There is probably no other player of whom so many Argentinians will talk so reverently as they do of Tomás “El Trinche“ Carlovich. A portrait about a man, who did not have an illustrious career, but who nonetheless became a legend. A man who “preferred to just play football instead of being a professional”.
Tomás was born in Rosario the 20th of April 1949, as the youngest of seven children of a Yugoslav migrant family. From childhood on he played barefoot with a hand sewn ball made from rags at the playing ground of his neighbourhood. The “Potrero” (football ground) which is famous for producing those football players who one day are going to be remembered globally, also moulded young Tomás. At that time, he was given the nickname “El Trinche” (The Fork), whose origin and meaning are unknown, like so many other things about him.
As little as it is known about his football career, the less is known about his infancy and youth. However, it is certain that he was very attached to his quarter, Belgrano, and never felt big desire to leave home. Still his huge talent did not remain undiscovered for a long time, and Tomás played already at an early age for the youth teams of Rosario Central. Aged 20 he finally made his debut in the first squad.
¡Feliz cumpleaños Maestro! Un día como hoy de 1946 nació en el legendario barrio Belgrano, Tomás Felipe Carlovich ¡Salud Trinche! pic.twitter.com/ngYRBed36B
— Museo CentralCórdoba (@museocc) April 18, 2017
In those days Miguel Ignomirielo was the coach of Central, who should later become famous as assistant coach of Osvaldo Zubeldía at Estudiantes de la Plata, and as manager of the Selección Fantasma. He was a manager who attached significant importance to discipline and fitness. Thus, it was not a major surprise, that it could not work out well for long, with the young man, for whom football represented just joy and no obligation. Therefore, after merely two matches Carlovich’ time at the Canallas terminated already, which should remain the only two first league appearances of his career, after that he would only play in 2nd and 3rd division. Afterwards it was said, that “El Trinche” was born at the wrong time, cause in that period of football, the physical was the most important. Whereas, according to Jorge Valdano he was “the symbol of that romantic football, which does not exist anymore”.
Subsequently he found home at Córdoba Central, the third club of Rosario, where he immediately became the beloved of the fans. The love was mutual, Córdoba Central turned for him as well into the club of his life. Playing for Central was the greatest feeling for him, it was his personal “Real Madrid”, with whom he won two 2nd Division championships. From the borough Tablada his extraordinary football skills started to spread. He mesmerized the fans that much, that in the streets one did not say any more “today plays Central”, but “today plays El Trinche”, and supporters from Newell’s and Rosario Central went together to the stadium of the Charrúas to see him. Even Marcelo “el loco” Bielsa went for almost four years every Saturday to the Estadio Gabino Sosa, to watch him.
The style of play of “El Trinche”
The myth of “El Trinche” arose in first place out of his unique style of play, in which he combined several attributes and styles. Starting with the above mentioned “romantic style”, he incorporated as well the “Estilo rosarino”, which is a bit slower and technically more demanding. In addition to that, cheekiness, brazenness, and a magical left foot, with whom he made perfect passes. According to his teammates he was not the fastest player, but he knew already before receiving a pass, where he was going to pass it on. Furthermore, he had an unbelievable calmness when he was in possession of the ball, and hardly lost it, which is why one teammate compared him with god, “cause as soon as one passed him the ball, one was saved”. José Pékerman described him “as a mix of Fernando Redondo – even slightly more elegant – and Román Riquelme”.
The specialty of Carlovich was the “caño de ida y vuelta”, the move means to nutmeg the opponent, wait until he has turned around, and then nutmeg him again. Allegedly he started to do it, after a fan in the stands asked him to do so, and at Central Córdoba people say there was paid a bonus for every caño. Lots of personalities of the Argentinian football and ancient teammates agree, that Carlovich had all the prerequisites to become a legend.
