El Salvador: Meet fan who googled players to improve side – and was rewarded with full-time job

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Eriq Zavaleta
Eriq Zavaleta, who plies his trade in the MLS with Toronto, made his El Salvador debut in June

A fan who trawled the internet for players to help improve El Salvador’s national side is making his mark as their first full-time scout.

Hugo Alvarado, 36, spent over a decade looking for eligible players after becoming fed up with the team’s record on the international stage.

The Central American country last qualified for a World Cup in 1982.

“When I started, I was using search terms like ‘footballer Salvadorian mother’,” he told BBC World Service.

“Whenever I saw an image that resembled a Hispanic or Latino guy, I would open it and look at the name.

“Sometimes I found articles where they mentioned where their parents were from and in other cases I would reach out to them through social media and ask them.

“One of my biggest finds was Steve Purdy [who had played for 1860 Munich in Germany].

“There’s nothing Salvadorian about that name but I had read some stuff about him and got hold of him on Facebook and we started talking.”

El Salvador, who began October’s World Cup qualifiers with a 1-0 home win against Panama on Friday, currently have eight players in their squad who were discovered by Alvarado.

‘It was like hitting the jackpot’

With El Salvador’s top flight containing only 12 clubs, the talent pool and support structure around the game was seen as a hindrance to attracting players.

“The infrastructure in Salvadorian football was so broken that a footballer who grew up in another country has much better training facilities and nutrition to be able to perform,” continued Alvarado.

“So that’s how it was working in my mind. If I could find players who grew up in a different system, they could help us.

“A lot of people in El Salvador thought that these players were not interested in playing for El Salvador. They had better lives in the United States or Switzerland and would try to play for those national teams or any other national team but El Salvador.

“But when I talked to them I noticed that they were open to the possibility and for me it was like hitting the jackpot.”

Alvarado, who emigrated to the USA when he was 12 and now lives in California, says that he feels an enormous sense of pride seeing them pull on the country’s blue jersey.

However, he had not factored in just how he was also contributing to their journey as players.

“To me it was just that I wanted to help the national team,” he added.

“But when I had, a couple of them told me, ‘I wouldn’t have been able to play against [Lionel] Messi and Argentina or [Andres] Iniesta or [Gerard] Pique if it wasn’t for what you did for me’.

“That was the moment when I almost broke down in tears because I never really thought about it.

“I never paused [before] to hear from those players and what I did for their careers and experiences, to be able to play against the top teams and world class players.”

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