Professional footballers are wondrous athletes. The sheer talent that many possess often ensures fans and media run out of superlatives to describe what they have just witnessed. However, there are fine lines between success and failure in sport. Athletes can spiral out of control without any warning and drop suddenly out of the public eye.
Few players epitomise this better than Jefferson Farfán. The speedy Peruvian has been a highly regarded talent since he was 14 years old. Previously a member of Deportivo Municipal’s academy, Farfán was raised by his mother Patricia Guadalupe. She worked as a festival dancer, as his father abandoned the family when Jefferson was a young boy.
The forward claims that even when his mother worked a long shift, she still accompanied him to training, no questions asked, and he is forever grateful for her actions. “She is the greatest thing that God gave me,” proclaimed Farfán. “My mother is everything. I love her with all my strength. I always tell her. She has been a mother and father to me. I am an only child. I have no words to say how much I love my mother.”
Farfán made his mother proud by joining Alianza Lima shortly thereafter. At 19, he was already capped by Peru’s national team and had won two league titles in the Primera División. Farfán scored an impressive 26 goals in 52 league games for the Blanquiazules and caught the eye of Guus Hiddink at PSV Eindhoven as a result. PSV described the then-teenager as “one of the best young players from Peru,” though that was a slight understatement. In fact, Farfán was one of the top talents in all of South America.
Much has changed for Farfán in 13 years. Now a member of Lokomotiv Moscow in the Russian Premier League, the 32-year-old is a controversial figure in Peruvian football. Despite his 75 caps for the national team, he finds himself on the outside looking in. “I’m sure [for the qualifiers in August and September], Farfán will be playing,” proclaimed Paolo Guerrero. “He is gaining form, he has won a major title in Russia and we hope it continues in the same way because he is needed in the team.”
A player of Farfán’s calibre – especially for a team like Peru that has struggled to qualify for the World Cup since 1982 – seldom goes from indispensable to expendable. This is a man who played in nearly 400 games for PSV and Schalke. He scored 120 goals combined for both teams in all competitions, including the Champions League and UEFA Cup. Farfán is also the fourth all-time leading scorer for the national team, and was clutch in a few qualifiers against Chile and Uruguay.
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Farfán’s stock has declined in part due to self-inflicted damage. He was always a tremendous player with his pace, strength, vision and scoring prowess. He was special in that his muscular build and speed made it nearly impossible for opposing defenders to contain him. However, his indiscipline with the national team hurt his image back home.
Farfán, Guerrero, Claudio Pizarro, Andrés Mendoza, Juan Vargas and many others were banned from the team in 2007 after they were seen clubbing into the early hours of the morning. There have also been accusations of partying with hookers and consuming copious amounts of alcohol on many other occasions. Often, these incidents occurred just days before World Cup qualifying.
Three years later, Farfán allegedly motivated Reimond Manco and John Galliquio to join him at a Panamanian casino right after a 1-0 loss to Panama, despite former coach Sergio Markarián demanding that every player stay in their hotel rooms. Farfán was banned twice by the Peruvian Federation. The results were surprising, because whenever the Lima native was on the pitch for club and country, he was electric. However, Farfán divided opinion in Peru due to his behaviour outside of the stadiums and training grounds whenever he was with the national team.
Despite all of these scandals, his performances were not significantly affected. It was shortly after the incident in Panama that his career began to unravel through unforeseen circumstances. From 2009 to 2011, Felix Magath was Schalke’s coach. Magath had a reputation of being a drill sergeant, but his fitness regimes were regimented and tailored for every player. When Magath was relieved of his duties, Farfán was quick to criticise the methods of his old manager.
“The psychological pressure of Magath has gone and now we are enjoying ourselves again at Schalke,” said Farfán. “The problems between Magath and myself were undeniable. There was no communication flow – the only time he would talk to me was when he was giving me a fine. It was just work, work, work. The time under Magath was a huge strain psychologically. I would rather have shifted earth and stones back there than play under Magath.”
While it was no surprise to hear those exact criticisms, Farfán was breathtaking under Magath, racking up 11 goals and 14 assists in 51 league appearances. He was also involved in five goals in 10 matches during Schalke’s run to the Champions League semi-finals. Not only was the Peruvian excelling on the grandest of stages, he never appeared to be mentally or physically fatigued.
