Five kilometers from the Monumental, the stadium with the largest capacity in South America where Argentina began the 2026 World Cup Qualifiers this Thursday with a 1-0 win against Ecuador, the façade of the Parque Chas Development Association does not particularly call the attention. It is, apparently, one of the hundreds of neighborhood clubs scattered throughout Buenos Aires, hidden between the circular streets of Parque Chas, an urban labyrinth that inspired stories by Adolfo Bioy Casares and Tomás Eloy Martínez.
But inside that small club, which consists of a restaurant and a gym in which a cement floor field for indoor soccer extends – so narrow that it does not meet the regulatory measurements for futsal -, a proud inscription stands out. on the showcases: “World Champions”. There appear photos of three players from the Albiceleste winner in Qatar 2022, Enzo Fernández, Gonzalo Montiel and Exequiel Palacios, but not from today but from their time as child soccer players, between 7 and 13 years old, and with the blue and white shirt from Parque Chas. There is even a fourth missing, Guido Rodríguez, who also trained in the most unexpected factory of world champions.
The four are also part of the path towards the United States-Mexico-Canada 2026 which, for Argentina, will continue this Tuesday in La Paz against Bolivia. Chosen as the best young player of Qatar 2022, Fernández maintains the title he earned in the World Cup and played his first match in the Qualifiers against Ecuador. Montiel, who in the final against France took the penalty that earned him the third star, will possibly play against Bolivia, while Palacios and Rodríguez are part of the replacement.
Always specialized in training boys, the Parque Chas Development Association – or, in other words, the smallest and most neighborhood club that trained the most world champions – never competed under the orbit of the AFA but did so, throughout its history, in two tournaments that act as a phenomenal factory of footballers. Every weekend, thousands of kids participate in the championships of the Friendship Children’s Football Federation (FAFI) and the Children’s Football Schools Federation (FEFI), massive Baby Football leagues, an Argentine variant of futsal, for young people between 5 and 5 years old. and 13 years old.
Clubs as anonymous abroad as Parque Chas, Estrella de Maldonado or Social Parque act as a kind of kindergarten or kindergarten for future stars, the first link in the football education of young people who then continue and professionalize their careers in the affiliated teams. to the AFA, already in football with 11 players. In fact, in the biographies of Fernández (22 years old, today in Chelsea in England), Montiel (26, Nottingham Forest, also in the Premier League), Palacios (24, Bayer Leverkusen, in Germany) and Rodríguez (29, Betis, of LaLiga), another point in common emerges beyond Parque Chas and the national team: the four finished training in the lower divisions of River, a club in which they also debuted in the First Division.
The scout Gabriel Rodríguez
The link between both teams was and continues to be Gabriel Rodríguez, a historic football player trainer who also worked for other clubs, both Baby Fútbol and AFA, but who in recent decades was – and currently continues – linked to Parque Chas and River. In fact, that the Parque Chas Development Association’s mini stadium is called Javier Saviola is no coincidence: at the beginning of the 90s, Rodríguez took the young man who would later stand out as a small club from a small club to one of the most famous in South America. forward of the national team, Barcelona and Real Madrid. Since then, dozens of children trained in Parque Chas played for the Albiceleste and various First Division clubs. In truth, hundreds of kids made a similar journey from different neighborhood teams, but the extraordinary thing is that four world champions grew up there.
“Each player has a different story,” says Gabriel Rodríguez, who is currently the coordinator of River’s children’s soccer -boys from 7 to 13 years old- and at the same time is part of the leadership of Parque Chas. “My job is to look for players and make them progress. Baby Soccer allows you to improve things that are later applied in 11-a-side soccer, they are complementary disciplines. Sometimes I took River players to train at Parque Chas and other times, the other way around. The Baby teaches you to get rid of rivals on a tile or add peripheral vision to you”, says the 63-year-old who has been a trainer for 42 years.
Enzo Fernández arrived at Parque Chas after having started, at the age of 4, at La Recova, another of the hundreds of Baby Soccer clubs scattered throughout the urban conglomerate of Buenos Aires. “With River we have recruiters all over the country and they had spoken very well to me about Enzo Fernández. He was 7 years old, we called him and he started working with us, both in Parque Chas and in River,” says Rodríguez.
“Montiel had played children’s soccer in another neighborhood and needed to evolve, move on to a more competitive tournament, with boys who played better than him, to gain technique, concepts, and coordination. We already had him in River and we brought him to Parque Chas to compete in the two tournaments simultaneously. The same with Guido Rodríguez. Palacios, on the other hand, first we received him in Parque Chas when he was 8 years old and then we took him to River ”, adds the soccer teacher.
Parque Chas, which currently receives 220 boys who participate in tournaments of different levels in its tiny facilities, was about to disappear in 2010. It was then that Saviola, in gratitude for the club in which he began to train, made a financial aid that prevented the closure. “In truth, as the name says, more than a club we are a development society. I have been at Parque Chas for 32 years and I held almost all the roles: coach, coordinator and manager. But, above all, we are a channel for neighbors. A street light breaks or potholes appear on the asphalt and we contact the City Government. We not only do an activity for the kids to play soccer but also to benefit the community,” says Gabriel Rodríguez about the club that, in addition to helping the residents of the most unique neighborhood in Buenos Aires, also builds world champions. And in Argentina there are few activities more beneficial to society than football.
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