As recently as three years ago, few football fans in Mexico had even heard of Jonny Magallon. Back then the youngster had barely tasted first division football with his club Chivas Guadalajara, who were using him predominantly in their second team, Tapatio.

Today, though, all that has changed, with the 26-year-old unquestionably one of the rising stars of Azteca football. An automatic starter with the national team for two years now, Magallon finds himself constantly linked with moves to big European clubs. Yet despite his growing reputation, he remains an uncomplicated and open individual, and was happy to tell about this exciting stage of his career.

"The truth is that it's all happened very fast," he says. "Two years ago I was barely getting used to first division football. Then I won the championship with Chivas, and Hugo Sanchez called me into the national team squad. Though he was replaced by Chucho (Jesus Ramirez), who in turn made way for Sven (Goran Eriksson), I've managed to remain part of the national team set-up, which I'm thrilled about."

A difficult road
Unlike some of his peers, the defender had to struggle mightily to reach the highest level. He only made his top-flight debut at the relatively late age of 23, having earlier spent a year and a half in the Mexican third division, another in the second as well as four in Primera A. Did he ever think it wasn't going to happen for him?

"The truth is I was despairing," he says with a laugh, "and I even considered packing it in. But there were people who meant a lot to me encouraging me to stick it out - people like my family, friends and team-mates. I'm of the same generation as Omar Bravo, Carlos Salcido, Alberto Medina, so it was tough to see them in the first division while I wasn't. However, they themselves kept telling me to keep working hard."

Curiously, when the player finally found success, it was not in his original position. "I was a defensive midfielder and always played in that role in the lower divisions. However, in the first division I've been playing in the centre of defence, where I must say I feel very comfortable."

So comfortable, in fact, that he has become one of the first names on the El Tri team-sheet, denying a starting place to the likes of European-based Francisco Javier Rodriguez and Aaron Galindo. Modest as ever, Magallon says: "I don't see it as being about competition for places. They're great players and we're all part of the squad. I think it's all down to hard work, and I'm very happy to be considered. That said, I have to maintain that standard, as we're all at a very high level."

Dreams and reality
It is no surprise that the Jalisco native would like to emulate some of his Mexico team-mates and play on the old continent one day. Indeed, he has been linked with many top clubs in recent times and, though nothing concrete has come of it, the defender is not unduly worried. "Yes, it's something you dream about, but I have a very steady career here. Everything will happen in good time. Even so, I believe that life is about the moment, and I think now is my time. Therefore, I have to continue working hard and hope it happens soon."

For now though, Magallon's focus is on Chivas and the national team, so who better to give us their impression of new Tricolor coach Sven-Goran Eriksson. "He's a mild-mannered and unassuming person and, as a coach, he really knows what he's doing. He works from the basics, but he's very practical as well as thorough. All in all, a great coach."

On the downside, however, is Guadalajara's current league form, which sees them at the wrong end of their group table. "This year has been complicated. We're a young team who have a great future ahead of us. The team's philosophy of giving youngsters their chance means sometimes you put at risk or sacrifice success today for the sake of the future. However, we fully understand that the public want to see results. I'd ask all the fans to be patient. You'll soon see how talented this team is and how we'll improve."

To finish, we ask the player how life is for him outside football. "I'm a quiet type but still very happy. I like spending time with my loved ones - my family, friends and girlfriend. What little free time I have, I try to spend it with them, though I still like to take in the odd football game when I can," he replies. Uncomplicated and direct, just like on the pitch.