It has been seven years since former Colombia striker Adolfo Valencia – known as ‘El Tren’ (‘The Train’) – hung up his boots, after having exported his talents to numerous leagues around the world during his career, including those in Spain, Italy and Germany. He twice took part in the FIFA World Cup™ finals, the second of which, in 1998, was the last time his country managed to qualify for the event.
The skilful forward did leave another, more lasting legacy for Los Cafeteros, however: his son Jose, a key component in Colombia’s quest to lift this year’s FIFA U-20 World Cup.
‘El Trencito' (‘The Little Train’), as Valencia Jr has come to be known in Colombia, was born on 18 December 1991 and has inherited various traits from his father, including a love for the national jersey and a powerful physique. He also has his dad's knack for clinical finishing, as was demonstrated by his opening goal in the South Americans’ second Group A match against Mali.
My dad won a few trophies, but he never got close to a world title, and now here I am fighting for that very thing.
“It really was a lovely goal,” remarked the hero of the hour to FIFA.com. “It was a great move - Michael Ortega played me through with a beautiful chipped pass, I touched it round the goalkeeper, and although I hit my first shot against the last defender, I managed to knock the rebound into the net,” he continued, adding with a laugh that his father “would have made sure first time.”
Allusions to Valencia Sr are inevitable, but his son is happy to explore the subject. “My dad was a ruthless finisher, and I admire him a lot. I work hard to be like him, and perhaps to even one day surpass what he achieved,” he said in a hopeful tone. He does admit, however, that the continuous references can be a burden: “Sometimes it’s hard to be the son of Adolfo Valencia, because he was a great player that Colombians were very proud of. And then there are the constant comparisons to deal with, both positive and negative.”
It goes without saying that growing up as the child of a high-profile footballer has its advantages and disadvantages. The flip side of a comfortable living and superstar acquaintances manifests itself in the aforementioned comparisons, as well as in the nomadic existence led by many players, where hiring removal vans and adapting to different cultures are part of day-to-day life.
Valencia, who plays for Independiente Santa Fe alongside the son of Colombia legend Carlos Valderrama, is quick to emphasise the role that his mother played in his formative years. “I’ve always been able to count on her support, and that’s what stops me from getting carried away,” he admitted. What advice did she offer him? “To always remain humble, because that keeps you calm, and when things are going well, to push yourself even harder so that you keep on improving,” he noted.
Just for kicks
Valencia’s relationship with his mother was strong from a very early age, so much so that the first kick he delivered in his young life did not make contact with a football, but with his father’s leg! “One time my parents were arguing – I don’t remember if we were in Germany or Spain – and apparently I came out of nowhere to kick my dad in the shin,” he recalled with a laugh.
After pointing out that ‘El Tren’ finds the anecdote very amusing, he went on to share his father’s excellent advice on managing what promises to be a very bright future. “He always tells me to make the most of my career, to use my head and keep my feet on the ground, because it’s all over so quickly,” said Valencia, an admirer of Hertha Berlin’s Colombian international, Adrian Ramos.
A few hours ahead of Los Cafeteros’ final group fixture with Korea Republic, a match that, according to Valencia, will require “the same level of responsibility and respect, to ensure we finish top of the pool”, the promising striker knows that a unique opportunity has opened up for him and his team-mates to be crowned world champions, a feat that proved elusive for his father.
“Just imagine,” he exclaimed. “My dad won a few trophies, but he never got close to a world title, and now here I am fighting for that very thing. Hopefully we can do it. I want to win it for him, and to achieve that I’m prepared to give my all.”