The day my brother managed to interview a soccer legend. 3 lessons from an unlikely encounter

This is not my story, this happened to my brother, back in 2012. But as he hasn’t told it with enough details, it’s up to me to do it.

First of all, let’s put in context and talk about the main characters of this story:

My brother, a 23-year-old college student. A student like any other. A college student with a compulsive obsession with soccer.

Jorge Valdano, former soccer player, coach, and manager. Jorge Valdano, World champion with Argentina’s team in Mexico’s 86 FIFA world cup. He’s not only a world champion soccer player, he scored the second goal in that final game against Germany. Jorge Valdano, Real Madrid’s idol during the 80’s, champion of two European tournaments and three Spanish leagues. Jorge Valdano, writer, and lecturer, who travels around the world talking about leadership and sports marketing. Jorge Valdano, a legend.

In his last semester as a journalism student, my brother decided to combine two of his passions to make his thesis: Soccer and literature. And to achieve that, he had to find people who were as obsessed as he was with those two things, and who were willing to be interviewed. And he achieved it.

He was able to interview great writers and journalists that have been related or have written about soccer: Hector Abad Faciolince, Ricardo Silva Romero, John Carlin, Jorge Barraza. They were all willing to help a college student who needed to write his thesis.

But there was one guy that was not in my brother’s plans, and by those strange things of destiny, was in Colombia in those days: Argentinian legend Jorge Valdano.

My brother’s friend was going to a leadership conference in which Valdano was one of the speakers. That friend was the one who managed to sneak between journalist and assistants and asked Valdano for his email.

Now my brother had the email of one of his idols. Now it was a matter of thinking how to write an awesome email asking Valdano for a few minutes to interview him about his thoughts on soccer and literature.

And Valdano answered…

The meeting was going to take place the next week, in the hotel lobby where the legend was staying.

And the day came, one of the most important days in my brother’s short life. Not only his thesis was getting stronger (and he was about to graduate) but Jorge Valdano himself was going to help him to achieve that. Talking about soccer with a soccer man was going to help my brother to write a great thesis. What else could he ask?

But life is not that simple. Life is full of ironies, and my brother was going to experience it on his own.

Valdano made a small mistake. The email said: “Meet me at Marriott hotel at 10 a.m.”. But the Argentinian was not staying at the Marriott, he was staying at the J.W Marriott.

My brother had the indications for the wrong hotel. Two letters, a “J” and a “W” were going to crush my brother’s dream. Two miserable letters were going to make by brother look like an ungrateful asshole with one of his idols. What would Valdano think? “I gave this kid a chance to interview me, and he didn’t even show up”.

But life, as soccer, always gives second opportunities.

My brother didn’t give up, he wasn’t going to allow those letters to ruin his date with soccer. When the Marriott receptionist told him that there was no “Jorge Valdano” staying there, and seeing that there was no Argentinian legend waiting for him in the lobby, he took a cab and went directly to the other Marriott, the one with those letters in the name, the J.W Marriott.

To his surprise, Valdano, despite the delay, was still waiting for him in the lobby. This is how my brother described the moment in his thesis:

“I got out of the taxi, and before I could ask the receptionist, I saw him. He was sitting near a garden, with gel in his curls, his smile and his patience intact.”

– “I figured you’d be at the other hotel”, he said, while buttoning his blazer.

“Only by shaking his hand I did realize and measure his greatness, his past. Sometimes, legends get lost in the embers of imagination and they only generate true amazement when you look at them in the eyes.

When I explained the cause of the delay, he wasn’t angry about it. On the contrary, he apologized for not being ‘clear enough’. After that, he sat down and began answering all my questions without any rush. The reality is, with Valdano, it doesn’t matter the question. If it’s bad, Jorge will take care of rescuing it based on round statements”

So, that morning, my brother met one of his idols. Jorge Valdano, a soccer legend, talked for almost two hours with a student who just wanted to talk about soccer and finish his thesis.

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I’ve always liked reading my brother’s posts about soccer. I enjoy all his articles, but this one about Valdano has been always my favorite. I used to think I liked it just for the anecdote, but now I realize it’s my favorite because it’s full of lessons.

Do you keep saying that you don’t have time to do the things you want to do? It sounds like an excuse to me. Jorge Valdano waited more than 45 minutes in his hotel lobby to talk with a random college student to help him with his thesis.

Still afraid of leaving your comfort zone? It sounds like an excuse to me. My brother, a random college student, with some persistence and a couple of emails, managed to interview journalists, writers and soccer legends for his thesis. A lot of people that seem impossible to talk with.

Do you keep avoiding that uncomfortable conversation with that person who could change your future or could give you the opportunity that you have always wanted? That sounds like an excuse to me. My brother and his friend dared to ask for the email of one of his idols. The worst thing that could have happened was to be told “No”.

Do you keep avoiding your responsibilities and taking care of your mistakes? Do you keep blaming others? It sounds like an excuse to me. Jorge Valdano acknowledged his mistake of telling my brother wrong information about the hotel.

Giving up after you face an obstacle or a setback? That sounds like an excuse to me. My brother, before giving up, though with a cold head, evaluated his options and made the decision to continue looking for Valdano.

Whenever I have the impulse to look for an excuse, I’m going to think about Jorge Valdano and all the lessons that his “Meet me at the Marriott at 10 a.m” taught me.

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If you want to read more about my brother’s obsession with soccer, you can find him here.