The world is currently living with the Coronavirus and all its various impacts. One of which is the depressing reality that live football is no long a part of our daily and weekly routines. Think about just how miserable this has made you personally. Now imagine you were a 21-year-old kid and that you had trained your entire life to become a professional footballer. Imagine that on February 29th, you finally got your chance to make your first team debut. Now imagine that just a few days later, with your family present, you signed for first professional contract. And finally, imagine that just as you were starting to find your place on the team and gain the Manager’s confidence, everything came to a sudden halt.
For Ivo Costantino, he doesn’t need to imagine any of it, it is the reality he is currently living in.
Ivo was born on January 6, 1999 in Lincoln, a town of about 30 thousand people in the province of Buenos Aires. While it might surprise you to hear, unlike many young Argentine boys, Ivo was not handed a football by his father while still in his crib. In fact, Ivo grew up in a family that largely did not follow football. “No one gave a football to me, I had to ask for it. I fell in love with football. I don’t ever remember anything else other than football. Being with friends meant playing football.”
His family moved to the province of Chaco when he was four. While living in northern Argentina he started playing organized football for a local team. When he was eight his family returned to Lincoln and he began to play for Rivadavia de Lincoln. After playing with the club for six years he was told that he would need to find another team. If Rivadavia wasn’t interested in him, then why not play for their biggest rivals. Ivo joined El Linqueño, a team in the fourth division of Argentine football. Quickly after joining the club he made his debut for the first team. His success started to attract the attention of several other, much larger clubs.
When Ivo was 16, he had tryouts with Sarmiento de Junin, Belgrano, River, and Boca. Sarmiento wasn’t interested. River was, but El Linqueño wouldn’t agree to let him leave. Belgrano and Boca were also both interested, and Ivo had to make a tough decision. “More than anything it came down to my family. There were a lot of kids at Boca. When I tried out there were about 100 others. I was expecting a call from Boca, but it never came. I picked Belgrano and moved to Córdoba on January 21, 2017. And then Boca called. They asked when I would be moving into their academy, but I informed them that I had already moved in with Belgrano and intended on staying.”
Now having just recently turned 17, Ivo was eight hours from his home, living in a new city with other kids he didn’t know. “The first year was really hard for me. I struggled to adapt. I went back home all the time. Many times, I thought about returning home permanently. It probably took me at least two years to get used to living in Córdoba. I loved the city, but I missed my family, my friends, and my girlfriend.”
Being a part of a youth academy means learning and growing, both as a person and as a footballer. It can be hard to adapt to living far from your family, but it is also hard to learn to play with a new team. “If I had a bad game the thoughts would enter my head that I was never gonna make it. Or if I have a good game, I might think that I’m getting closer, only to realize I’m still so far away and I start to wonder when it’s gonna be my turn.”
Luckily for Ivo and all the kids going through similar struggles, they were never too far from much needed support. “There are people that work within the club who are focused on mental health and they are always by our side trying to help and talk to us and make sure we are doing alright. That helped me out a lot during those challenging times.”
In his first match with the U-20s, Belgrano traveled to play San Martin de San Juan. Ivo was scheduled to be the starting striker. He was all but ready to enter the pitch when he was abruptly informed that he could not play. The paperwork from his former club, El Linqueño, had not been completed and he was ineligible to participate.
“I was devastated. I was crying in the dressing room while the rest of the team went out to play. My dad had traveled all the way from Buenos Aires to come watch. I sat in my dad’s truck and ate cheese puffs with my little brother and watched the game. At halftime the score was 0-0. The team called me over to tell me that the paperwork had arrived, and I could play. I was so relieved, but I was just eating junk food, I wasn’t ready to go in and play. I went and changed my clothes and started to warm up, and 15 minutes into the second half I was subbed in. I went in, scored two goals, and we won 2-0.”
In December 2018, Belgrano defeated their rivals Talleres 4-0 to be crowned champions of the U-20 division in Argentina. “It was an incredible experience to be a part of the team.” The next year Belgrano repeated their U-20 championship and Ivo was the tournament’s top goal scorer.
