In a country where attackers are revered, what motivates a young player to become a goalkeeper? How does that same keeper attract the interest of Barcelona, despite not having made his first-team debut, and why do forwards get all the attention, when an effective team is built on a solid defence?
A few hours ahead of his nation’s decisive FIFA U-20 World Cup game with Korea DPR, Argentina shot-stopper Esteban Andrada provided answers to all of these questions and more during a chat with FIFA.com.
One of the main reasons La Albiceleste go into their third and final Group F fixture with an excellent chance of progressing to the knockout stage is their steadfast refusal to concede any goals at the tournament. “Our defence is watertight because it’s made up of some very good players, who’ve played together for a long time. That’s what makes it so solid,” explained the young keeper.
“Both of our matches so far have been tough, especially the Mexico game. Matches between us are always hard-fought, and there was a lot of hype surrounding the opening day of the tournament – the stadium was totally packed. But personally speaking, that kind of thing really gets me going,” he continued.
For Andrada, securing a clean sheet has now become a question of principle. “We haven’t let in a goal for several matches now, and I always try to stay focused until the very last minute of the game,” he said. “It’s always so much more satisfying for a keeper when he doesn’t let a goal in. It’s a personal objective, but something that we work towards as a team. And thankfully the team I have in front me is full of great players."
Next stop Catalonia
Andrada had better get used to rubbing shoulders with high-quality performers, as the next team to line up in front of him at club level could include a few FIFA World Cup™ winners and the two-time FIFA Ballon d’Or recipient. Despite not having yet made his senior league debut for his club team, Lanus, where he fulfils the role of third-choice goalkeeper, the strapping 20-year-old now finds himself on the verge of joining Lionel Messi’s Barcelona.
And the European champions certainly appear to have done their homework beforehand, having the Argentina custodian watched on several occasions. “My agent told me before the South American qualifiers that there were Barcelona representatives there to watch me,” recalled Andrada, a big admirer of Victor Valdes and Iker Casillas. "Then the news got out into the papers, and everybody was talking about it. At first, I couldn’t believe it, but when it got confirmed, I was ecstatic."
The flip side of signing for the Catalan giants at this stage is the fact that he will leave the Argentinian game behind him without ever having tasted top flight football. It is a situation with which the man who was voted best goalkeeper at the recent U-20 South American Championships is nevertheless comfortable.
“When you’re a little boy, your main goal is to play in your country’s top league," he said. "On the other hand, there are certain opportunities that help you to grow and develop more quickly. You need to grab those chances with both hands, as you don’t know if they’ll come around again. If it’s Barça, you don’t even think about it – you head to the airport and wait for your flight.”
For the moment, however, he remains an employee of Lanus, a club renowned for its youth policy. After having started at San Martin, an outfit located in his home town of Mendoza, he joined Lanus’ youth team, and was subsequently promoted to the senior squad.
“I’ve never played in the Primera Division, but it doesn’t matter; nothing can beat this experience,” stated Andrada, who, following an injury to first-choice keeper Mauricio Carranza in May 2010, made it as far as the bench in an Argentinian league match.
“You make more progress as a sub in the senior team than as a regular in the reserves. But I never felt like I didn’t belong there. And when you’ve got a player like Carranza, who’s always ready to help, you learn so much by listening, watching and copying."
Swayed by sibling
Andrada’s ultimate role model is from an era slightly removed from that of his peers. “I always liked Jose Luis Chilavert,” he admitted. “When I was young, my parents got me his goalkeeper kit when he was with Velez Sarsfield. Not only was he a great keeper, but he was one of the most high-profile players in Argentinian football."
This was one of the reasons that Andrada turned to goalkeeping, an unorthodox choice in a country fixated with forwards, from Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi to Mario Kempes and Gabriel Batistuta. Another was having a sibling who needed someone to save his shots.
“My brother played for San Martin, and I used to follow him round when I was young,” he explained with a smile. "As soon as he had the chance, he’d ask me to play with him; little by little, I started stopping the ball. And that’s how my career started."
Today his career is on the verge of taking a significant leap forward in Colombia, where Argentina have yet to concede a goal. At the same time, Argentina’s front line has only notched one successful strike so far at the event. Could it be that their goalkeeper’s fine performances in training have left their forwards deflated? “Yes, that might be it!” replied Andrada, laughing. “But in all seriousness, they’ve got more than enough talent to find their scoring touch again,” he added.
Even if Andrada’s team-mates do not start netting from all angles, Argentina are still fancied to do well at Colombia 2011 because, as any fan knows, a team that concedes less than it scores has the potential to go all the way.