When Ricardo Gareca announced his 23-man final squad for the Peru national team, fans were shocked. “El Tigre," as Gareca is called, had omitted Christian Benavente the Real Madrid Castilla player and instead opted for Christian Cueva from local club Alianza Lima.
“Cuevita” or “Aladino,” had been the cover of many local newspapers for the past months; however, none for a good reason.
Nevertheless, Gareca trusted him and named him in the squad for the Copa America.
The first five minutes of the match against Brazil proved that Gareca’s decision had been the correct one and why fans all over Peru had wrongly judged the new coach.
Just two minutes into the game Cueva scored against the all mighty “Canarinha.”
Joy to watch
Although Peru would eventually go on to lose the game, Cuevita never looked back. His game went from strength to strength and in the absence of world-renown-star Jefferson Farfán he took the reigns of the team and started producing the magic that had taken him to Rayo Vallecano at such a tender age.
It was Cueva who provided the assist for Claudio Pizarro to score in the dying minutes in the make-or-break game against Venezuela. Again it was him who ran up and down the left against Colombia as if his life depended on it, exemplifying all that Cuadrado has been lacking at Chelsea for the past six months.
His game represents the lost magic that characterised Peru’s national teams in the 70s and 80s. Constantly playing with a smile on his face, he moves the ball with joy like only great players do.
He isn’t scared to take on players or try something out of the ordinary, something that the national team has lacked for ages. “Aladino” has once again made watching the Peruvian national team a pleasure and not soul sucking as it had been for the past 10 years.
Question marks over his attitude
Nevertheless, this is only the first step on the long road to recovery for Christian Cueva. Yes, he has taken on superstars like Juan Cuadrado and put him in his back pocket during the tournament, but Cuevita can’t let this get to his head once again as it did before.
He needs to keep his head down and repay the faith the manager put in him before the tournament and keep growing, not only as a person but also as a player.
His qualities were never in doubt, but his attitude and company brings back memories of a certain Ravel Morrison, a player with tremendous skill, but an attitude so bad not even the great Sir Alex Ferguson could cope with.
If Cueva were to finally mature as a person then for sure will he have another chance at the big stage, with rumours circulating around Peru that Independiente from Argentina is already negotiating his transfer with current club Alianza Lima.
If that move materialises it will surely be the first step towards Europe once again. There is no doubt he has the ability to replicate Juan Manuel Vargas’s or Claudio Pizarro’s success across the Atlantic, but it is up to him to get there and prove critics wrong.