Pekerman could be the lone Jew at World Cup
However, Jose Pekerman will be on the sidelines as the coach of Colombia’s national team.
Pekerman, who was born on September 3 1949 in Villa Dominguez in Argentina, is the grandson of a family who emigrated from Ukraine to Argentina, and then settled in the Jewish agricultural colonies of Entre Rios province.
His rise to fame in the world of football was quite remarkable, going as he did from an unremarkable midfielder to one of the highest-paid coaches in world soccer. His current salary of $1.678 million (R21.26 million) a year is six times more than the average person in Colombia earns.
Pekerman’s career as a footballer was uneventful. He was a midfielder and played from 1970 to 1974 for Argentinos Juniors, scoring 12 goals in 134 matches. He was transferred to Independiente Medellin, in Colombia, where he scored 15 goals in 101 matches.
His playing career ended with a serious knee injury when he was 28 years old.
He battled to find secure employment and in order to support himself and his family, he took up a variety of jobs, including a stint as a taxi driver.
He returned to Argentina, where one of his jobs was as a youth coach for Chacarita Juniors. He then took up a similar position with Argentinos Juniors. He proved to be a successful coach and chose to move to Chile after being offered the opportunity to coach Colo-Colo’s youth divisions.
His breakthrough came in 1994, when he was asked to coach the Argentina national Under-20 and Under-17 sides by the Argentine Football Association (AFA). This caused some surprise as his track record did not include any major achievements.
However, his success in that position silenced the critics. His Under-20 team won the FIFA World Youth Championship three times – 1995 in Qatar, 1997 in Malaysia and 2001 in Argentina. Pekerman even named his three dogs accordingly – Qatar, Malaysia and Argentina. The team also won two South American Youth Championships – in 1997 and 1999.
When the national coach, Daniel Passarella, resigned after the 1998 World Cup, Pekerman was offered his position. He declined, assuming instead the position of general manager of all national teams. Marcelo Bielsa was hired as coach on Pekerman’s recommendation, and remained in charge until after Argentina’s gold medal performance in the 2004 Summer Olympics.
In 2003, Pekerman moved to Spain at the request of Argentine businessman Daniel Grinbank, who had acquired Spanish Second Division side CD Leganes. After a few months serving as director of football, the project crumbled and Pekerman left Spain.
When Bielsa resigned in 2004, Pekerman was named coach of the Argentine national team. At the 2006 World Cup, Argentina played well until the quarterfinals, where they lost to hosts Germany on penalties.
After the loss, Pekerman resigned, despite attempts from AFA president Julio Grondona to dissuade him from leaving.
In January 2012, Pekerman became coach of the Colombian national team. His goal was to qualify the team for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The path to qualification had its ups and downs. It was realised, but only after a lengthy period which saw Pekerman come in for loads of criticism for his tactics and team selection.
Colombia qualified for the 2014 World Cup after a 3–3 home draw against Chile, and Pekerman expressed his joy for helping Colombia return to the World Cup for the first time in 16 years, considering it to be “one of the greatest joys in my life”.
Following the team’s qualification, Pekerman stated his desire to be a naturalised Colombian, which was granted by President Juan Manuel Santos the following day.
Colombia won all three of their group matches, scoring nine goals and conceding only two, and went on to defeat Uruguay in the round of 16 before losing to the host nation, Brazil, in the quarterfinals.
In August 2014, Pekerman extended his contract with Colombia until 2018 – and has succeeded in qualifying the country once again.
Pekerman is known for his tactical management style, often selecting players who fit his style of coaching. His focus is on talent, but more so, on who can do the right job. Despite his mindset, however, Pekerman is known to make controversial selections with line-ups against certain teams. This is strongly supported by the fact he experimented heavily with the Argentinean youth squads when he was coaching them, and has continued to do so.
When not coaching in Colombia, Pekerman lives in the Buenos Aires Jewish neighbourhood of Villa Crespo.