At first glance Adrian Gonzalez is just another up-and-coming
Spanish youngster, a promising central midfielder with a cultured
left foot. And while his looks and fairly common surname might not
provide any clues, the 19-year-old is none other than the son of
Michel, the former right winger who played for Real Madrid and
Spain with such distinction.
Although you might expect the opposite to be true, the pressure of being the offspring of a man who teamed up to such great effect with Emilio Butragueno for club and country is something the young pretender, currently preparing for his country's opening game at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007, has learnt to take in his stride.
"He's been a great help to me," he told FIFA.com at Spain's training camp in Burnaby, British Columbia. "Even when he wasn't my coach, he gave me a lot of advice. I'm also trying to achieve what he did and that's a source of motivation. I know it's difficult but if I can do it, I'll have achieved something very important and I can take great satisfaction from that."
Gonzalez started following in his father's footsteps at an early age, joining Real Madrid's youth set-up as a nine-year-old, just after Michel ended his career with Mexican outfit Atletico Celaya. The chip off the old block has stayed with the Merengues ever since, graduating this season to Spanish second division football with the club's reserve side, Real Madrid Castilla, coached by Michel himself. His performances with Castilla even earned him the odd call-up to the first team.
"It's been a very important season because I've learnt lots of things," he explains. "I managed to spend some time with the first team and now I'm with the national side at the World Cup." The only downside in an otherwise positive season was Castilla's relegation to the third tier, not that Gonzalez is too dejected about that: "We went down, but we're young and will bounce back."
His skills have started to attract the attention of the scouts, and although there has been talk of a possible move to a top-flight club, the Castilla man is keen to avoid distractions. "Right now I want to concentrate on the World Cup and make the most of the opportunity the coaches have given me. I've got lots of options to consider afterwards but my first choice is to stay at Real Madrid," he vows. That devotion to the white jersey stretches back to the days when he would watch his father training as a young schoolboy, sometimes stealing onto the pitch to enjoy a kickabout with the mythical Quinta del Buitre, the famous quintet of home-grown players led by Butragueno and of which Michel was an illustrious member.
Spanish eye up second world title
With the domestic league finishing on 18 June and national U-20 coach Gines Melendez getting his players together the very next day, Gonzalez and his team-mates have had no time for a break. It is a sacrifice they are willing to make, however. "We might be a little tired but we're raring to get going. We're very excited about the opportunity we've got and we can't wait for the first game and to make a good start."
Spain earned their place in Canada by winning the UEFA European U-19 Championship, a triumph founded on the side's organisation and solidity. "Our strength is the fact that we are a team," the midfield man explains. "These players have been together for a long time and know each other well, and that's very important when it comes to tournaments. We're looking to show how good we are here and to win the World Cup."
Should they do so, it will give Spain a second world U-20 crown to add to the one they won in Nigeria in 1999. Standing in their way first of all, however, are Group B rivals Zambia, Jordan and Uruguay. Gonzalez is taking none of them lightly.
"We can't underestimate anyone. Like us, they wouldn't be here if they didn't deserve to be and weren't good sides. Uruguay, our first opponents, are our biggest concern right now, but any three of the sides could surprise us. It would be great to start with a win."
Gonzalez has just stepped up to the U-20s having represented Spain at every previous age level: "It's not easy to get this far because you have to perform at a very high standard to stay in the side. The good thing is we all know each other from playing in the league. The atmosphere in the squad is always brilliant and it's really easy to settle in," a task made easier by the fact that five of his Castilla team-mates (Antonio Adan, Esteban Granero, Javi Garcia, Juan Mata and Alberto Bueno) are with him in Canada.
As he contemplates the challenges ahead, he also has his father's advice to draw on: "He told me to stay calm, that the tournament is a long one and that there will be chances for everyone to make their mark," he says. " My only aim is to enjoy this unique opportunity and to make the most of it if I get a chance to play."
"I can bring a lot of attitude to the team and move the ball around in the midfield. I like to push up a little bit because I'm not so strong defensively, and I prefer a bit of freedom to move around from the middle to the left," he adds, as if to remind coach Melendez of his qualities.
The promising Gonzalez's chance to impress may not be far away. After taking on a university side on Wednesday, the Spaniards kick off their title bid against Uruguay on 1 July.