Four Argentine World Cup winners came from this club. Chances are, you’ve never heard of it

Meet Club Social y Deportivo Parque, a youth development powerhouse that has provided Argentine football with some of its greatest talents

Going through the jerseys on the club walls is like reviewing a who’s who of Argentine football greats. Among them are World Cup laureates, like Qatar 2022 winners Alexis MacAllister and Leandro Paredes, and Sergio Batista and Claudio Borghi, who lifted the trophy in Mexico 1986. There are also an array of superstars who shined on Argentina’s national team and top European squads, like Fernando Redondo, Juan Pablo Sorín, and Esteban Cambiasso. 

The club in question is none of the famous ones, like Boca, River, or Independiente. It doesn’t even have a stadium, only a set of indoor fields located in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Villa del Parque. This is Club Social y Deportivo Parque, maybe the most important club in Argentine history you have never heard about.     

“It’s one of the foundational cradles of Argentine football,” former player and current director César La Paglia told the Herald. And judging from the shirts on display, he’s not overstating it.

The story of Parque, as it’s affectionately known, is the story of a club that has become one of the best youth developers in Argentina, a project spearheaded for decades by legendary scout and coach Ramón Maddoni. But it’s also the story of a place that fosters family-like ties that last well after playing careers are over. In some cases, relationships that turn into actual family. 

A different path

One could be forgiven for failing to notice anything special about the club’s building. The unassuming façade of the relatively small building, with an entrance to the gymnasiums and a cafe, does not give away the illustrious names that have walked through its doors.

Kits from some the most famous players to come through at Parque are seen at the entrance.

“It remains a neighborhood club,” said Fernando Batista, another former player and brother to 1986 World Cup-winner Sergio. “For all of us who once played here, it is still our meeting place. We all went on to make our careers, but every time we’re back in Argentina, we ask, ‘Where are we meeting? At Parque.’”

Parque’s family vibe was evident even during the interview with the Herald, as a few club members saw Batista and immediately approached to greet him, asking him to give his father and brother Sergio their best wishes. The club’s familiar spirit also touched none other than Diego Maradona: he met his wife of 14 years and mother of two of his children, Claudia Villafañe, at a carnival dance hosted by Parque.  

The club wasn’t always devoted to football. It started out as a basketball club and shifted gears in the 1970s, turning its hoops courts into indoor football pitches where children could practice and play five-a-side matches. And it was right from the get go that Parque implemented the method that made it stand out: a focus on technique.

“People would watch one of the kids play and they would say, ‘that kid plays for Parque’, because of how good their technique was,” said Fernando. “That work continues, although sometimes it is hard to get parents to understand that this is a neighborhood club; there isn’t a magic machine at the back.”

The two pitches at Parque honor Batista’s father, who kickstarted football at the club, and Maddoni.

Although technique has been a part of Club Parque’s ethos from the beginning, it was Maddoni who turned the club into a powerhouse of young talent. Under his watch, World Cup winners like Paredes and MacAllister took their first steps in football, as did the likes of Juan Román Riquelme, Carlos Tévez, Fernando Redondo, Fernando Gago, Juan Pablo Sorín, Esteban Cambiasso, and Fabricio Coloccini. At one point, five of his prodigies were playing for Argentina in a World Cup. 

His talent for spotting greatness was so unique that none other than Boca Juniors decided to hire him, signaling a path that would take him to become one of the most renowned youth coaches in Argentina. Parque also signed a deal with the Xeneize to provide them with young talent, assigning them priority when it came to signing youth players that came through Parque.

“Asking me why Maddoni was special is like asking me why Messi is special,” said La Paglia. “I think they’re people who have been touched by a magic wand; they have that god-given talent and that’s it.”

Maddoni, who is 81 and still regularly visits the club whenever he can, is also at a loss for words when it comes to explaining his success. “I never knew what I knew; it just came from inside me,” he said, adding that coaching rescued him from depression and opened the doors to the world. “Not long after, I was traveling to France, Italy, Spain, even Japan, the whole world.”

Ramón Maddoni still has his own corner at the Parque bar.

Regardless of Parque’s football stature, the man who has at one point or another worked with over a dozen players who have donned the Albiceleste understands the club’s main role is a social one. “Parque takes kids off the streets and teaches them football… this is a home for them.”

This was all put in jeopardy in 2010, when a combination of factors left the club on the brink of disappearance. 

A club’s mettle is put to the test

Parque’s near downfall was ironically born from its success. After years as a feeder club for Argentinos Juniors first and then Boca Juniors, the club was looking to expand but was hit by two problems: an economic recession and the cancellation of their deal with Boca Juniors.

The situation forced the club to move around in order to keep everything running, renting spots for its players to practice and play. “What I value most is the support from our people, because most clubs would’ve lost nearly all of their members, but we didn’t,” Batista said.

The solution to the problem came down to a chance encounter between Maddoni and La Paglia, who was one of the main forces behind the club’s recovery. “He told me we couldn’t meet at the club because it was closed down and he asked me if I could do something to help,” La Paglia remembers. 

He began investigating the issue and found some friends who also wanted to invest. They presented a project to fund the renovations and then manage the club.

Club Parque reopened the gates of its traditional home in 2017, and things have gone back to normal. Currently, over 500 kids play football in the club, with around 100 of them benefiting from a scholarship.

César La Paglia says the club is like a second home for him.

Despite the hardship the project entailed — La Paglia had to sell real estate of his own to fund the three and a half years of construction work — he calls the endeavor to get Parque back on its feet his “life’s work.” “I felt it was only fair, because everything I’ve accomplished I owe to what they taught me at the club,” he stated, adding that although he probably won’t ever get the money back, he takes pride in thinking that one day his grandchildren will remember that he was responsible for rebuilding his childhood club. 

“That has immense sentimental value. I get emotional just thinking about it.”

All pictures taken by Mariano Fuchila


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