BY BRUNO RODRIGUES
Lucas Pratto is a very particular man. A single look at the Argentinian forward is enough to see that. SÃ£o Pauloâ€™s biggest signing of 2017 looks more like a rugby player than a professional footballer, although his quality can be seen in less than three touches on the ball â€“ with one of them usually ending up in the back of the net. But there is something about Pratto, little known by press and fans, that itâ€™s even more impressive than his style of play or his physical appearance: his superstitions, or â€œcÃ¡balasâ€ as the Argentinians call it.
Lots of football players have their rituals before a match. Prayers; the order in which they dress themselves; which foot step onto the pitch first…Lucas Pratto, however, has taken it to another level. His lifelong friends and teammates explain further.
Pratto has been a great fan of The Simpsons cartoon series since he was a (not so) little kid back in La Plata, Argentina, going so far as to get a tattoo of Homer and Bart on his right leg. When he was with Boca Juniorsâ€™ youth side, he used to place little dolls of Simpsons characters inside his boots to bring him luck between championship matches. â€œHe is a Simpsons fanatic. Of course, before playing he took the dolls out of his boots. He just simply put them back inside when he was not using them.â€ says JosuÃ© Ayala, a former colleague of Pratto in his Boca days and now playing for AtlÃ©tico TucumÃ¡n.
Prattoâ€™s brother, Leandro, reinforces the myth around the Simpsons dolls. â€œHe always had some shrines. My mother and I love movies and we always gave him dolls and action figures. He made a kind of shrine with themâ€, Leandro recalls.
Are you a forward or what?
The first great experience in football for Pratto came at Universidad CatÃ³lica, in Chile. While there, he scored goals, won a national title and the appreciation of fans. The funny thing about all of it was the fact that he played for a whole year with the number 2 on the back of his shirt, a very rare choice for a striker. After impressing in the Copa Libertadores with the club in 2011, Italian side Genoa bought him.
There, Pratto had the opportunity to choose the number of his shirt. Differently from South America, Europeans are a little bit more open about shirt numbers, so it was almost inevitable that a number more traditionally associated with a striker would be available. But no. The number 2 that impressed everybody at CatÃ³lica was his choice for Genoa. â€œHe chooses the number 2, which for a striker is very strange. It was fun to watch him with that shirtâ€, recalls CristÃ³bal Jorquera, a Chilean who played with Pratto in Italy.
But unfortunately for the Argentinian, his time in Italy did not go well. After just six months and few opportunities (and fewer goals), it was time to seek a move. And, of course, new â€˜cÃ¡balasâ€™.
Poor ball boys
Lucas Pratto had his best spell in the game at Argentinian club VÃ©lez Sarsfield. After a difficult time in Italy, his own country was the perfect place to regain his form and confidence.
In the distinctive VÃ©lez shirt, Pratto was chosen by the fans as their player of the year for two consecutive seasons (2013 and 2014), scoring lots of goals â€“ including the winner in a 1 â€“ 0 victory over Newellâ€™s Old Boys to confirm the national title of 2012. This success, however, did not come without supertitious aspects. At least not for Pratto. â€œEverytime he stepped into the field, he had to go out with a ball in his hand and then he would kick it to one of the touch linesâ€, remembers Diego Canali, one of Prattoâ€™s best friends and who played with him at Boca Juniors.
Poor ball boys, who had to collect Prattoâ€™s superstitious kicks every game.
Around the chest
After succeeding with VÃ©lez Sarsfield, Pratto was acquired by Brazilian club AtlÃ©tico Mineiro. He needed just a few matches to gain the respect of the fans and his teammates. But there was something strange about the Argentinian in Galoâ€™s locker room during training days. He used to sit next to the door, but everytime he went out for training, he first came to the other side of the toom, passed around a chest placed in the middle of the room and then walked out to the pitch. One day, defender Edcarlos noticed this ritual and decided to dig deeper into the story.
â€œI used to sit at the opposite side of him. One day I wondered: â€˜Man, why does he come and walk around instead of simply going out? I thought he was coming to say hi to somebody. But it was to walk around the chest, and then he went out. One day I blocked his path. I got the chest, some other things and blocked the path so he could not come and walk around it. It was the day everybody discovered his superstition and laughed about it. â€˜Come on, man. Everyday you come here, for Godâ€™s sake!â€™, I said to him. I admit that it was funnyâ€, says Edcarlos, AtlÃ©ticoâ€™s Sherlock Holmes.
Making his own way
At the beginning of this season, Lucas Pratto decided to move from AtlÃ©tico to another Brazilian powerhouse: SÃ£o Paulo Futebol Clube. It was the clubâ€™s biggest transfer of 2017 and just as it happened at his former AtlÃ©tico, the forward quickly gained the confidence of the fans, becoming one of the favourite players of the Tricolor supporters. And of course: new club, new rituals, new â€œcÃ¡balasâ€. Everytime he entered the field of play at Morumbi (SÃ£o Pauloâ€™s home), he passed behind the goal before stepping into the pitch. 99% of his SÃ£o Paulo colleagues just climbed the stairs from the home team locker room and walked straight out. At half-time, however, the team comes onto the field altogether, but a single player walks behind the goal and joins the group at the other side. That man is Lucas Pratto.
A man of (strange) faith. The king of superstitions. The king of the Argentinian cÃ¡balas.
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