For followers of Mexican outfit Monterrey, the name Jesus Zavala is synonymous with solidity, belief and reliability in the centre of the park. Indeed, his prowess at winning back the ball and starting attacking moves is sure to make him an integral figure in Los Rayados’ bid for success at December’s FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2012.
Though the holding midfield man is a regular in coach Victor Manuel Vucetich’s first-choice starting XI, getting this far has not been an easy ride for the 25-year-old. In fact, back in the Clausura 2006, at the age of 18 and with just five league games under his belt, the then promising youngster was sidelined for six months with an injury to his fifth metatarsus.
“It was very sad, a real setback,” he said in conversation with FIFA.com, his usually upbeat manner momentarily replaced by a more serious and thoughtful guise. “A thousand things go through your head. I kept asking myself all the time, ‘And what if I don’t make it back?’ I kept thinking about the fact that I may not get another opportunity again. Thankfully I was able to recover from the injury, lift my spirits and keep working hard,” added this one-club man.
Despite having to start almost from scratch once more, and playing just 35 minutes of first-team football in 2007, within a further year his patience, hard work and perseverance were rewarded. A crucial factor in that return to prominence was current coach Vucetich, known within the Mexican game as ‘King Midas’.
“Vucetich means a lot to me,” said this admirer of positional counterpart Sergio Busquets. “He’s the coach who’s shown most confidence in me during my career. I’ll always be grateful to him, which is why I always try to prove how thankful I am by giving everything I’ve got out on the pitch.”
A new era
Once back in Los Rayados’ first XI, the recognition just kept on coming for Zavala, whose form persuaded Mexico supremo Jose Manuel de la Torre to select him for his squad for the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
“First of all you dream of playing football, then making your first-division debut, then later making it into the national team,” said El Flaco Zavala, who enjoys nothing more than spending his off-field time with his family. “In that sense, now that I’m part of El Tri I’m making my dream come true.”
That same year, arguably the most pivotal of his career, Monterrey won the 2010/11 edition of the CONCACAF Champions League, thus claiming their ticket for the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2011. There, however, things did not go to plan, as Zavala and Co were beaten on penalties in their opening game against Kashiwa Reysol and could do no better than fifth spot, which came after victory over Tunisia’s Esperance Sportive de Tunis.
“We’ve got a point to prove after the last edition,” said Zavala, looking back at his first trip to the global showpiece. “It was upsetting, because we’d all wanted to really make a splash and bring the title back for CONCACAF.”
Fortunately for Los Rayados, the chance to set the record straight has come around swiftly, following a second successive victory in the CONCACAF Champions League. “Maybe we went into that tournament [Japan 2011] a little short of match practice,” he explained. “That’s because domestically we missed out on the [title-deciding] Liguilla [play-offs], so we went several weeks without playing.
“It was a long process and by the time our first game [in Japan] came around we didn’t hit the ground running as strongly as we’d have liked,” continued Zavala on the lessons learned from last year’s disappointment. “This time, we’re aiming to make sure we reach the Liguilla so the same thing doesn’t happen to us again on this new adventure.”
Now an established performer and with his injury nightmare well and truly put to bed, the hard-working midfielder is aware of just how important a successful FIFA Club World Cup could be.
“It could put me in the shop window for a move abroad,” he said. “There will be a lot of clubs watching closely and it’s highly motivating because it’s not a chance everyone gets. This will be the second time I’ve played in the competition and I’m really excited about it.”
Excited and clearly confident too, as Zavala capped our interview with a bullish prediction for Monterrey’s campaign: “We could be champions. If we’re there it’s because we deserve to be. Only the best teams reach the Club World Cup and while we’ve got a chance of becoming champions, we’ve got to give everything we’ve got to make it happen.”