“El Trinche” on the pitch
La verdad de lo que pasó. pic.twitter.com/rCNYcvW6sZ
— Daniel Console (@DanielConsole) June 20, 2016
That his skills are beyond any doubt proved “El Trinche“ during a match of the Argentinian national team against a squad formed exclusively by players born in Rosario. The squad consisted of five players each from Newell’s and Central, plus the “invited artist” Carlovich, the only player who played in 2nd division. The match ended 3:1 for the rosarian team, and Carlovich was on everyone’s lips. That evening everything worked out for him, and he showed to all sceptics that he only didn’t play in 1st division because he did not want to. In half-time the home side was already winning by 3:0, and the national coach Vladislao Cap is said to have asked who that player was and pleaded to substitute him in half-time, because he feared an even bigger humiliation with Carlovich on the pitch. Finally, “El Trinche“ left the pitch in the 65th minute with standing ovations from the stands. Some years later, one of his opponents, Aldo Poy, told that after “El Trinche“ had disappeared to the changing room, many spectators began to leave the ground, too. Supposedly it was the only match in history during which supporters from Newell’s and Central embraced each other. After the match, he almost signed for Cosmos New York or a French team, but both transfers shattered.
During his time at Independiente Rivadavia (Mendoza), he played with a city-squad against AC Milan. The Argentinians won the match 4:1 and as well in this game Carlovich was the outstanding player. Although he did not score, “he had some fun”, so that the Italians apparently felt so provoked, that they tried to injure him. In a match report it was written, that it was Carlovich, “who filled the pitch with football”.
“El Trinche” off the pitch
But not even all the talent helped him achieve a great career, because he lacked in professionalism, as football represented for him diversion and no obligation. According to that training did not enjoy priority for him, so that he often looked unmotivated, or did not show up at all. Neither did he make an effort to adapt, and all those who know him say, that he could have achieved much more, if he had tried harder. The comparison with Mágico González is obvious, since both players had been blessed with outstanding skills, but couldn’t or didn’t want to understand football as a profession. But on the other hand, people did love him especially for this distinctive character, and this (non-)attitude. In his days at Independiente Rivadavia the fans gave him the nickname “el Gitano” (the Gypsy), because he apparently slept on the floor, and took bathes in streams, although they changed it to “Rey” (King), after an extraordinary performance resulting in a 5:1 derby victory.
2da. edición del libro del "Trinche" Carlovich. Interesados Whatsapp 541144032514. En breve, en Europa se consigue. pic.twitter.com/G9DxP9agwE
— Daniel Console (@DanielConsole) June 20, 2016
The reason why the myth continued to grow, lies in the fact, that from “El Trinche“ exists only one single video capture, that shows him playing, because in those days the 2nd division was not filmed. Even newspaper articles are rare, and as well in the archive of El Gráfico they have just one folder about him. However, there are enough articles to prove undoubtful, that he really existed. It is known much more about him through storytelling than through images. Out of this reason the legend was developed further, as it is generally known that in oral narrations minor details tend to be added. Some anecdotes are true some are not says Carlovich himself. For example, he denies the story that he once preferred to go fishing instead of following an invitation to the national team from Menotti. But he never revealed either what he had done instead. Whereas he admits that he occasionally just sat down on the ball during a match, but not to provoke, but because he was a bit tired.
During his time in Mendoza, where he played for Independiente Rivadavia, Colón de Santa Fe and Deportivo Maipú it went well on the pitch as well, but he showed there the same unprofessional behaviour. Furthermore, the love for his home town was always bigger. During one match, he is said to have intentionally provoked a red card against him, then he took a quick shower and ran to the bus station, to catch the last bus of the day to Rosario. Besides before one contract signing he is reported to have called for a car as bonus, which he finally was given from the club. With the car, he then drove to Rosario and never came back, although Carlovich argues that, and says he paid the car by himself.
Consequences of the myth
Due to the lack of TV footage and the incredible stories which hurried on ahead, the fans at away games were always particularly excited about “El Trinche”, in order to find out if there was some truth in them. During one match for Córdoba Central Carlovich saw an early red card, after a collision with an opposite player. But the local supporters, who primarily came to the stadium to see Carlovich, forced the referee to take back his decision, so that he could finish the match.
In retrospect, he became known as the Maradona from Rosario, and even Diego himself was aware of the meaning of “El Trinche“. In 1993 when he was presented at Newell’s, a journalist told him how proud everybody was to receive the best football player of all times. But the answer from Maradona was probably different to the one he had expected, because he replied “the best player of the world already played in Rosario, it was a man called Carlovich”.
“El Trinche“ finished his career in 1986 and still lives in his district in Rosario, where he gets visited from time to time from journalists, who want to find out which stories are true and which are not. Sure is, there won’t be such a character again in football, and as well this article lets grow the myth, hoping to have written only about the real anecdotes.
Documentary about “El Trinche“ in Spanish: