Talking to Giovani dos Santos, it is difficult to believe that he has yet to turn 19 and is still to make his professional debut.
The star turn in Mexico's U-20 team, this quicksilver playmaker exhibits none of the shyness that usually afflicts boys of his age. Likened to his Barcelona team-mate Ronaldinho from the moment he joined the Catalan giants, Dos Santos even exudes the same charisma and charm as the Brazilian superstar.
In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, the man they call Gio spoke of his desire to follow Mexico's triumph at Peru 2005 with another world title in the next age category. Should the rising Mexican star fulfil his ambitions in Canada, it would represent the perfect springboard for his bid to win a full international call-up and a place in the Barcelona first-team squad.
FIFA.com: Canada 2007 is almost upon us and the whole of
Mexico has high hopes of a second world title to add to Peru 2005.
Is that a source of pressure or motivation?
Giovani dos Santos: It motivates me tremendously. I'm very aware of how important that win was to the country because Mexico had never won a world title at any level before. We've now got the chance to go out and do it again and that's a terrific incentive. To tell you the truth, I can't wait for the tournament to start.
The sense of expectation will be greater this time and the
standard of play even higher.
Of course. In Canada there will be some great players who weren't in Peru for different reasons. I've got a lot of confidence in the team though. We've got practically the same side as two years ago and we know each other inside out. That's why I feel we've got a great chance.
Your group opponents are Portugal, Gambia and New Zealand.
What do you know about them?
We've seen them on video and we know they're strong teams. We know all about the speed and strength of the Africans, and Portugal are a world power. It's a very tough group but if we can get through, we will be in great shape for the second round.
Your opponents are bigger and stronger than you. That will
be a disadvantage, won't it?
Yes, but it was the same in Peru and we ended up winning. It's not that important because we play very well when we get the ball down. As they say on the ranches, 'We don't have to carry them' (laughs).
Much is expected of you and your strike partner Carlos
Vela. Are you still close friends?
Yes, of course. The funny thing is, we both play in Spain now [Vela was loaned out by Arsenal to Salamanca last season] but we didn't manage to see each other before joining up with the national team. We call each other a lot on the phone, and every time we go out on the pitch together it's like we've never been apart.
One of your team-mates at Barcelona is Lionel Messi, the
star performer at Netherlands 2005. Has he spoken to you about the
Yes, he has. He got a winners medal and was the top scorer and best player at that tournament, so there was no way I wasn't going to ask him about it. He gave me a lot of advice. He said the main thing was to concentrate on making sure the team played well and to forget about my own performance. It's great to be able ask people like him for advice.
Messi recently said that tournament changed his life and made the world sit up and take notice of him. Are you hoping for the same thing to happen to you? Yes, but I think it will be harder for me. In the first few games in Holland, Leo came on as a sub and no-one expected to be facing such a brilliant player. I'll be starting for Mexico and your opponents get to know you better when you play from the start.
Barcelona's youth set-up has produced a string of great
players in recent times. First there was Messi, then you, and now
Bojan Krkic. What is the club's secret?
I think they work really hard at youth level, but above all they have a superb team of scouts with an amazing ability to find very talented players and take them to the club. Barcelona is also a fantastic city and it's a great place to live.
Your younger brother Jonathan is also with Barça's
youth teams. What can you tell us about him?
He's a great player and he has made tremendous progress. He had a brilliant season with the youth team and he's going to be some player in the future. When we were kids we dreamed of playing together in the same side - him setting me up and me scoring the goals. It looks like it's going to happen too (laughs).
All the indications are that you will make your debut with
the Barcelona first team and the full Mexico side next season. How
do you feel about challenges like those?
For me it's essential to go step by step. With Barcelona I'll finally be able to fulfil my dream of being in the squad. I just want to take things gradually to start with and show what I can do, and then hold down a place in the first team in the future. It would be a dream come true to play for Mexico. I really hope they call me up.
There have been rumours recently of you leaving Barcelona.
Are you willing to listen to other offers?
Not from Mexican clubs, because I can't afford to ever close the door on European teams. I'm very happy in Barcelona in any case and I want to be a winner here.
Tell us a little bit about Giovani dos Santos when he is
not playing football. Do you have lots of friends? A
I'm very easy-going. I like to spend time with my family, with my brothers, play video games with them. I've got a great group of friends too and I really enjoy myself with them. As for a girlfriend, absolutely no way. I'm only 18 and I'm having a fantastic time, so I'm going to stay single for now at least (laughs).
One last question. Let's fast forward to August 2010.
Where do you see yourself?
How old will I be then? Twenty-one? I still won't have a girlfriend (laughs). No, seriously, I'd like to be in the Barcelona first team by then and have had a great World Cup in South Africa with Mexico. That would be amazing and I hope I can do it.