélez. He thought that, there, youth players had a better chance to play. Vélez was patient with Cabañas: every time he missed a training session, someone from the club went to the barrio, looking for him. He hid. They forgave him many times, for many small things. One day, he stole a bag from one of his teammates. That was the end of it. After that, he didn’t want to go back to the club and the club didn’t want him to go back either. They have had enough of each other.
Marcelo says that Cabañas, in a couple of years, had a disastrous behaviour. He was afraid of nothing. He says that, in a shooting, he killed a cop. He says that he would rob anything. He broke bad, and he didn’t have enough company to avoid his destiny. That’s why he died as he did: alone, surrounded, having to shoot himself to avoid being shot.
A TALE FROME THE BARRIO
It’s January but in Fuerte Apache there isn’t much change; here, people don’t go on vacation. The kids pass the time going from one small swimming pool to another. There’s a banner wishing a happy fifteen to some girl called Lourdes. Two guys dressed in long sleeve shirts and dress pants are drinking beer. Pirate cabs offer rides to Liniers for $1,20 per person. Then comes a monument to a mother and a roadside shrine to Gauchito Gil, a local saint of a sort. Somebody throws water balloons from the tallest of the buildings in the projects. There are posters on the walls: on Saturday there’s a Colombian cumbia party in a neighborhood club.
Just over here is the new little field with synthetic grass. There would be thirty or so boys running after a ball that, by the looks of its colors, is more volleyball than football. Everyone wears their hair quite short.
Here trains the club El Apache competing in FAFI, the most important league in the juniors. They’re building the locker rooms now. They reckon by march they’ll be playing home games here in this little field surrounded by buildings.
Didí, a man dressed in yellow polo shirt, jean shorts and junior football boots recalls a night when he saw Cabañas cry. It’s hard for the old Didí to talk about any time of Cabañas’s life other than when he was a player. That’s how he prefers to remember him.
-He came and talked to me about Tevez: “How did that fucking bastard make it and I’m still stuck here in the middle of this?” Carlitos was in the U-17 national squad and had made his debut in Boca. That really got him down. Cabañas felt he was more talented than his friend. Then we sat in a corner and he burst into tears. Those were his last months.
The old man shows a picture of Cabañas in a Vélez shirt and the kids ask who he is. One boy in an Almagro shirt mutters, “He is Cabañas, the one who played better than Tevez”. In the field they show respect. Older boys don’t smoke marijuana or drink beer in front of the younger ones. Nor do they allow for crack cocaine to be sold in the neighborhood.
He was a wretched little boy; fed up with wearing rags, hand to mouth, without the company of his parents. That’s why when he grew up he would get money from his robberies and spend it on gold, sports clothes, and fancy football shoes…
-He was already stealing to buy drugs and clothes, says Marcelo. All the kids of Ciudadela who were in a similar situation in their childhood had this obsession of having gold and the best shoes. Shoes worth 1000 pesos, if they could. Their goal was to have it all. It’s hard when someone can have the best and you just can’t because you’re from a poor neighborhood. So you think: “I’ll find a way”. That is the story of this place.
Out there they know the stories of this place only when there is glory involved, fame, million dollar contracts and sports brands spinning around it. But the ones from here prefer another story: they know that Cabañas, without a doubt, always played better than Tevez. So they identify with his story more than with that of the winner. The other story, they say, they can leave for the rest of the world. For outsiders. They wouldn’t understand the difference anyway. They are just not from here.