A famous European soccer manager is attributed with saying, “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. … I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”
Peruvian Latter-day Saint Paulo Gallardo would respectfully disagree.
Make no mistake, the 18-year-old convert loves soccer — and he’s very, very good. Just a few months ago he scored his maiden goal for Club Sporting Cristal, one of Peru’s “Big Three” professional clubs.
But it wasn’t Gallardo’s goal that’s been trending across South America and beyond in recent days. Pro soccer fans were instead digesting this headline:
Translation: 18-year-old Paulo Gallardo leaves soccer for religious reasons.
So why would a promising young attacking player just establishing his soccer bonafides step away from the game?
His motive is no different than tens of thousands of other young Latter-day Saints: he wants to serve a full-time mission.
“Learning about the word of God has changed my life — I have great faith in Him,” he told the Church News. “Now I will be a missionary so I can talk about the word of God with others. I’ll play soccer again, but everything is in the Lord’s hands.”
The future elder hasn’t yet received a call — but like many prospective missionaries, he thinks it would be fun to serve a foreign mission to, say, a European country.
No surprise, his decision to put his athletic career on hold and surrender a pro athlete’s paycheck has prompted a mix of responses.
“My soccer club was very surprised, they didn’t want me to leave the team,” he said. “But it was my decision and they tried to understand. They told me that when I returned, the door would still be open.”
His family was also a bit surprised. “My mom didn’t want me to stop playing soccer. But I know that, in time, she will understand.”
Meanwhile, his fellow ward members and Latter-day Saint friends “are very happy about my decision. They have given me a lot of advice.”
“To know God is the most important thing in life.”
Growing up, Gallardo was always interested in religion and attended a variety of churches. One day he was approached by a pair of Latter-day Saint missionaries who shared their gospel-centered message.
“I came to understand that to know God is the most important thing in life,” he said.
He began attending Latter-day Saint meetings and reading his Bible and the Book of Mormon.
“The missionaries continued teaching me, and a few months later I was baptized,” he said. “The scriptures also have taught me that God is always the most important thing in your life.”
Soccer, of course, is played and loved around the globe. So no matter where Gallardo is called, he’ll likely have opportunities to occasionally have a ball at his feet.
“But I know that I will be busy doing the Lord’s work.”
He admits that spending an extended period of time away from soccer won’t be easy.
“Ever since I was a little boy, I dreamed of becoming a professional soccer player and maybe playing in Europe. You have no idea how much I will miss playing. But for now, I need to fulfill a mission for the Lord.”
He adds he is excited to focus his life entirely to serving others.
“I hope to become a better person than I am now. I want to learn from all the other missionaries and better understand God’s word.”
Gallardo intends to return to the soccer pitch following his mission, “if that is God’s will.”
“If that’s not His will, I will continue serving God because the faith I have in Him is the most important thing. God is my strength, and I’m so grateful for everything that He has given me.”