To be the contemporary of someone great, or to witness an act that changes the course of history, is extremely special. But when that feat of greatness is expressed consistently over more than twenty years, you know that a moment like this is highly unlikely to repeat itself.
Adolfo Cambiaso’s achievement in the 125th Argentine Open final is such a moment. It seems strange to talk about milestones when we talk about Cambiaso, but what happened at Palermo on December 15, on ground one and ground two, only serve to reenforce his talent and expand his legend. It was La Dolfina’s twelfth title in Palermo, and as in 2017, La Dolfina Brava pulled it out of the bag to show that the organisation rules in women’s polo, too. Others can score twelve goals in a final, and others can claim fifteen Open titles, but that is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to everything Cambiaso has accomplished over the years. And as if this is not enough, he ends the year with the number one ranking in the World Polo Tour.
Adolfo Cambiaso’s greatness is hard to measure, and one always ends up diluting his achievements to numbers: goals scored, matches won, titles claimed. But polo is about much more than four players on a field, and Cambiaso has known how to build the best organisation in the world in terms of both horses and people. His teammates are the best at what they do, and he knows how to continue growing and improving, as he has shown with his second team, La Dolfina Polo Ranch, and two-time Women’s Open champions, La Dolfina Brava.
Cambiaso has always known how to attract the best people for the job at hand to ensure that his organisation is at the top of the pyramid. He is a winning machine, independent of title, tournament, or country, and he knows what to do to stay at the top.
If there is something that Cambiaso has done more than anyone in the sport, it is reinvent himself. He has adapted his style of play to fit in with the needs of his team, as we have seen with this La Dolfina line-up. From being a skilled, unstoppable, attacking player, Cambiaso learnt to take a step back; he began lessening his grip on the ball, and he has a become the playmaker. But he has always been omnipresent: every time his team has called on him, he has come through. One only has to rewatch the 2018 final of the Argentine Open to know that this is an eternal truth. Every great sportsman in history has known how and when to reinvent themselves, and Cambiaso is no exception.
In music this phenomenon is common; big bands often decide to change their style once their work has been magnified beyond their control. We dare to say that up until 2010 Cambiaso knew that he hadn’t reached this point of greatness. Regardless of everything he had achieved, the perfect team was still out there, somewhere. The question that now stands is: Can he dream about building something bigger and better than this La Dolfina? Can he fathom a new challenge with this team, something beyond countless titles? His smile after the final, while he spoke to PoloLine, hinted that he is indeed thinking of greater things. Even if this is the case, there is no doubt that he will continue winning, even if he has already achieved more than any player could ever dream about.
On the other hand, determination also has a fundamental place in sporting success, and athletes must work on their weaknesses in order to improve. Those of us lucky enough to witness the latest final at Palermo know that this was one of Cambiaso’s greatest ever moments. Not only because he scored twelve goals in a Triple Crown final, but because he played the match of a lifetime. At forty-three years old, he owned the field, outshining his teammates completely. But post-match be shared: “If I am honest, I never think that I play well. I even missed the last penalty; if I had scored that, maybe I would be happy with the way I played. But I missed it, so I am not convinced.”
In 1994, Adolfo Cambiaso won his first Argentine Open title, and unconsciously changed history. From that moment on, he has always been the best. Of course, he has had great rivals, but none have been as consistent as he has. Not only has he been successful in Argentina, but he has won every major polo tournament around the world, or been a finalist at the very least. His team is almost always the favourite, regardless of whether they are playing in England, Spain, the US, Argentina, or elsewhere.
It might sound crazy to state that a polo player should be considered as one of the best sportsmen in history, and be named alongside figures like Michael Phelps o Usain Bolt. It is difficult to measure the impact of polo on a global scale, considering that it does not form part of the Olympics. But isn’t it unfair that someone who has been the best at what they do for over twenty-four years is not on that list? It is amazing that in Argentina he is not named alongside sportsmen like Emanuel Ginóbili, Diego Maradona, Guillermo Vilas o Juan Manuel Fangio, to name just a few. He has long earnt his place beside them, especially considering that he was awarded Argentine sportsman of the year in 2014, receiving the prestigious Gold Olympia.
Beyond all that, and regardless of the place Cambiaso occupies in sport in general, it is clear that he is far from winding down. We haven’t forgotten Juancarlitos Harriott and his 10-goal handicap, his twenty Open titles, and his Golden Olympia (1976). But now is the time to speak of Adolfo Cambiaso. What more can he achieve? All we can do is sit back and enjoy the show.