Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Cristian Fabbiani: He’s no donkey, he’s El Ogro

Cristian Fabbiani: He’s no donkey, he’s El Ogro.
Striker Cristian Fabbiani has made a big impact since his arrival at River Plate. Within a week he played a vital role in three wins, coming on as a substitute each time.

The salad dodging striker troubles the scales to the tune of 15 and a half stone but a bulldozing style and some surprising trickery for a big man has already established El Ogro as a crowd favourite. Fabbiani once donned a Shrek mask after scoring in a game in Chile in response to jibes from opposition fans over his rotund frame and the nickname stuck.

In a refreshing change to the serious attitude some footballers take to insults about a spare tyre, such as Brazil's Ronaldo, El Ogro is able to laugh off comments about his weight. Fabbiani even credits his bulging waistline for his good form and being able to boss and bully defenders into submission.

“When they say I’m fat, it makes me play better. I try not to go back to my mum’s house because there’s always a lot of food and it’s too much temptation.” Said Fabbiani.

His debut for Los Millonarios came a week into the current Clausura campaign when he was introduced just shy of the hour mark with River one-nil down away to Rosario Central. Cue an all action display from the big man and Fabbiani conjuring a winner from deep into Hollywood country, a full 30 yards out. A little later and the three points were heading south towards Buenos Aires.

A few days on El Ogro was named on the bench for the midweek Copa Libertadores clash against Paraguay's Nacional. With the game stuck in a nil-nil deadlock La Banda’s manager Nestor Gorosito sent on Fabbiani.

Deep into injury time the belly busting frontman laid on the winner for Diego Buonanotte. A cult legend was being born at El Monumental. In River's home game against Banfield the following Saturday Fabbiani was still deemed unfit to start but this did not prevent him once again having his say from the bench.

Fabbiani fed Colombian Radamel Falcao with a perfectly weighted pass to wrap up the points 10 minutes from time.

Such is the desperate state River find themselves in this result ended a winless home streak that stretched back nine games since last season, and took Los Millonarios to the top the Clausura table on seven points.

Unfortunately for River they came back to earth with a bump on Sunday as they lost 5-1 to city rivals San Lorenzo. La Banda fans were already screaming for the introduction of El Ogro from the bench after 23 seconds when they had already found themselves one-nil down.

River manager, Nestor Gorosito, is yet to hand El Ogro a start but has assured fans in a cryptic message it may happen soon.

“I’ve told him that even if he eats salad, if he eats three bowls of salad, it’s the same as eating something else.”

“Because a cow eats grass and it’s a cow, it eats all day and it’s a cow.

“Fabbiani needs to accept responsibility and lose weight. I don’t need him to go down to 92 or 93 kilos, but he has to get down to 97 and at the moment he’s a hundred and a bit.

“We want him to play 90 minutes, not just half an hour,” said Gorosito

The manner in which Fabbiani joined River had already set the player up to be a crowd favourite. The player was on loan during the Apertura at Newell’s Old Boys where he bagged just a handful of goals as well as some comical misses. Velez Sarsfield came in for him in the close season but El Ogro wanted to join Los Millonarios.

When it seemed his move to River was being blocked Fabbiani made an impassioned plea to be able to join La Banda. He spoke of his love of the fans and his respect for the deep history of the club. Fabbiani had not been given the badge yet but he was kissing it all the same. A few days later he got his wish and received a hero’s reception when he was unveiled as a River player.

The boost was just what River needed after finishing bottom last season and being roundly criticised by their own fans for tracking 'over the hill' transfer targets.

Champions one season and finishing bottom the next River are a team with a lot on their plate. It seems El Ogro could not have chosen a better time to make his impact felt.

At the tender age of 25 Fabbiani has had more clubs than Fred Funk but this journeyman existence does not seem to have diminished his appetite for the game.

He has already had spells with Palestino in Chile, a club with strong links to the Middle East and supported by Chile's substantial Palestinian diaspora population. As well as turning out in Palestino's black, green and red he has also had a spell with the Israeli side Beitar Jerusalem.

Never mind crossing the Old Firm divide or even switching from River to Boca, to represent these to rivals puts El Ogro head and shoulders above the rest.

After his time in Israel he returned to his native Argentina for his third spell with Lanus.

Next came an historic spell with Romania's CFR Cluj. While with Cluj, they became the first team from outside Bucharest to win the Romanian title for nearly two decades, Fabbiani netting double figures along the way.

CFR Cluj really made it a season to remember when they added the cup three days after securing the league to make it a double.

Fabbiani did not stick around for Cluj's Champions League fairytale but instead moved to Newell's Old Boys back in Argentina on loan.

He now finds himself at River but still on loan from Cluj. Even if the club may not own El Ogro it has not stopped the fans taking him to their hearts.

If you have a few spare Shrek masks you need shifting get yourself down El Monumental every other weekend, they´re selling like hot cakes.

Copyright © Tim Sturtridge and

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