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When Magath was relieved of his duties, Farfán’s fitness worsened. Ralf Rangnick, Huub Stevens and Roberto Di Matteo were all hired, but none of them were as regimented on fitness compared to Magath. Therefore, Farfán began to suffer small injuries which plagued him for five years.
His issues began just months after Magath left Schalke. Muscle injuries ruined the winger’s summer, and then he suffered torn knee ligaments which ruled him out for three months. His fitness improved before the 2012/13 Bundesliga campaign, but he was a lot slower and less incisive in the final third compared to his previous self.
The following season was one of Farfán’s ultimate lows. He pulled his hamstring and then picked up another knee injury towards the end of the year, which limited the winger to just 19 appearances in the Bundesliga, the lowest total since he arrived from PSV. He still managed to record an impressive nine goals.
Everything went from bad to worse less than a year later. The Gelsenkirchen-based club confirmed that Farfán needed to undergo knee surgery to replace damaged cartilage. Exactly 12 months after suffering the initial injury, he returned in the 8th minute of Schalke’s 1-0 loss to Bayer Leverkusen. A “delighted” Farfán was just happy to be healthy and back on the field.
With the 2015 Copa América looming, newly appointed coach Ricardo Gareca included Farfán in his squad. He even started in Peru’s opening match against Brazil, the quarter-final victory over Bolivia and in the 2-1 defeat in the semi-finals against the hosts, and eventual champions, Chile. While Farfán didn’t score, he was slowly returning to his old form and thanks to Gareca’s no-nonsense attitude, the winger was staying out of trouble as well.
Shortly after the tournament, Al Jazira – a club based in the United Arab Emirates – made a €6 million offer to Schalke for Farfán’s services. Since the Peruvian had just one year remaining on his deal with the Germans, Al Jazira were able to take advantage. They offered Farfán a three-year contract which reportedly paid him between €8 million and €10 million per season. Due to his injury history and advancing age, Farfán knew he had to capitalise.
Upon his arrival, his old woes returned. Just four months into his spell, the Abu Dhabi-based club’s marquee arrival picked up an ankle injury and was out for the rest of the season. He played just 11 games in all competitions in his debut campaign.
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The summer of 2016 saw Farfán linked to Grêmio, River Plate and a few Bundesliga clubs. However, Al Jazira were satisfied with his progress in pre-season and opted to keep him in the UAE. Predictably, the relationship between both parties deteriorated as Farfán claimed that Al Jazira had failed to meet certain requirements in his contract.
Farfán almost immediately found a new club, as former Schalke director Erik Stoffelshaus was appointed as sporting director of Lokomotiv Moscow. He opted to sign his former player in January 2017 to help reignite the Russian club. Lokomotiv eventually found itself in the Russian Cup final, but Farfán was still struggling with a knee injury and did not make his official debut until April. He started four games, but finished the previous season on a sour note as he was sent off in the cup final, though Lokomotiv still defeated Ural Ekaterinburg 2-0 to lift the trophy.
Thankfully, Farfán started and played 120 minutes in July’s Russian Super Cup, which Lokomotiv lost 2-1 to league champions Spartak. Farfán is also starting to develop a strong chemistry with his teammates. He provided several assists in pre-season friendlies from the wing and appears to be rejuvenated.
His brief stint in Russia has even led to Gareca’s assistants, Nolberto Solano and Néstor Bonillo, talking to Farfán about his recent form and a potential return to the national team. The 32-year-old may be older, but he still has plenty to contribute. He could even serve as a mentor to the likes of Edison Flores and Andy Polo.
Much like Claudio Pizarro, Peruvians may never forgive Farfán for his partying and inconsistent performances. However, it would be fantastic to see a player of his calibre returning to the national team fold. Like Peruvian football as a whole, Farfán looks to be more mature both mentally and physically. It’s regrettable that injuries and coaching carousels occurred in his prime and that this resurgence is occurring at 32 years of age.
Regardless, games are much more entertaining when the bulky winger is dazzling supporters with his incredible dribbling and vision. It would be quite the storybook ending to see Farfán help Peru qualify for next summer’s World Cup in his new home
By Peter Galindo @GalindoPW