He is a very knowledgeable man

Friday, June 29th, 2018

Óscar Tabárez has turned around tiny Uruguay’s soccer team by treating his players as if he were a housemaster at Eton or Harrow:

Just as any British boarding school, Tabárez has long said his primary goal was to mold well-rounded men. He imparts lessons about respect, decency, and the importance of good manners. At Tabárez’s request, Uruguay might be the only team in Russia to have its squad of millionaires share bedrooms for the duration of the tournament. And they drink tea constantly.


Other managers at the World Cup simply coach the senior squad. But Tabárez became the dean of the entire men’s national program, from the Under-15s to the team that travels to the World Cup. Every member of those squads would come to train under Tabárez at the national training center, where he could shape their development as players and as people.

First, the setting had to be right. The Celeste Complex outside Montevideo needed to foster a sense of heritage—and, unlike Eton, Tabárez didn’t have a long line of British prime ministers to point to. So he started by commissioning a giant Uruguayan crest for the lobby. He decorated the walls with black-and-white photos of players who had fought for the team’s colors before. And outside, he ordered the federation to install a fogón, a traditional Uruguayan grill that doubled as a campfire, where he could sit with the players and tell stories at night.

Tabárez’s professorial air is no coincidence. Before he went into management full time, he was an elementary-school teacher. To this day, he likes to educate his players on history, geography, the arts, and anything else he happens to find interesting in the moment. This too is part of the Tabárez curriculum.

“One time we played in Japan and we were talking about how we were surprised by the culture,” said Forlán, an analyst for Telemundo Deportes at the World Cup. “So after dinner, the Maestro got the lads together and we listened to him talk about Japan, its history, everything that has happened in the country. He is a very knowledgeable man.”

Tabárez organizes trips for young players to attend museums and the theater. He engages his players on subjects as diverse as classical music and botany. “What Tabárez knows about plants is tremendous,” Claudio Pagani, who runs Uruguay’s national training complex, has said.

Tabárez is also a stickler for good manners. Many a Uruguayan star has run afoul of his no-muddy shoes rule. And there are strict rules about not leaving plates on the table or putting feet up on chairs. The use of cellphones is prohibited at breakfast, lunch, and during team talks or meetings.


  1. Graham says:

    Good for him. Sounds like a real leader.

    There’s plenty of value in someone who’s a strong generalist with a wide range. A Renaissance-man, even a lite one, is no bad thing. Neither is his approach to using symbols and legacy to build his team’s identity, culture and loyalty to one another and their predecessors.

    He sounds like he follows a script not unlike that being peddled by Jordan Peterson.

  2. David Foster says:

    Sounds like he is a good model for what an American university coach *should* be like…

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