Like any youngster following a successful father into the football world, Jose Francisco Cevallos Jr is learning to live with some inevitable comparisons, even if he is making his way as a playmaker while his illustrious parent, dubbed Las Manos de Ecuador (The Hands of Ecuador), spent his 21-year career between the posts.
So adept has Cevallos Jr proved at setting up goals and scoring them, that he is starting to build his own reputation, one he bolstered at the recent South American U-17 Championship. It was at that tournament on home soil that he scored one of Ecuador’s goals in a defeat of Argentina that clinched their place in the FIFA U-17 World Cup Mexico 2011, which begins on 18 June.
“I’m still a long way from achieving what he did, though,” a smiling Jose Francisco tells FIFA.com, in reference to his father’s feats with the national team and his clubs, Barcelona of Guayaquil and Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito among them. “He was a member of the first Ecuador team to play in the World Cup [Korea/Japan 2002], and he played in lots of qualifiers and Copa America competitions. At club level he won the Copa Libertadores, the Copa Sudamericana and two Recopa Sudamericanas. As for me, I’ve only just started.”
Though still only 16, Cevallos Jr has come to terms with the high expectations people have of him: “Ever since I was a young boy I’ve felt the pressure of being the son of one of Ecuador’s best-known players, though that pressure hasn’t come from him. His achievements are a separate thing and I’m proud of them, but I don’t want people to mix them with mine. What he did is a motivation and example for me to go out and achieve things of my own.”
The kid comes good
Nicknamed Panchito, the young Cevallos decided at an early age that goalkeeping was not for him. “I started keeping when I was nine or ten but I soon realised that I didn’t want to be standing there watching the game go by,” he explains. “I wanted to play in a more active position.”
He took his first steps at Barcelona SC as a striker, but it was not until he moved to Liga de Quito in 2008, as part of the deal that took his father to the club, that he switched to playmaking duties. “The idea was to make the most of his vision and passing abilities,” said Jorge Buitron, LDU’s youth team coach.
“I’m a skilful, intelligent player and I like to take responsibilities because I’ve got confidence in my game,” explains the tall Cevallos Jr, describing his assets on the pitch. “I know that I’ve got a lot to learn though. The modern game is all about reacting fast and I still don’t have the explosive quality I need in my position. I also need to improve my heading. With my height, I need to master the aerial game.”
He lists his role models as compatriot Cristian Noboa, whom he describes as “a modern midfielder who can play and mark at the same time”, and Argentinian playmaker Damian Manso, a footballer he admires for his “decision-making”.
Cevallos is already on the way to emulating them. Promoted to the Albos first team in 2010, the following January he had the honour of sharing a pitch with his now-retired father in a friendly against Once Caldas, the first time such a thing has happened in Ecuadorian football. A month later, this time with precious league points at stake against Barcelona, he scored his first goal as a professional in only the second outing of his career. More was to come in April, when he contributed to Ecuador’s push for a place at Mexico 2011.
“We were the hosts and we were a little nervous to start off with,” says Cevallos, describing how they made their way through the qualifying competition, helped in no small measure by his three goals. “We grew in confidence as the tournament went on, though, and we reached the standard you need to make it to a World Cup. Even so, it’s going to be entirely different when we get there, and we need to prepare properly for it.”
Germany, Panama and Burkina Faso now await in Group E, with the date against the European powerhouses coming first. “We watched the draw live and some of us said, ‘We would have to get Germany first, wouldn’t we?’,” he says. “None of them will be pushovers, but we’ve got a balanced team and a solid attack, with strong forwards and wide midfielders who know where the goal is.”
As far tournament objectives are concerned, Panchito is refusing to set any limits: “Ecuadorian players have changed their mindset and it’s not enough now just to qualify and get through the first round. The idea is to go round by round without settling for any one in particular. We need to think big and to my mind mission accomplished would be to win the competition.”
A firm believer in the Almighty, Cevallos nevertheless refuses to ask Him to hand Ecuador the title, merely to give them the chance to maximise their potential: “You put your faith in God so that He can protect you and give you the ability to achieve your goals. If my father taught me one thing, it was to work hard for the things you want. And that’s just what I’m doing.”