FEATURES INTERVIEWS

HOW JORDAN FLORIT AIMS TO SHOW VENEZUELA THROUGH A FOOTBALLING LENS

Jordan Florit, the Southampton-born South London resident is working on a book on football in Venezuela, as he aims to show more about the country than the news we usually come across.

If you recognize Jordan Florit’s name, or his Twitter handle, @TheFalseLibero, you may be familiar with the journalist’s work covering the beautiful game for numerous sites, particularly These Football Times, Pundit Feed, and The Terrace.

Florit’s new project, however, is a unique new step in his coverage of football. The Southampton-born South London resident is in the process of authoring a book titled “Red Wine & Arepas: How Football is Becoming Venezuela’s Religion”, which aims to dig into the very heart of Venezuelan football and Venezuela itself. 

Florit explains: “Red Wine and Arepas will use football as the lens to examine and explore contemporary Venezuelan society…It is these topics that influence my writing, where I like to skirt the main topic of football with culture, demography, and trends.

The book will be one of the first ever made in English on the topic of Venezuelan football, a section of the world’s game that has only recently broken into the headlines due to recent individual and national successes. At the time of writing, the only other recent publication of note on Venezuelan players, clubs, or the national team, is Federico Rojas’ “Héroes Mundiales”, a book covering Venezuela’s run to the U20 World Cup final. Rojas’ book was published in 2019.

Florit explains that the lack of coverage did not prevent him from wanting to pursue his interests, those interests that had developed over many years. “At first it wasn’t particularly the Venezuelan football story that attracted me to the country; it was the lack of it. My grandad was Spanish, and I was young when he died, so I’ve always had this pull to the culture and language,” Florit continued. “When I met my wife, she introduced me to the Latin American side of the language and, having already had an underlying interest in South American national sides, I then fell for the music, the food, and culture. I know that sounds like a sweeping generalization – of course, the entire continent doesn’t have an identical culture and taste in food and music – but there are many themes that run throughout many of the countries.”

Originally focused on the many political narratives that surround the country, Florit eventually found himself wanting to learn about more than leaders and laws, “I wanted to read about the country with a different narrative. My normal port of call, football books that offer more than just a history of the sport, weren’t an option; there aren’t any English-language books on Venezuelan football, and that made it all the more attractive and appealing to learn more about it. So the absence of a Venezuelan football story in English is what drew me to it.”

Venezuelan football is indeed on the rise, though it continues to battle with the popularity of baseball and Venezuela’s poor economy for a cemented place in society. Venezuelan clubs perform better in the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana in almost every new season, providing their players with chances to be showcased against bigger clubs that often sign them. 

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The likes of Caracas FC and Zulia FC have managed quite currently to reach the Round of 16 in the Copa Sudamericana, South America’s Europa League equivalent. With their games yet to be played, both clubs could make history by being the first to reach the quarter-finals of the competition in Venezuelan history.

Estudiantes de Mérida also added to recent Venezuelan football history when they broke the attendance record for the Venezuelan First Division final, which is played in two legs. Estudiantes brought in 38,870 people to their home leg, with a similarly respectable crowd showing up for the leg hosted by Mineros de Guyana. Estudiantes would go on to win the final.

Florit began to touch on Venezuelan players and clubs in several articles, including a piece of New York Red Bulls’ midfielder Cristian Cásseres Jr. In the process, Florit began to find himself in contact with more and more members of the Venezuelan footballing community. “Carlos Tarache was the first to respond to me and was incredibly helpful and insightful. Within a few days he had provided me with a wealth of opinion and knowledge on the Liga Venezolana and La Vinotinto and, to my amazement and eternal gratitude, he had put me in contact with Cristian Cásseres Jr.” Tarache is the CEO of Solovenex, one of the cornerstones of Spanish language coverage of Venezuelan clubs and players.

Florit’s work comes at a pivotal time for La Vinotinto, the common name for Venezuela’s national team and source of the book’s title due to its reference to the color of wine. Head Coach Rafael Dudamel created a revolutionarily successful youth side in 2017, leading them to their first ever U20 World Cup final before bringing the best of the crop to the senior team, where he is also the head coach.

With a strong Copa América performance in 2016 and horrid World Cup qualifying campaign for Russia 2018 both on his resume, Dudamel continues to lead them in the 2019 Copa América, where they finished second in Group B with five points, having drawn Brazil and Peru and beating Bolivia. Venezuela exited the tournament in the quarter-finals, losing 2-0 to Argentina, who they beat 3-1 in a friendly a few months prior.

Venezuela has never qualified for a World Cup and has never won the Copa América nor reached its final. To say that Venezuela have a poor history on the pitch would be an understatement, but there are overwhelming signs that that time may be coming to an end. This, of course, comes in a time when Venezuela has become swallowed with inflation, lack of power and resources in many cities, and constant political tension. 

Florit feels that the strange partnership of success on the pitch with growing struggles at home only makes the success more interesting, and perhaps more important to cover. 

“My aim for Red Wine and Arepas is to use football as the lens to examine and explore contemporary Venezuelan society. I want to provide a different narrative for readers, a way to learn about the country through the medium of football,” Florit explained. “I don’t aim to change the conversation on Venezuela by writing the book, I aim to add to it, to give a different topic of conversation. The biggest impact I could make would be for people’s first thought to be ‘Juan Arango, Salomón Rondón, or Yangel Herrera,’ when they hear the word Venezuela,” instead of just oil or inflation.”

Florit is not alone in feeling that speaking on the bright future of La Vinotinto is crucial, with Rubén Villavicencio, Executive President of the Venezuelan First Division, telling him: “Football is the only thing that can unite us despite the profound political differences that today separate us. For those who are outside the country, it is their shield that still keeps them united to its homeland. For those of us who live here, it is a symbol of neutrality, hope, and unity; it is much more than football.”

Football has also proved a force for change amongst young Venezuelans. While the national team is led by several veteran players that float around 30 years of age, the likes of Rondón, Tomás Rincón, and Roberto Rosales, the team is now largely populated by young players ranging from 20 to 25 years of age. Four players from Venezuela’s 2017 U20 World Cup group proved key in the nation’s recent Copa América run, while the vast remainder of the squad are only a few years older.

The likes of Yangel Herrera, Wuilker Fariñez, Jan Hurtado, and Yeferson Soteldo are indeed Venezuela’s future bright stars, all around the age of 20.

The South London author noted that he’s received strong support for his project by those who have covered it for many years, “There are a few books on Venezuelan football in Spanish and one author even heard about my project and emailed me to wish me luck and offer his help – Juan Zavala Díaz. Two other authors – Javier Minniti and Eliézer Pérez – have also been most supportive. If you can read Spanish, I encourage you to get hold of their books.”

“Red Wine & Arepas: How Football is Becoming Venezuela’s Religion” looks to stir, shift, and heal conversations about Venezuela.

The future of Venezuelan football is full of potential but crowded with endless social and economic challenges. It is a war that will be waged on the pitch, in the transfer market, and on social media. The journey is uncertain, populated by veterans nearing the end of their prime and youngsters with immeasurable potential. The task it takes on is large, but Jordan Florit certainly seems set to take it on.  Further information regarding the project can be found here.

BY DOMINIC JOSÉ BISOGNO