On the oak school desk in front of him, Alejandro Faurlin beats out a rhythm. He has been asked to explain why one of the rising stars in the millionaire's playground of English football apparently spends his down-time watching Deal Or No Deal. "It's on when I'm relaxing and drinking maté," the Argentine explains, of his homeland's national drink.
"But I don't watch a lot of television. I prefer to listen to music." This is when the drumming starts. Not when the Queen's Park Rangers midfielder details the dressing-room playlist – Coldplay, Rick Ross – but when he mentions Reggaeton, which fuses Latin hip-hop with Jamaican dancehall, and Cumbia, which sounds like salsa stuck on fast-forward. It is hardly typical Premier League fare. But Faurlin is hardly a typical Premier League player.
Born in Rosario in Argentina's north-east, the 25-year-old's footballing antecedents could scarcely be better. The soils of – to give its official title – the Invincible Province of Santa Fe bear rich fruit. "Javier Mascherano is from Rosario," Faurlin lists. "Maxi Rodriguez, Rosario. Gabriel Batistuta, Nestor Sensini, Rosario. Abel Balbo was from the countryside. Lionel Messi was at Newell's Old Boys [one of Rosario's two clubs]. Kily Gonzalez was at Central [the other]."
Faurlin was at Central, too, the club the city's most famous son – Che Guevara – supported. As a teenager, he was sold by the group which owns his economic rights, later such a source of contention, to River Plate, where he played with Lucho Gonzalez, Radamel Falcao, Mascherano and Gonzalo Higuain. "It was an incredible team," he says. "I made a lot of friends there that I have to this day."
It is at this point, though, where Faurlin's story veers from the script. River, the club known as Los Millonarios, the millionaires, might have earned that nickname for what they paid, but they warrant it now for what they produce. For most on the pampas's endless production line, it is the final stop off on the gilded path to Europe, to fame, and to wealth. For Faurlin, it was not.
As recently as three years ago, he found himself toiling on the pot-holed pitches of Argentina's second division, ostracised first to Atletico Rafaela, then to Instituto de Cordoba. His time at River had not been a happy one, relegated to reserve status, rescued from obscurity only by the faith of his mentor, Jorge Ghiso. "My career stopped," he said. "I had always played, at every level, ever since I was a kid, and then at River, no. But I never lost faith. I never stopped believing in what I could do. Neither did my family, or my agent. A lot of players change agents every year, but not me."
Faurlin smiles at the memory of life in Argentina's second tier. It is not, he says, quite like the Championship. "The football you play is the same as the football in second divisions all over the world," he says, peppering his gently-accented Argentine Spanish with English words, the native phrases of the training ground. When the 25-year-old says something is "all right," he says it with barrow-boy inflection. "It is fighting for possession, it is quick, it is physical. There is less space, less time.
"The stadiums are old. That is true for all of Argentina. The pitches are dry. That was the biggest shock when I came here, how wet they are, because it is so different controlling the ball. It was a very hard life. I was living away from home, and I missed my family a lot. Most of the contracts are only for a year. There is no security. You are desperate to play as much as you can so that you can get one more year. Sometimes you are not paid for six months, normally the money arrives two months late. It is a struggle."
The peril is not simply financial. "The atmosphere in England has the same passion, even in the second division," adds Faurlin. "The difference is in the extremism. Some fans in Argentina don't go to see a game as observers, for the show. They are different."
"They" are the barras bravas, Argentina's notorious hooligan firms, tolerated and sanctioned by clubs. They possess keys to the stadiums, they are granted free tickets for games, they attend training to confront players if they are not convinced they are pulling their weight. Faurlin insists he was comparatively well-treated, but the tale of Jonathan Bottinelli, the San Lorenzo defender attacked by his own barras recently, offers a glimpse into the dangers which still deface the Argentine game.
Playing football under such conditions is not for the faint-hearted, but it was an environment in which Faurlin thrived. Internazionale, then under Jose Mourinho, came to watch him. So, too, top flight sides from South America and Europe.
Instead, he chose a little, second-rate club he admits he had never heard of. "QPR offered me three years of contract," he reflects. "That meant a lot. It meant security for me and my family. Inter were only offering one, and it was only ever a possibility. Some people would make a quick decision at the mention of a big name. Not me."
No wonder he has taken to Deal or No Deal: in football, what is inside the box is not always as advertised. There is no question in his mind, though, that he chose well. "It is a big change, and I miss my family, but they come over and visit," he says. He is grateful that they will sacrifice their festive barbecues for the cold. "We'll go to Gaucho instead. It's almost as good as being at home," he laughs.
"You only notice the problems if you have not chosen well. That is when you start to think that the weather is too hot or too cold, when you are not happy. It is hard being so far from home, but if you are playing, it's always the right temperature. If you come for the right reasons, if you make a choice and you are certain you are right, you will not regret it tomorrow. The way my career has gone has taught me to be calm."
It is being rewarded. He revels in the atmosphere of QPR's dressing room. "Joey Barton is funny, but I don't always understand him," says Faurlin. "He's the sort of character it is good to have around. The manager [Neil Warnock] too. I like it here. I feel happy here."
Finally, he has the security he has always craved. He belongs. It was that feeling which made the climax to last season – when QPR's breach of third-party ownership rules in signing Faurlin brought promotion to the Premier League into question – such a harrowing time.
The arrangement whereby one, two or more businessmen own a player is one he is evidently uncomfortable with, but he acquiesces to the economic reality that makes it commonplace in his homeland. "That is just how it is in South America," Faurlin says. "There are millions of players [in the same situation]. It was so hard. The fans were great, singing my name, giving me support, but I knew I couldn't have played for the club again if I cost us promotion. It hurt."
He still remembers hearing the news that there would be no points deduction, that there would be Premier League football after all. It is where he has always felt he belongs. He has just taken the long way round, at his own pace, to the beat of his own drum.
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Barton's Scouse accent may flummox his Argentine team-mate, but in footballing terms the two midfielders understand each other: when the pair have played this season Queen's Park Rangers have, per game, had more shots, conceded fewer goals, enjoyed more possession and, crucially, won more points.Reuse content