When your first name is Victor-Hugo, it should perhaps be no surprise to find your destiny lies in France. Victor-Hugo Montano may be Colombian, but he has been making a name for himself in the French Ligue 1 these past six years.
Ironically, the 26-year-old striker was not named after the great writer of Les Miserables. His father is a teacher, but of maths not French, and he was named after his uncle.
Either way, Montano is convinced it will not be long before he makes his debut with Los Cafeteros. He took a step closer this morning when he was named in Hernan Dario Gomez's squad for the upcoming friendlies with Ecuador and Chile later this month. “I’ve had discussions with the national team staff. I knew that the coach was monitoring my performances in France so I never gave up," the Rennes player told FIFA.com. "To pull on my national team shirt would be a dream come true. I just hope that when the day comes I will be ready to give to my all."
"To dream is happiness, to wait is life,” said Victor Hugo the poet, and the player has done a fair bit of both as he has gradually built on the promise shown at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in the UAE back in 2003. Colombia had a great run in that tournament that was only brought to and end in the semi-finals by an Andres Iniesta goal. Montano’s eye-catching performances would eventually earn him a move from Los Millionarios to newly promoted Istres a year later.
Two goals in 33 starts was Montano’s meager return as the Provencal club were relegated in their first season in the French top flight. "It isn’t easy for a South American when you land up in a new championship like Ligue 1, however welcoming people are,” says the man from Cali by way of explaining his relatively slow start to his career in France. A move to Montpellier failed to bring much of an upturn in his fortunes, but Montano stuck to his task, and the 2008/09 season proved something of a watershed.
When I signed for Rennes I was looking to progress, to move on up.
The Colombian found the net 15 times that year as the Herault side were promoted from Ligue 2. Then, last season, Montpellier were a revelation. Rene Girard’s side finished in fifth, thanks in no small part to Montano’s lung-bursting performances up front. He weighed in with 11 goals and it was no surprise when Rennes came in for the dangerous front-man at the start of the 2010/11 season.
"When I signed for Rennes I was looking to progress, to move on up," says Montano, and that ambition was matched by the Breton club who promptly sold Asamoah Gyan to Sunderland and placed their new recruit at the spearhead of their new front line. Montano took a while to settle but is now the side’s top scorer with seven goals to his name. More importantly, his dynamic all-round game has contributed to Rennes’ surge to second spot in the league.
"I’m playing in a team that is competing at the top of the league and helping me to progress. My aim is to do as well as I did at Montpellier, if not better, but I know there's room for improvement with my game. I can’t rest on my laurels. I need to keep on working for the team," he says. “Our squad get on really well. We keep it tight at the back, fight hard for each other and if we win something, it would be great and no more than we deserve."
That said, Montano is careful not to aim too high: “I’m not saying we’re going to win the league! There are still lots of points to play for and the sides around us maybe have that little bit more experience.”
Last weekend’s 2-0 loss at home to Marseille certainly brought Breton feet back to ground, ending as it did a run of five straight wins. Victor-Hugo is far from downcast though: "Not many people thought Rennes would be in this position, so we need to show them we deserve to be here. Things are only going to get tougher from hereon in anyway.” With Lyon, themselves on a run of five consecutive victories, next up, Montano is not wrong.
Whether Rennes upset the odds and lift the French title or not, Montano confesses he is “happy in France”, and ends our interview with a superstitious nod to his namesake: “I hope my first name keeps on bringing me luck and even helps us win the league. I will carry on trying to honour it the best I can. It’s a great pleasure to be called Victor-Hugo.”