After a fantastic Argentine season, where Nicolas Pieres was raised to 10 goals, the youngest son of Gonzalo Pieres began the new year in a different polo destination. Currently playing the Dubai Gold Cup Series with Habtoor Polo Team, Nico said: "While I was packing, it felt weird not to be heading to the US. I started playing there in 2009, with Audi; later on, in 2010 I went to Australia, and from 2011 onwards I've always played in the United States. This is my first experience here, but I can see that polo is growing steadily in Dubai. The organizations are huge, they have brought top-notch high goal players over, and that is good for both the sport and the place, and important for the development of the sport."
What can you tell us about your debut in Dubai?
I'm very happy to be here; everything is amazing. We started the season with the Silver Cup, where we lost in the semis against Desert Palm, so now we are going for the Gold Cup and the 18-goal Dubai Challenge Cup. I had heard lots of good things about the place, and it really is an incredible destination. Al Habtoor Polo Resort & Club is a new high level club and I'm sure it will grow and grow. The fields are excellent; there are nine teams for the Gold Cup and hopefully next year we will have even more.
Were you surprised by the level of polo?
There is a great level of polo here, with top players such as Pablo Mac Donough, Lucas Monteverde, Guillermo Terrera, Tito Ruiz (Guiñazu), and Gallego (Martinez Ferrario). It is important for the sport that Dubai have these type of players, to keep improving the level and the horses as well.
The Dubai season is also special for Nico since it marked the beginning of his year as a 10-goal player; however, he is currently playing off 9-goals in the Emirates due to the date of his registration (December 1st when he was still 9-goals). "Being a 10-goaler is new for me. I'm very happy, but I will only be able to really play at 10-goals when the season starts in Argentina. It's a great achievement but it means more pressure; now I have to work the even harder to stay at the top."
What does it mean to be a 10-goal player?
As a player you have to always keep on growing and prove it on the field; you need to learn to handle the team and different situations as well. I thinks that is the difference between a 10-goal and the rest of the players. The organization and the horses are very relevant; luckily with Ellerstina we do well in that sense. You should play 10-goals every chukka, and you should be always mounted as a 10-goaler - those are the main differences.
What does it mean to you personally reaching 10 goals playing at Back?
I'm very happy to have been put up in that position. I never imagined myself as a back so it's quite an achievement. I have an incredible family; my brothers and cousins are great, but being the youngest I have had to adapt and play positions I had never played before. I played at Back in 2012, and then I moved to 3, 2... However, now that I have had more practice, it seems to be my natural position in this team.
How do you feel about Ellerstina’s line-up (Polito 1, Gonzalo 2, Facundo 3, Nicolás 4)?
It's the most natural line-up we have found so far. We tried putting Polito at 2 with Facu at 1, but Polito needs to be 1 - it's his natural position. And everybody knows what Facu is capable of on the field; he can play in any position. Perhaps the ideal line-up for Ellerstina was the one we played in Palermo: Facu at 3, chasing the ball, and Polito forward. We played five amazing chukkas in the Open final, and even though we lost the match, the team gave a very good performance and I think people noticed.
What do you think the team was missing in that final?
Firstly, to be able to get to seal the deal when it needs to be done, and make better plays in the first four or five chukkas, when Ellerstina was leading by one. On the field we felt that we were playing much better than our opponents. But La Dolfina is amazing, and we missed the chances we had to score and take the advantage. In the seventh chukka they were already ahead by a lot.
What do you think about the new list for the AAP, with so many players involved and Eduardo Novillo Astrada at the top?
Changes are important. This was a good period but polo needs a to change its rules - the way we all play, the sponsors and, personally, I think it needs a generational change. I like the involvement of players with Eduardo leading the group, we need to have a stronger bond with the Association.
Nico has not yet defined how he will continue his year after Dubai, but he has taken a clear stand regarding the situation in UK, their new visa regulations and work permits for players, grooms and all the people related to the sport: "I think those rules are bad. It's clear that Argentines dominate the sport; without the Argentine players, grooms and organisations, the growth of polo in the country will be really difficult. I haven’t seen any British, Australian or American grooms that can do their work at the level Argentine grooms do, let alone the players! They need to improve their level before putting obstacles and rules on our shoulders."
How do you feel about the situation in England?
It's a shame. The English polo season is beautiful; it is extremely important for players and patrons to be able to play the Queen’s Cup and the Gold Cup. I hope they can find a solution, because in the long term, this will affect the English. Without the Argentines, the patrons won’t go there. I believe this is an internal matter, the English should step up and try to solve the issue, and allow polo to keep on growing.
Why have you guys decided to keep Ellerstina’s line up?
This is the decision we made when Polito entered the team. We formed this team because it’s the one we always wanted to have, and it will be the same now, in the future and forever. I believe this is the team we all dreamt of. When Polito got in, we made this call and I think it’s the best one.
How important was it that Polito won his first title with Ellerstina (Hurlingham Open)?
It was great. It was good for the team, for confidence, and for Polito to be able to win his first Triple Crown Open in Argentina. This was important, and now we have to keep on improving and try to defeat La Dolfina as soon as possible.