Spanish skills help Utah man manage top soccer team

Nearly every Tico  who follows soccer loves David J. Patey.

Patey happens to be the president of Club Sport Herediano, one of the oldest and most cherished soccer teams of the country.

However, it’s not just because of his position that he’s even been called a savior by the local media. His success recipe also includes an impressive command of  the Spanish language and a chunk of good luck.

Born in Jerusalem and raised in Utah by Canadian parents, the loan broker is a devout Mormon and father of five.  In 2003, he and his wife decided to move to Costa Rica to master the language of Cervantes, with which he got in touch for the first time when he was 13.

“Back then, I could count from 1 to 17 and say ‘Hola, como estas.’” he remembered.

For two years the couple lived in Escazú and then returned to the U.S. After a few months they noticed their children were losing the language they had learned.

“At that point we decided to return to Costa Rica and stay permanently. We were lucky enough to sell our property in the U.S. just a little before the housing crisis started. That was a blessing.” said Patey.

Once settled, Patey continued his business of “marrying lenders and borrowers,” as he put it. He cared little about soccer, a sport that would change his life.

Oct. 27, 2012, a rumor spread in media outlets. A Gringo investor would come to the rescue of the Club Sport Herediano, a 92-year-old team struggling to survive under a pile of debt and legal battles.

“Two friends and business partners had asked me to be the administrative manager of the team,” recalled Patey. “I said yes as long as it would not hurt my privacy. That shows how naive I was at the time. I expected privacy in a country where soccer is a religion.”

Less than 24 hours later he held his first press conference and found himself overwhelmed by dozens of reporters, photographers and sports personalities. His Spanish and people skills impressed some reporters who believed that someone had trained him before the event.

“A few days later, those reporter put me to the test. They gave me a paper with several Costa Rica slang sentences. Not only did I answer them all right, but gave them examples of

synonyms for those same sentences” Patey said with a big smile.

Sopa de muneca (Knuckle sandwich), sopapo en la jupa (a strike on the head) and no me chingue mae (don’t bother me) are some examples of the pachuco, slang Spanish, they asked him, he recalled.

After that, his stardom broke loose. Everybody liked him and, as Patey himself confirms, the appropriation of the Costa Rican culture smoothed things out.

Under his administration the team attained financial stability and was able to pay its players decent wages. He also decided that, whenever possible, weekly games would be played on Saturday nights, so he and the team could have Sundays off.

“A priest came to me and said that because of the move, the Mass attendance had considerably increased,” Patey adds.

Nowadays, Patey still isn’t a soccer super fan,  but at least understands how it works and actually enjoys watching the games. He encourages other foreigners to pick a team, buy the correct T-shirt and go to the stadium. “That’s all it takes for you to start liking it,”

Patey is also in the car dealership business. He works with the french company Peugeot and likes to mediate among conflicts. That’s in part because he does not consider soccer a profitable activity. Rather he said he is in this industry inspired by the passion of players and fans.

“I am very happy. I am the popular Gringo and I live in the best country in the world. I am not planning to change this” he said.

David J. Patey in the Heredia stadium.

David J. Patey in the Heredia stadium.

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