You could call him a pioneer of Black footballers in Argentina, but only a few people are aware of his story. Alejandro Nicolás De los Santos was the first of only three Afro-Argentine players to play for Argentina. Juan Manuel Ramos Delgado and Héctor Baley were the other two.
De los Santos was born on May 17, 1902, in the city of Paraná, near the Uruguay border, to Angolan parents. At home, the entire family spoke Portuguese. When De los Santos’ parents died, tragedy struck. He had to relocate to Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital, where his football skills drew the attention of Third Division club Oriente del Sud.
He excelled at the club, earning him a move to the top flight with San Lorenzo. He made his First Division debut for the club five days after his 19th birthday, scoring against Banfield. In 1921, he transferred to Sportivo Dock Sud, where he earned his first of five Argentina caps a year later.
By 1924, he had transferred to El Porvenir, where he scored 80 goals in 148 games over the course of seven years. He became a club legend as a result of this feat. In 1925, De los Santos assisted Argentina in winning the South American Championship on home soil. However, his skin color prevented him from doing more for the Argentine team. He was not invited to the World Cup in 1930. According to LCFC, while Argentina’s neighbor Uruguay permitted Blacks to play for its national team, Argentina did not. According to LCFC, their footballers were “almost exclusively white,” reflecting what was going on in the country at the time.
In 1931, De los Santos joined Huracán, one of Argentina’s most well-known clubs. He only stayed for three years before leaving to work as a customs officer at the port of Buenos Aires. He died on February 16, 1982, and many people have wondered why Argentina does not have more Black players than other South American countries like Brazil decades later. According to Erika Edwards, there were jokes in 2014 about how even Germany’s soccer team had at least one Black player, while Argentina appeared to have none during that year’s World Cup Final.
Four years earlier, the government of Argentina released a census that revealed that 149 493 people, or less than 1% of the population, were Black. Argentina was portrayed as a white nation in this way. However, history shows that Africans arrived in Argentina’s Rio de la Plata region decades ago to work in plantations and as domestic servants. Between the 18th and 19th centuries, they spread to other parts of the country. There are a few theories as to why the African population in Argentina has decreased over time.