Despite the possible language problems and the weight of expectation that comes with being billed as a saviour, Jesus Datolo’s move from Espanyol to Internacional has proved a seamless one so far.
Swapping La Liga for Brazil at the end of January, the Argentinian midfielder has found the transition an easy one to make thanks in part to the presence of compatriots Andres D’Alessandro, Mario Bolatti and Pablo Guinazu in the Inter squad.
Even so, and despite his experience, Datolo is surprised by the impact he has made in his first few weeks in Porto Alegre. Indeed, the 27-year-old has quickly shouldered the responsibilities that have come with the move and become a firm favourite with the ever-demanding Colorado fans, despite the stiff competition for a first-team place.
“I’m very happy to have achieved so much in such little time,” the new arrival told FIFA.com. “I didn’t really expect to make a start like this, but the fact is I couldn’t be happier right now.”
Playing to the gallery
Datolo’s arrival has come at just the right time too. Covering for the injury-enforced absence of D’Alessandro, he has ensured the loss of his compatriot’s creative influence has not been too keenly felt.
If anything, Internacional have found an even sharper cutting edge with Datolo, scoring 14 times in their last three games and conceding just the one. The midfielder has made effective use of his cultured left-foot in that time, scoring two of those goals and setting up three others, earning adoration from the stands in the process.
“I’m very grateful to be getting so much recognition from the fans for what I’m doing on the pitch,” said Inter’s latest acquisition. “What I need to do now is keep them happy. “We know we can go far if we keep our feet on the ground.”
Pointing to the contribution his three fellow countryman have made in helping him adjust to his new surroundings, Datolo added: “I have to say they’ve had a big part to play in me adapting to life so quickly here at Internacional. As well as being good players, they’re great people too.”
Datolo’s instant success in Brazil has gone some way to making up for the frustration he endured in a stop-start three-year stay in Europe. Signed by Napoli in 2009, he failed to nail down a first-team place alongside compatriot Ezequiel Lavezzi and was eventually loaned out to Olympiakos. A rash of injuries befell him in Greece before Espanyol came calling. Then, after two years with the Barcelona club, came the invitation to start afresh on the other side of the Atlantic.
We know we can go far if we keep our feet on the ground.
“I didn’t have the best of times in Europe but it wasn’t a disaster either,” he said. “Overall, it was positive experience. I got to play for three different clubs, I played in the UEFA Champions League [during his stay at Olympiakos], and it also opened the door to the national team for me. I would have liked to have achieved more on the pitch, but I was able to learn a few lessons from it all.”
With a handful of international caps to his name, how will the move affect his chances of earning a recall to the Argentina set-up? While appearances in the Copa Libertadores will give him exposure back home, the fact remains: he no longer enjoys the spotlight afforded by rubbing shoulders with the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Milan.
“It might make it harder for me,” he explained “Players based in Europe are maybe better thought of and have more of a chance, which means the ones based here have to match their performances or play that little bit better even. Even so, I hope I get another chance.”
Datolo’s involvement in this year’s Libertadores could lead to a meeting with Boca Juniors, the club with whom the Banfield youth product won the competition back in 2007. Yet given his strong emotional attachment to the Buenos Aires powerhouses, the player would rather not think about such a reunion.
“I can’t picture that right now,” he said. “It would be very strange and if it did come about, then obviously I’d try to do my best for Inter. It’d be weird, though. For me the Boca fans are among the best in the world and I had a fantastic time there. That’s football, though, and here I am now, fighting for my team-mates at Internacional.”
Known for his versatility and ability to slot into midfield and attacking roles, Datolo is reluctant to pin himself down to a preferred playing position. Getting some playing time is all that matters to him: “I always want to be out there and I don’t care what position I’m in. I’ll play where the coach puts me.
“If he sends me out there to play, then that’s good enough for me,” concluded the ever-willing midfielder, who is intent on making the most of his latest career opportunity. “It’s fascinating to be out here playing in Brazil, to be able to see how fast the game is from close-up. It’s something I’ll always take with me.”