Juan Carlos Osorio (left) and Arnie Ramirez. (Photo courtesy of Arnie Ramirez)
By Michael Lewis
Arnie Ramirez woke up at two in the morning Sunday. He couldn’t get back to sleep. So, he posted some photos of himself with Costa Rica head coach Oscar Ramirez and goalkeeper Keylor Navas.
He had a busy World Cup day ahead of him with three national sides that are close to his heart who were playing their first games of the competition.
Costa Rica, the land of the former Long Island University Brooklyn head coach’s birth, was scheduled to meet Serbia in the first encounter at 8 a.m. ET.
Next was Mexico vs. Germany at 11 a.m. ET and Ramirez rooted for the former side because one of his former coaching license students, Juan Carlos Osorio, is the El Tri head coach.
And the final game pit Brazil against Switzerland at 2 p.m. ET. Like millions of fans in the world, Ramirez went for the Brazilians, but for very personal reasons. He was the director of the Pele Soccer Camp from 1978-82 and got close to the Black Pearl and his confidante, Prof. Julio Mazzei quite well.
Ramirez went 1-1-1 on the day. The Costa Ricans lost, 1-0, Mexico stunned defending champion Germany, 1-0, and favored Brazil sloughed to a 1-1 draw with Switzerland.
“It was an incredible experience,” he said. “It was a rollercoaster ride.”
And definitely an emotional one at that.
Wearing a Costa Rican shirt, Ramirez started the day at his Manhattan home hoping for the Ticos to continue their 2014 magic, in which they reached the quarterfinals.
No such luck this time as Serbia prevailed.
On his Facebook page, Ramirez said that he hoped the Central Americans would do well, although they don’t have great strikers.
“They didn’t play so badly,” he later said. “They just couldn’t put the ball in today. They have a great goalkeeper. Bryan Ruiz, the captain, is an excellent player. I was very nervous the whole time. I was getting up all the time and walked around. The Mexico game, I was even more nervous because of Juan Carlos Osorio.”
About an hour after the final whistle, Ramirez, still wearing his Costa Rican jersey, sat down again on his couch and rooted for Mexico.
Well, sort of.
“The Mexico game I was so nervous,” he said. “I wanted Mexico not because of Mexico but because of Juan Carlos Osorio.”
Mexico upended the defending champs and one of the World Cup favorites on European soil, certainly not a mean feat.
“Today they played an incredible game,” he said. “They played really well. I think it was the best game ever. … There were times Mexico just outplayed them completely. The skill level of the Mexican team was incredible today.”
Of course, Ramirez can be considered biased for Osorio, who took a D coaching license course when he was the instructor at LIU during the eighties.
“He was so well prepared. he was the best in the class,” he said. “He had a 100 on every test. He was so smart. He’s got a great soccer brain.”
It was about that time that Osorio had asked Ramirez about playing for LIU, but the head coach had no scholarships left. So, Ramirez recommended the University of New Haven, where the future Mexican national coach performed for two years, and Southern Connecticut University, where the Colombian native completed his bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science.
“He’s like my son,” Ramirez said. “I’m in touch with him a lot. We texted each other when he lost by seven goals.”
That was the 7-0 quarterfinal defeat to Chile in the 2016 Copa America Centenario.
“I said Chile played a perfect game that day,” Ramirez said. “I said, I keep telling the Mexican people, beating Chile is not going to get you to the World Cup, beating Costa Rica, beating the United States, beating Panama that will take you to the World Cup.”
Cooler heads prevailed at the Mexican Football Federation and Osorio wasn’t fired. In the past, most coaches would have been out the door the next day.
In fact, when the final whistle was blown, Ramirez admitted he cried when Javier Hernandez — aka Chicharito — hugged Osorio and cried himself.
Ramirez took his ire out on the Mexican media, which has been ultra-critical of the former Red Bulls head coach and Staten Island Vipers assistant coach since he was named El Tri head coach in 2015. A Colombian native, Ramirez was the rare foreigner to coach the Mexican national team.
“The players know the difference between what a great coach is and a regular coach is,” he said. “I tell you when I used to go see his training sessions, I was amazed. I was in awe.
“I am so glad the Mexican [federation] president and the people they stayed with him because they know the man is a genius. … I just have a feeling. They’re going to go to the final. I really feel that way.
“Chucky Lozano is a great player, the guy who scored the goal. What I love about it is that they all have fresh legs because he has been able to rotate the players. And that’s what I was always trying to tell the people from Mexico. ‘Look, he knows what he’s doing.’ It’s like you study for the final. When you come to the World Cup, when you use your top players.”
Ramirez became enamored with Brazil during the 1958 World Cup, the first of three world championships the South Americans over four tournaments. He and Soccer America columnist Paul Gardner paid $20 apiece to watch the 1970 final at Madison Square Garden.
After Brazil prevailed over Italy to immortalize that team as arguably the greatest side in World Cup history, the two men joined a celebration parade in Manhattan.
Inquisitive observers asked: “What was going on?”
To which Ramirez replied, “Brazil won the World Cup.”
He added, “Nobody knew. They thought we were crazy.”
In 1982, Ramirez interviewed Pele for 90 minutes. He told the superstar that the 1970 team was probably the best team Brazil ever. Pele countered with the 1958 squad.
“I said ‘Yeah, but it was the best defensive team playing against the best offensive team and the best offensive team won, 4-1,” Ramirez said. “He said, ‘If you look at it that way, you’re right. The 1970 team was a great team, definitely.’ ”
Ramirez and his wife Julia, drove up to his son’s home in Katonah, N.Y. to watch the Brazil-Switzerland game. The five-time world champions fell considerably short of expectations.
“Brazil stopped playing,” Ramirez said. “I don’t know if the guys played so many games, that they’re very tired. Coaches like Mexico rotate their players all the time. I was a little bit disappointed today with Brazil.
“To tell you the truth I wasn’t as emotional as I would have been years ago about Brazil. I don’t see the great players. Neymar, he hasn’t convinced me yet.”
Monday will be another day of World Cup matches, with matches more on tap. Ramirez doesn’t have a dog in those fights. He will have to wait until Wednesday, when Spain, another team that is close to his heart, plays Iran.
And then Arnie Ramirez’s emotional soccer ride will start all over again.