Pedro Gallese was just ten the first time his Aunt Sona told him this, though at the time he could not fully comprehend its implication – either for him or Peru.
“I was living with her at the time, and she kept on repeating it. I thought she was crazy,” he told FIFA.com. Now 31 and the undisputed first-choice for his country, he was indeed one of the Blanquirroja’s key figures when they graced the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ after a 36-year absence from the world stage.
The FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2007, when he was an unused substitute, kickstarted his career and paved the way for him turning professional a year later. He debuted with the senior national team in 2014, although it would be current coach, Ricardo Gareca, who came to depend on his litheness and reflexes when he took up the reins back in March 2015.
Since then, the player they call El Pulpo (the Octopus) or Tarantula has only ever missed games through injury, setting two records in the process: he is Peru’s most-capped goalkeeper (62 appearances to date) and the one with the most FIFA World Cup qualifying games to his name (18).
Now one of the pillars of the team, Gallese spoke with FIFA.com about Peru’s weak start in the qualifiers for Qatar 2022, where they currently sit second-last with just one point from four games, as well as their next opponents and qualification chances. In addition, he talked about his beginnings in the game, his hobbies, life with MLS side Orlando City and the upcoming Copa America.
Pedro Gallese: Playing at a community tournament in Barrancos at the age of seven. I was an outfield player, and we were taking a hammering, so I said to our keeper, ‘Can you just save one and start doing your job!’. His reply was, ‘Well why don’t you go in goal then?’, and so I did, without even a pair of gloves! The attacks continued but I made a couple of saves and liked it. The next game I was put in goal from the start and since then have never left.
My cousin was playing for an academy in Lima, and the team were always getting beaten. So my aunt contacted them to say she had a nephew who was good in goal, and they agreed to take me, even though we couldn’t afford to pay the academy fees. I was nine at the time. As soon as they put me in goal, the team stopped losing. It was soon after that she began with the whole ‘you’re going to play a World Cup one day’ thing. When we qualified for Russia, I gave her my entire kit from the New Zealand play-off as a present.
It was gratifying, because at that time it was mostly youth players from the big clubs that got selected. It was a rare for an academy player like me to get called up. Once there, all I could think of was: ‘If this is how a World Cup for juniors is, what must the senior team version be like!’
When we won the play-off, I was happy, but it was only at the tournament itself that I fully realised what qualification meant. As we lined up for the national anthem before the first game, I looked around at my team-mates and the many Peruvians fans there with us, and it dawned on me what we’d achieved. At that moment, you heart is pounding in your chest. Even if I never get to experience it again, I’ll remember every minute of those three games.
The 36-year absence weighed heavily on us, as did losing some games after playing well. The burden we had to shoulder was getting heavier and heavier, but our determination to improve over the course of the qualifiers was important. We kept believing it was possible.
It’s been a complicated start that’s earned us fewer points than expected, even though we’ve not played badly. But we know we need to improve in many respects, all over the pitch. We have to forget about the World Cup in Russia. This is a new qualification race, and we have to focus solely on that.
The reality is that previously some teams used to say, ‘We have Peru next, so there’s three points’, and they were calm and composed against us. Now teams analyse us more, studying each player, and that makes everything a bit more difficult. But it’s also a good thing, because they respect us in a different way. We have to use that to our advantage.
In part, we’re missing the same levels of concentration we had before; the ability to strike and then defend a lead like our lives depended on it. But the important thing is, and this is something we’ve talked about among ourselves, is that we’re equipped to fight. If we weren’t, then we’d only be thinking of taking part. However, we can compete, as we’ve already demonstrated.
In the previous campaign, with six matchdays remaining, we had only the slimmest of chances of scraping into the play-off position. We had to win all our home games and snatch points on the road – we simply couldn’t lose. On that occasion, we were up to the challenge. Now we find ourselves in a similar situation, but earlier in the campaign. We’ve started badly, but I think that’ll make us stronger.
Both are direct rivals. Colombia have a style similar to ours and also try to use the ball well and defend a lot. With them, the real battle will be in midfield. Ecuador are more direct and, as always, altitude will be a factor in Quito. Personally, I was able to train in Orlando with technology that simulates altitude, which is a significant advantage.
Not so much anxiety, but desire to turn around the complicated situation we’re going through.
When you participate in a tournament you want to represent your country well, but also to win it, or go as far as possible. It’ll do us good in terms of getting closer together as a group, because the focus is one hundred percent on the qualifiers.
She told me that we had to qualify for another World Cup, that I couldn’t just have the one (laughs). She made me promise that we’d reach a second, so I have more pressure from her than from all of Peru (laughs again).
The records. “When I started with the national team, they seemed a long way off, but you gradually attain them and feel good about them. It’s nice to be in the record books but only in so far as it motivates me to achieve even more.”
His great season at Orlando City. “I joined the club because they made an interesting offer. I wanted some different experience and am doing my own thing. They speak well of me, so that’s good.”
His replica shirt, which is among the best-sellers in Orlando. “Like I said: I’m glad because it’s testament to the good work I’m doing.”
Being the team’s unofficial barber. “It started during the ‘MLS is Back’ tournament, when we were confined for two and a half months. I bought some clippers, watched a few videos on YouTube and my team-mates were up for it. Now if they ask me, I keep doing it.”
His success on Tik Tok during the pandemic. “In the middle of the pandemic I was going crazy – I didn’t know what to do… My wife asked me if I fancied doing it, so we tried and people liked it. But that’s as far as it goes (laughs).”
Have his own clothing brand. “I’ve liked fashion ever since I was a kid, and the business is growing little by little. I don’t design the stuff however, I just give it the thumbs up or down! It’s more of a hobby.”