“Wanting to win;
know how to lose…".
As a philosophy of life is not bad.
The motto of
(SM) is known by heart to the hundreds of thousands of children who have read the titles of the saga created by Roberto Santiago (Madrid, 54 years old).
It has sold more than four million copies in Spain alone, not counting the books translated into 15 other languages and the Latin American market, where Pakete, Camuñas, Angustias, Marilyn, Tomeo, Helena, Ocho also play... The Soto Alto FC mixed team is a global phenomenon, which has just added the 21st volume at the end of May,
The Mystery of Cerro de las Águilas
It seems that the writer and filmmaker has made it to measure.
“I feel like a winner because living for 25 years of writing is a victory.
But I have learned a lot from setbacks despite the fact that I was prepared to receive them since one of my teachers, the great José Sanchis Sinisterra, playwright, marked us at school with that phrase: 'We come here to fail'.
That verb has become something strange for Roberto Santiago, although he flirted with it in the movies.
Some of his films did not go well, such as
the first feature he shot after having stood out as a revelation at Cannes with his short
in 1999. "That taught me that you go up and down for no apparent reason in that job."
On the screens it fluctuated.
In lyrics, no.
It has remained on the rise with the ability to mix the value of football with numerous social issues: feminism, immigration, harassment... "I am interested in sport as a platform to deal with other issues that affect us," says Santiago.
And to prove that, despite generational changes, today's kids, even if they are immersed in technology or a certain sleepwalking on social networks, move —are moved—, get indignant and get excited about the same as their parents, your grandparents, your great-great-grandparents.
With love, friendship, the collective bond, triumph, failure, mystery, camaraderie...
The series that has made him succeed as an author is the one that he would have liked to enjoy as a reader.
"I remember that in my house he asked my parents: 'Why are there no books about football?'
They did not know how to respond to him in a family that lived from his father's profession as an advertising creative.
There were trading cards, yes, but books?
He trusted football as something ideal.
“He made me learn many things, I believe that the 13 basic rules that were founded for modernity are norms that are not superfluous for life.
Do not stick the studs to the rival, to begin with.
I still believe in it despite… There are many despite…, starting with the millions that characterize the business.
But as a narration, as an intrigue, football still gives a lot of play”.
Nor is it a genre to transfer to art that has curdled a lot in adults.
But that Roberto Santiago was obsessed with it was already clear in his second feature film as director:
The longest penalty in the world
"It was based on a story by Osvaldo Soriano," he says.
And it was a success.
It was 2005 and already then the creator was combining cinema with children's literature and theater writing.
Telling stories in any format was something that he has always explored.
“My first play was about the life of Saint Cecilia, patron saint of music.
I liked seeing how my classmates said what I had written on stage,” says Santiago.
He remembers adolescence as an intense period between the classrooms and the patios of the San Agustín school in Madrid.
But she had a hard time adjusting.
He was a lanky and shy boy.
The traumas experienced have later been a source of complicity with several of his characters.
His height destined him for basketball, but he liked soccer better.
“I have always been a package”, he confesses now.
The neighborhood opted for Real Madrid, despite having been born and living his early years on General Ricardos Street, next to the Vicente Calderón.
That time is very present in his life.
A children's genre author must establish a perpetual line of contact with the childhood she had.
“I connect with the child I was, I don't know if it's because of immaturity.
I was very shy.
And very scared.
I had trouble sleeping.
She did it with the hall light on.
He was also very observant and had little or no social skills.
Then I had to develop them to survive”, he recalls.
For a rather long time the school experienced it as a jungle, he says: “An inhospitable place…”.
He then backs down: "Although I also enjoyed it."
Without a doubt, that space possesses in itself the perpetual chiaroscuro of the memory it inspires.
"It weighed a lot of us.
I didn't like going.
What interested me most, without a doubt, were my friends.
Although I had a hard time making them.
That came when I felt part of a group, around the age of 13.
Until then I was very lonely, ”he admits.
Those friends are the ones he keeps today.
And among them are not the thugs who dominated the roost.
“I was threatened by them.
I had a bad time.
When I felt the all for one and one for all of the three musketeers, I became happy.
All that feeling of injustice before that law of the jungle is present in
Not only did I see it around me and it affected me, but I rebelled against it.”
From the age of 16 he wanted to write.
Although he thought that he could not live from the trade and enrolled in Law.
“When reviewing the agenda I realized that I was not interested.
I was going to study at the Icade, I even had a place.
But I didn't even start.
To me, what I liked were the stories of lawyers, the books of John Grisham or
To Kill a Mockingbird
, by Harper Lee”.
Although before those and other authors, such as Stephen King,
The Five ruled on his bookshelf.
He signed up for the School of Letters and the Faculty of Information Sciences.
“I studied film directing.
But I figured myself always writing scripts.
What happened was that I made
and got into the wheel of the world of cinema excited when they selected it for Cannes.
It was alternating.
