I play a lot of amateur soccer ("football", henceforth), as my poor right knee can attest. In the U.S., this inevitably means playing a lot with Spanish-speaking immigrants. As a result, my football Spanish has always been a lot better than my general-purpose Spanish (I do have to work on the latter).
One puzzle I've had for a while (at least a year) is why Mexicans call African players "kalucha". I've become quite used to being called that recently. Every call to me or other Africans on the field would use the term—"otra vez, kaLUcha!" or "chuta-la kaLUcha". I tried to puzzle it out in linguistic terms. Maybe it had something to do with "lucha"—"fight", "wrestling bout". Maybe it was a dig at the rather combative style of soccer African immigrants are used to. That didn't really sound right. When I asked a few of my Mexican friends, they said, they were not sure: they'd picked it up from their friends.
Last night I finally figured it out. Lori and I were watching a documentary that touched on the terrible tragedy of the 1993 Zambian football team plane crash. They happened to talk a bit about Kalusha Bwalya, the Zambian star who (with Charles Musonda) happened to miss the fatal plane ride because he played his professional football abroad and was to fly to Senegal separately. I'd known Kalucha had gone to Mexico, but I didn't know he played a time for the very popular Club América, nor did I know how hugely popular he'd become.
Mention Kalusha to any Mexican soccer fan and you could be certain they've met, heard of, or watched him on the screen. Having lived in Mexico for over five years , Kalusha has won hearts of most Mexicans and earned himself much respect.
In retrospect, this should have been obvious to me. As an example, I mentioned above the bit of Spanglish "chuta-la", in which "chuta" is a corruption of the English "shoot", because the "sh" sound does not occur naturally in Spanish and is generally corrupted to "ch". The same effect was changing "Kalusha" to "Kalucha". Most big-time soccer nations have a custom of local football nicknames taken from prominent stars. In Nigeria, we called each other "Keshi" or "Sia-Sia" depending on playing style or looks. Senegalese immigrants here in Colorado call each other "Diouf" and "Titi Camara". Mexicans call each other "Rafa" or "Borghetti" (wicked exciting player, that one). Clues were everywhere.
People call Bwayla "Kalu" for short. This is one of those names like "Obi" that are common throughout the African continent, with different meanings almost everywhere. In Igbo "Kalu" (with high tone and emphasis on the first syllable) is generally short for "Kamalu", meaning "thunder". It's a name I considered for Jide. Soccer is full of prodigious Kalus, including Nigerian Igbo Kalu Uche and Ivorian Bonaventure Kalou.