With the half-lit Andes mountains as a picturesque backdrop, the
Ciudad Deportiva de Ivan Zamorano is already a hive of activity by
early morning. Boasting a gymnasium, swimming pool, tennis courts
and football pitches, the facility in the Chilean capital,
Santiago, receives a constant stream of kids, teens and adults for
whom sport is a common interest.
In a spacious office upstairs in the main building we find the man responsible for all the activity, Ivan Zamorano, the former Chilean international who made his name scoring goals for Sevilla, Real Madrid, Inter Milan, America and Colo Colo. It is another busy day for the 41-year-old, who, with the help of his assistant Veronica, is running over the details of a trip he will take in a few hours to Japan, where he will take part in a benefit match organised by former Japanese international Hidetoshi Nakata to raise awareness of climate change.
Ivan 'Bam Bam' Zamorano is a member of the FIFA 100, the list of the 123 then-living greatest footballers chosen by Pele in 2004. After fielding another couple of phone calls, he sat down for an early-morning chat with FIFA.com about his current activities and past and future goals. "It's a huge honour to be constantly meeting famous people," Zamorano began.
"Just a few weeks ago, I watched a recording of the FIFA-organised Nelson Mandela tribute match from last year, which I took part in. It was a real thrill to play with the likes of Ruud Gullit, George Weah and Emilio Butragueno and reacquaint myself with old friends. That sort of thing is priceless and means you left your mark on the game of football, both as a player and a person," said the striker renowned for scoring headers.
Nowadays, though, he uses his head exclusively to generate new ideas and projects for the Ciudad Deportiva facility in the suburbs of Santiago. "It was always my dream to be able to invest in something as fundamental in my life as sport. And this has allowed me to be give something back to society, a place where you can engage in healthy pursuits like football, tennis, swimming, karate, ballet and gymnastics, among other things," he explained.
However, 'Ivan the Terrible', as fans dubbed him in Spain, is not resting on his laurels. With the same energy he once used to eke out scoring chances and which saw him crowned top scorer in the Spanish La Liga in 1995 (with 31 goals), the former captain of La Roja is already formulating his latest project: a University of Sport.
"By capitalising on the infrastructure we have in place and what the Ciudad Deportiva stands for, we can offer things that are essential to every human being: sport, health and education. Based on that, we intend to start offering four university degrees in 2009: Kinesiology, Physical Education Teaching, Sports Psychology as well as Sports Instruction.
"The idea is to later add other professions," added the self-confessed tennis fanatic. "Yes, it's my second sport. In fact, just a few weeks ago, we inaugurated one of the continent's largest high-performance Tennis Centres, in which 65 youngsters will pursue their goal of becoming tennis professionals.
While some may feel he has left the world of football behind for that of sports administration, Zamorano's passion for the beautiful game remains undiminished. "Your priorities in life change," he said. "Before, all I thought about were goals and football, and I constantly strived to be the best. Now my priorities are my family and my projects.
"I'm always getting ideas and like taking decisions in collaboration with others. That said, I don't neglect the football side of things," continued the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. "My most important goal in life was to dedicate myself to football. Looking back, I can see I did things well; I pushed myself and set clear goals I went on to fulfil.
There are wonderful things about football and, as a striker and goal-scorer, you know that at its essence it's about goals - they become like an inseparable colleague. I scored a lot of important goals in my career: like the one that secured the title for Real Madrid in 1995, or the one that helped Inter Milan lift the UEFA Cup (in 1998), or those for my country. They were numerous and all very significant."
And how did the player cope with walking away from the limelight and adulation, not to mention the pressure of having to score goals? "For me retirement was something normal. I had offers to continue playing from clubs in Japan, the USA and Qatar, but it was always clear to me I should end my playing days with Colo Colo," he said.
"I came and played for them for free for six months and then retired. When all is said and done, it's easier to say goodbye to football than wait and have football say goodbye to you."
Married to the former Argentinian model Maria Albero and a father to three children (Blu, Mia Pascale and Ivan), the Chilean places great importance in lasting friendships. "I'm lucky to have friends all over the world and a lot of that is down to football."
He counts compatriots Hugo Rubio, Fabian Estay and Marcelo Vega among their number, as well as Javier Zanetti, Jose Emilio Amavisca, Ronaldo, Carlos Gamarra, Freddy Rincon, Jose Luis Chilavert and Emilio Butragueno further afield. "There are a lot of them and that makes me feel like I left an impression on and off the field," he added.
Asked about the media frenzy in Chile that greeted the birth of his son (also Ivan) and the speculation about his following in the father's footsteps, the former player said: "My lad is still a baby. Before he was born everyone was hoping for a boy and that one day he'd be a goal-scorer too.
However, when he grows up, I'll try to ensure he feels no pressure in this respect and so he can do what makes him happy, just like his sisters. If he did choose football, though, then I'd support him... ," he added with a grin.
Bringing the interview to a close to attend to the all-consuming demands of the centre, it is heartening to see the former player still as driven and consumed by goals as he was in his heyday.