His first children's book was
The Thief of Lies
There was more before inventing the Soto Alto FC gang:
Forbidden to be fourteen years old
The nerd, the square head, the glasses and the bore
Jon and the Fear Machine
Eighteen immigrants and a half
… “I have always been happy with writing.
Film directing is more sociable, it helps you maintain mental health, not isolate yourself.
My first short was a success;
the first pitch,
, a bump.
It did not work at the box office or get good reviews.
Until that story that changed my luck crossed my life:
The longest penalty in the world
It was the first time that he explored social concern in an adult key with football as a background.
And other previous topics.
Happy Men I
was already talking about the crisis of masculinity that is so present today.
She has always worried me about the relationship between men and women, since school.
It seemed to me that we were uneducated brats in that regard.
They are deep-rooted mental structures.
We may have survived.
But we have not come out completely unscathed”.
Even so, he defines himself as optimistic.
“I cling to those who give off good vibrations, I fly and I stick to them.
Although my first two features, and above all
, are films that pay homage to the working class.
We shot it in Carabanchel and it reflects the desires, the fears, the frustrations of the humblest.
We must continue portraying that until they manage to break the glass ceiling.
Although they may be even worse now than they were 17 years ago when it was released…”
The neighborhood and the street has not taken off.
They are his field of study, his laboratory.
He glimpses arguments for his phenomenon series by attending matches of children's categories.
An experiment in observing behavior on a large and small scale: a display with a surprise effect that slides between sportsmanship and primitivism.
“It's never the kids who start the fights, it's the parents.
I go to the games a lot, I consider them my documentary area.
They often humiliate the referee, it seems crazy to me, a total madness.
How can a father insult like that in front of his son?
He goes alone, although he also follows the trail of his nephews, who play at Canillas.
The oldest is a central midfielder in the Toni Kroos style and the youngest plays defense”.
Have you ever been tempted to train?
“I have felt like a coach when I have directed the films.
He took the actors to the field to prepare.
He choreographed the moves and plays.
I have not only felt this way in football movies…”.
In the stories that touch on the subject, he conveys the effect of shared values, but also of excessive competitiveness.
“That shows, I see a lot of confusion in those environments.
In fathers and mothers too, luckily or unfortunately.
They project their dreams and frustrations on their children's soccer and some want them to have a career.
They instill in them that gene of competitiveness that produces opposite effects in the kids: shame, to begin with.
I have seen mothers jump for the trainer after changing it.
The poor kid wanted to bury himself.
The stands are a world”.
He talks to them.
I believe more and more in documentation.
People are wanting to tell you their life, tell you everything.
It's a wonderful thing for a writer, that we're like vampires."
As such, without hesitation in the face of the Draculian comparison, he has acted with another of his success stories, that of Ana Tramel.
First it was a novel, then a television series broadcast on TVE, with Maribel Verdú as the protagonist.
To portray the descent into hell of this lawyer and the world of gambling, Roberto Santiago infiltrated a season in gambling dens, legal and illegal games.
He attended poker games in Madrid, Levante, the Costa Azul and Central Europe.
From Elche to Vienna, Berlin or Cannes, he witnessed ruins, euphoria, sleepless nights and subtle processes at the time of fleecing.
"I saw a plastic surgeon lose half a million euros in one fateful night for him," he recalls.
Roberto Santiago photographed on July 1, 2022. Javier Salas
Two years he walked in those environments.
“Scratching and witnessing how someone reaches financial but also moral ruin.
I penetrated the entire world of that and its agents: from the organizers to the best players and the moneylenders, who already go to disgusting extremes because they live off the misfortune of others.
It is not a glamorous world at all, although it is teeming with coated paper and
Sometimes they come out of a soiree and play a game afterwards.
I am talking about well-known, famous, intelligent people who drag their lives overboard and end up in a sordid, frivolous world, with a hybrid and confusing point of parallel reality, ”he assures.
Roberto Santiago has a hand in analyzing child psychology, but also adult psychology.
For the older ones he knows how to describe disasters.
Regarding the little ones, he prefers to change their luck, until endowing them with superpowers.
This is what he has done now with his two new series (
The Eleven and The Rebel Princesses
“It was not my idea, it came more from the kids who talk to me without masks.
They criticize me harshly.
And I learn from them.
You can touch on any topic, you don't have to be politically correct or come to morality, the kids detect it.
We live in a new golden age of children's literature.
The first of Santiago's new installments deals with 11-year-old superheroes: “The day they reach that age they notice how their superpowers appear.
The Rebel Princesses
, which I already started with the heiress of Spain.
She doesn't want to be queen, she dreams of playing drums in a group”.
The two sagas will converge.
And all of them facing a dilemma: "Can we save the planet with humans or is it better for us to create a new species?"
These new characters will not make him abandon
: “I have many stories left to tell.
And I feel indebted to them.
They are a regular team, I have made them lose a lot.
I want them to start winning."
It's about time...
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