Santiago Simón, Gallardo’s most surprising letter in River: “It’s hard for me to realize where I am”
In just one year, Santiago Simón’s life took a shocking turn. At the beginning of 2020, he went from the fifth division to the reserve, went through the stoppage due to the pandemic training by Zoom and, when he returned, in November He appeared in the first River with 18 years. From that opening match at Banfield until September 2021 only added 271 minutes divided into six isolated games. Until in the last four months of the year the consolidation arrived: holder, figure, champion and summoned to the senior team. Today he has 25 official matches (18 starts) with three assists And he plays like he’s got a ton of years on him. With personality, technique, deployment and versatility, the right midfielder established himself at the age of 19 as a central piece at River de Gallardo. And today he dreams of being able to sustain himself in a 2022 that promises a lot of action.
Despite the frenzy Simón thinks with his feet on the ground. Don’t get carried away by flashes. He smiles when he talks about his mother María Elena, his great support and with whom he still lives. He enjoys spending time with his girlfriend and her friends. And he tries not to fill his head, although he remembers that he is living what he always dreamed of since he started at the age of four in the baby of the Tortuguitas Cooperative. At 10, he arrived in Núñez in 2013 without ever having played on the eleven court. He went through the entire inferior process, polished himself in the youth teams and unexpectedly landed in the first under the wing of Gallardo, his soccer father.
“Everything happened to me very quickly. It surprised me, but I always tried to do my best to keep getting minutes and stay in the team. I feel very well and from the first day the group received me very well. They integrate you very quickly and make you enjoy every moment. You learn from everyone too”, says Simón in dialogue with LA NACION. That boy who looked at Exequiel Palacios in the minor categories and now admires Kevin De Bruyne, today he is a starter and wants to polish his game while the fans adore him and constantly transmit the desire to continue seeing him from the start at the Monumental.
-When did you click to feel that you could earn a place?
-I think that after the game with Boca I began to feel much more confident and I saw that I could be up to the task. I was surprised to play the Clásico and it made me very happy because I really wanted to be there.
How did you find out you were going to play?
-The day before in practice, when the team stopped, I knew I was going to play. I thought he wasn’t going to touch me. He had played the two previous games, but with Arsenal as a winger and with Central Córdoba as a midfielder. The classic was coming and I didn’t know if I was going to play because it didn’t have continuity. And it ended up being my first match with people. I was really looking forward to it, I really enjoyed it and luckily we were able to win.
-What do you think you bring to the team?
-I am a player who tries to give dynamics to the collective game and depth on the wings. Gallardo always asks us to know how to find the spaces well and know when to go and when to approach to look for the ball. The reality is that I feel very good with all my teammates. We understand each other on the field and we get along very well outside. That adds up to a lot.
-And what do you feel that you have to keep improving?
-I have to work on finishing plays and give my game a little more intensity. And also take advantage of kicking a little more. The desire to score a goal is always there. I was close with Boca, it would have been nice to do it in the classic. But it will come.
-What is different about the Doll?
-Gallardo tells you something and you believe it. You know it’s so. It is very convincing. Everything he tells you, you take. When something marks us that he thinks is going to happen in the game, it ends up happening. It is so. And all the help that he gives you, then they serve you.
-Did he communicate your first call in 2020?
-Yes. I had been training with the Reserve and, sometimes, they called us if someone was missing for training with the first. Just that week I had participated in a reduced and it had gone quite well. They told me to go the next day again and that same day the summons went out. Practice ended, I went back home and no one said anything to me. So I thought it was over, that I wasn’t going to play. But that afternoon I was at home and I got a message from Marcelo asking if he could call me. He called me and told me that he was going to call me.
-What was your first reaction?
-I cut and we hugged with my mom. We were both very excited and happy. I could not believe it. And much less when I had to enter…
-Where is that shirt from the match with Banfield?
-I have it hanging in a square in my room, heh. I don’t move it from there.
-Did it cost you to assimilate everything you lived in a short time?
-It was all very fast, but I try not to think too much. And I even tell you that it is hard for me to realize where I am. I think the best thing is to live it day by day, giving everything and training full. And when I need it, I rely on my family, my girlfriend and my colleagues. They advise me and accompany me. I enjoy spending time with them. They are all fans and they go to the field. They are very happy.
-And on campus who helped or advised you when you started?
-Zucu (Bruno Zuculini). He always comes over the first day to talk to you and help you. He does it with everyone. He is a very important person.
-What does the place you have today represent for you?
-It is an enormous pride for me and for my whole family to be able to wear the River shirt. I always dreamed of being here and I want to enjoy it 100%. This is a club where you have to work hard, but we had a great time. There is a very nice group and it makes you want to continue even more.
-In November you were summoned to the senior team. How did you find out?
-When the list came out on Twitter. It was very crazy. A boy who works at the AFA, who I knew from the Sub 17, had contacted me because they didn’t have my number and he told me that they were going to call me later. But in the end they didn’t call me and I ended up finding out because my phone started to explode. Many people wrote to me. It was crazy. I did not see it coming at any time, I was very surprised.
-How did you live that week in the AFA premises?
-And… I couldn’t believe it was there. I enjoyed it a lot. I took the opportunity to look at all the teammates and learn from them because they have a lot of quality. We knew that it was difficult to be able to play, but it was very nice to be there accompanying.
-Did you talk to Scaloni?
-Yes, on the last day we spoke with the entire coaching staff. They told us that they were very happy with our performance in training, that they would continue to watch us and that we would continue to make an effort to come back.
-Removing Messi, which player impacted you?
-El Cuti Romero. It’s very, very good. I love the way he defends and plays.
-How much did the youth selection process help you?
-I had done Sub 17 and had also started the Sub 20 that was suspended. That helped me for my day to day. I had Pablito Aimar as coach, who always gives you a lot of advice and they made me grow. I like his work as a coach and he left me a specific lesson that was very important: always pass firmly to give your teammate more time when receiving. That served me well.
-You arrived at River in 2013 when you were 10 years old. What do you remember from that moment?
I was on trial for a whole week. I had never played on the eleven court, only in baby. And I sent because a friend got me the test. The night before the first day I had a hard time sleeping, I couldn’t. I was very anxious. Luckily in the first practice I scored a goal and played well. I had to go all that week, we played several games and I had many talks because I had to change schools because of the schedules. I had double schooling, but I did everything to stay in the club.
What was that routine like?
-I went and returned by train from my house to the club. I got up at five in the morning, it was quite hard. He had an hour and twenty to go and an hour and twenty to return. In the afternoon I went to school. But I found a great group. It was a very nice category. We came out champions in eighth with the Gordillo Plug and we got along very well.
-Have you had a hard time settling down?
-Yes, I had no place in ninth. He did not play in AFA or in the League. Until the end of the year I started to play more. I was a little down. But deep down I knew I could win the spot. I kept putting it until I got it.
-Did you finish high school?
-Yes. I had to change schools four or five times due to different circumstances. But I was able to finish it and now I want to see what I can study. I have a good base of English because I went to a bilingual school, so I could continue with that because I like it.
-And now what dreams do you have ahead of you?
-In the short term, I dream of earning a place in the team for this year and being able to win the Copa Libertadores, which is what we all want. And in the long term I dream of playing for the national team and being able to win a World Cup.