The 60 second story
Full name: Teófilo Antonio Gutiérrez Roncacio
Date of birth: May 17, 1985
Place of birth: Barranquilla, Colombia
Club: River Plate
Former clubs: Barranquilla FC, Junior, Trabzonspor, Racing, Lanús, Junior, Cruz Azul.
Country: Colombia (37 caps 14 goals)
River Plate are currently battling on two fronts: they can be champions of the Copa Sudamericana and also win the Argentinian league. Their resurrection was mainly shaped after one man whose surname is already forgotten: just call him Teo. On top of goals of all kind, the Colombian has given the Millonarios some much-needed quality and today is seen as the most distinctive and decisive player in Argentinian club football – one whose sole presence can make a difference.
With an affectionate manager that makes him feel important, like Jose Pekerman (his national coach) or Marcelo Gallardo (his boss at River), Teo is a blessing. Two things will never be missing from his suitcase: good salsa music, which he’ll play for his team-mates in the dressing room, and his granny’s empanadas, pastries that, he claims, help him score more goals.
Why you need to know him
Born as a classic striker, Teo mutated into a more modern forward, one that is capable of playing inside and outside the box indistinctively, thus creating a problem for defenders, who never know in to which zone he'll be moving. His performances in the Argentinian league earned him a call-up for Colombia, where he ended up being the perfect partner for Radamel Falcao in World Cup qualifying.
With the now Manchester United star injured, Teo was ultimately forced to replace him as sole striker in Brazil, opening up spaces for James Rodriguez. His role as ghost striker, doing the dirty work and dragging defenders out of position, is applauded by his Colombian colleagues.
His glorious technique helps him win a fraction of second in every movement. If other players need two or three touches to control a ball and then pass it or shoot, he can resolve in just one, almost effortlessly.
His intelligent reading of the game has allowed him to score plenty of seemingly “easy” goals, entering unmarked at the far post. He has also played as a No.10 with great success, linking up play between midfielders and forwards and pulling the strings of the team, and prompting discussions over which position was his best.
Since he became an international for Colombia, however, his role as striker has been undisputed. And the truth is that the closer he is to the goalmouth, the more difference he makes.
“I’ve started playing as attacking midfielder, then winger and then forward. I like to have a centre-forward so I can move and find more spaces around him, I think that’s what suits me best. I feel more comfortable when I don’t have to be the targetman inside the box,” he says.
His strong personality can be an asset, but at the same time, his temper has made him something of a controversial figure, and one that flirts too much with the red card. He enjoys personal duels against centre-backs (and certainly makes them lose their nerves more often than not) but sometimes his inclination for scuffling sees him lose focus.
His character has also brought him problems in the dressing room at Racing (where he once punched a goalkeeper during a training session) and Lanús, and prompted disciplinary action at several clubs, including for not promptly returning to training after holidays.
Claiming to be much calmer now, he didn’t have any problems with the River team-mates nor in his homeland. “Sometimes things that are published are not true or blown out of proportion. Only who’s inside of a dressing room knows what happens”, he says. Just don’t make him angry.
“He lived with a pastor, he’d pray before the games, he was one the most educated footballers that play for me... but on the pitch, he transforms himself”, reckons Alfio Basile, the Colombian's manager at Racing. “He is a tough guy, capable of fighting against five on his own.”
Juan Roman Riquelme is one of his biggest admirers: “He is by far the best player of Argentinian football. It’s not just that the opposition are forced to play differently when he is on the pitch; but also that his team is one with him and another without him. He forces his team to play in a certain way, pass-to-feet and dynamics.”
Did you know?
In April 2012, Teo Gutierrez was sacked from Racing Club after a defeat in the derby away to Independiente. He’d scored the opener, but in the second half was dismissed for insulting the referee.
Harassed by his team-mates in the dressing room after the game, he threatened them with a shotgun. He later tried to explain that it was a paintball rifle, but captain Sebastian Saja refused to believe it.
“It was the most difficult night of my career," Teo grumbled. "The fact was minimised a few weeks later, but at that moment, it wasn’t minimised at all”. He left the stadium on his own and never returned.
Strongly linked to Spurs in recent weeks, a move to Europe seems imminent. If it hasn’t yet happened it was just out of prudence: considering his reputation, most clubs weren’t sure about his stability as a professional.
Now it all seems to be a matter of the past. An offer in the region of £5 million would probably have to be accepted by River, despite the fact that they consider Teo a vital member of their squad for the next Copa Libertadores.
But knowing that he’s already threatened them with not coming back last summer, and with his contract expiring in June 2015, a permanent move in January appears to be a peaceful resolution to avoid a future conflict. Will River risk losing him for nothing six months later or accept the first serious offer that arrives to El Monumental?
Tottenham are not the only ones chasing him, though. Southampton, Sevilla, Napoli, Fiorentina and Porto already showed interest in signing him, while Liverpool have been linked with him in the not too distant past. His style would fit perfectly in England, especially working under a Spanish speaking, attacking-minded manager like Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino.
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