- Nolberto Solano won 95 caps for Peru
- Appeared in four FIFA World Cup™ qualifying campaigns
- Assistant coach to Ricardo Gareca since 2015
Nolberto Solano is something of an iconic figure in Peru. Over the course of an international career that lasted many years, he was perhaps the figurehead of a gifted generation that included the likes of the equally talented Roberto Palacios and Juan Reynoso.
Yet, despite their obvious attributes, they were unable to end La Blanquirroja’s long absence from the FIFA World Cup™.
Now 43, Solano has finally achieved that objective, albeit in a different role, as an assistant coach to Ricardo Gareca. Better qualified than most on the subject, he discussed Peru’s qualification travails of years gone by and the journey they have now taken to Russia 2018.
Spain 1982: his first world finals memories
“I was eight, and at that age, nobody sits watching a match for 90 minutes,” he told FIFA.com. “I loved football so much that I’d watch the TV for a while and then I’d go out and kick my ball around in the street over and over. Whenever I heard the cheers for a goal, I’d rush back inside. I wanted to play so much, though, that I just couldn’t stop.
“You feel so proud that the whole world is watching your country. At the time, we had all these players that I admired so much: [Juan Carlos] Oblitas, [Cesar] Cueto, [Jose] Velazquez, [Teofilo] Cubillas, and [Julio Cesar] Uribe, etc. They were giants of Peruvian football. I’d say the whole time: ‘I want to play in the World Cup one day’.”
France 1998: a tale of frustration
Solano’s first World Cup qualifying campaign was a near-miss that set the tone for the years that followed. “We came so close,” recalled Solano, who played for clubs in Peru, Argentina, and England. “Oblitas was the coach and, unfortunately, we just missed out on goal difference. After that, we had plenty of talent, but there was a lot of instability as well. We’d make a bad start to a qualifying competition and they’d go and change the coach.
“On top of that, you had all the pressure that came with not qualifying for the World Cup, which was huge. The longer the situation went on, the worse the pressure would get. Things became very difficult with the press, who were negative about everything. There weren’t many of us who were playing abroad and it really got to us. What with that and the instability, we couldn’t achieve our goal.”
Solano’s international career
- Peru’s fifth most capped player (95 appearances)
- Their sixth highest scorer (20 goals)
- Played in the qualifiers for France 1998, Korea/Japan 2002, Germany 2006, and South Africa 2010
- His statistics in qualifiers: 52 appearances and six goals
A new era
“You can see the difference with what’s happened with Ricardo Gareca,” added Solano, who joined the coaching staff in May 2015.
“We made a bad start to the qualifiers, but they believed in his plans and gave him support, which is always a good thing. That’s been the key. The national FA has done a really good job and they got it right with the coach.”
The results are there for all to see. “I’m delighted for the country,” he continued. “We love our football, and everyone in Peru really gets behind the national team. I’ve had good times and bad, perhaps more bad than good (laughs), but the fans have been there the whole way through. You can imagine how crazy things were when we qualified. It made us so happy to do that for the fans.”
Russia 2018: the pain and the joy
Asked to describe the contribution he has made, Solano said: “I just try to work with the coach and follow his approach. Ricardo is a very open-minded coach and he’s a good listener. As a former international, I try to be close to the players and help them.”
Providing an example of that, he added: “If one of them needs a lift, you have to approach them in a roundabout way and tell them a bit about the experiences that you’ve been through. The most important thing, though, has been to stay on message.”
Keeping calm has also been crucial, as he explained: “If you look at our qualifying campaign in the cold light of day, it was a tough one for us. We suffered. In our country, we have a saying: ‘When you’re Peruvian, no suffering means no fun’. The stars aligned for us and we made the most of it.”
So what is he expecting to happen at the World Cup? “In Russia, we have to be up to the job, so that we can compete against three very tough sides. Like good Peruvians, we’re going to have to work hard and suffer, if we’re going enjoy it.”