Between the two U-20 championships, Belgrano’s first division squad was relegated from the Superliga to the second division. “It was hard for us to watch the team get relegated. I grew up supporting San Lorenzo, but I fell in love with Belgrano and the people that work for the club. One way or another, I was destined to become a fan. We all watched that match together when Belgrano got relegated and it was horrible, completely devastating.”
Belgrano started the 2019/20 season in the Primera Nacional and things didn’t go as planned. Eight matches into the year, the club fired its manager. An interim manager was put in charge, but he only lasted five matches before he too was let go. Finally, as the 2019 calendar came to a close, El Pirata hired Ricardo Caruso Lombardi.
“Caruso started bringing the youth teams to train along with the senior squad. The first group he looked at was us, the U-20s. I had a good practice and he called me over and asked me who I was, how old I was, and if I had ever trained with the first team. I told him I almost never had, and he was shocked. He brought me in to train with the first team. Then after just one week training with them, he added me to the matchday 18 for the game against Estudiantes de Buenos Aires.”
Ivo did not play in that match, but he was beginning to cement himself into the first team. He participated in the preseason training for the first time with the senior squad prior to the start of the 2020 campaign. Belgrano finished 2019 on a winless streak of 10 consecutive matches, but to start 2020, in their first three matches they won two and drew one. Ivo however was not included in the squad for any of those games, but he knew his time was close. “I was content, I was right there, and I knew my chance was coming soon.”
The fourth match of the year was in Córdoba against Deportivo Morón. Once again, Ivo was not included in the gameday squad. “Marcelo Estigarribia was the backup striker on the bench. During warmups he got injured. I didn’t know anything about that. I got to the stadium and went into the locker room and saw my things in there. I had no idea when I arrived that I was going to be on the bench that day.”
Belgrano scored in the 10th minute of the match and even though they came close to a second goal on multiple occasions, as the match dwindled to a close, El Pirata was still holding on to their minimal advantage. In the 85th minute, the manager turned to Ivo and told him he would be playing. That morning he woke up and assumed he would be watching the match as another fan, then suddenly he was about to make his debut with the first team.
Felicitaciones @ivocostantino_ por tu debut ayer. Espero que tengas muchas oportunidades más. pic.twitter.com/f1eLAbvw7y
— Belgrano – English (@Belgrano_en) March 1, 2020
“I always thought that in that moment I would be super nervous. But when it came time to go in, I was just happy and with a lot of desire to just get in and play. And then when I saw the fans, I couldn’t help but be motivated even more.”
Belgrano won the match 1-0. The following week Ivo continued to train with the team. After one of the training sessions he got a call and was told that on Thursday he would need to arrive at the stadium so he could sign his first professional contract. “It was completely unexpected. I immediately called my family so they could come. We were all so happy. It wasn’t just my hard work, but the hard work of all of them. They had always supported me and were there for me. They are the reason I am where I am.”
The next match, Ivo’s first as a professional footballer, he once again came on as a substitute in the second half, this time for 30 minutes. Belgrano would play one additional match, and then, football worldwide was shut down due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Ivo returned to Lincoln to spend the quarantine at home with his family. The team continues to receive training instructions on a daily basis from their coaches and Ivo is doing his best to stay in shape with the resources he has around him. “Football is a team sport, when we train by ourselves, we are losing out on so many key components.”
Ivo added, “I still try to stay in contact with my teammates. We also have team meetings over Zoom and do non-football related activities, things to keep us entertained. I’ve also been doing a lot of cooking; I generally bake cakes and other sweet things. I’ve also been working with my dad selling cars and trucks. I’ve been learning a lot of things I didn’t know. I’m just trying to stay busy.”
After a lifetime of work, right when his professional career was taking root, everything came to a sudden and abrupt halt. People all around the planet are trying to deal with the current reality and what it means for their lives right now and in the future. Ivo is trying to figure it out too. He has every intention of getting back on the football pitch and picking right back up where he left off. Baking cakes and selling cars has been a fun hobby, but his calling in life is to play football, and he plans to do that for a long time.