With the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ moving ever closer, Colombia’s preparations for the big event suffered a major setback when their attacking spearhead Radamel Falcao suffered a serious knee injury that could rule him out of the tournament altogether.
Cafeteros fans are wishing their beloved Tigre a speedy recovery as he embarks on a race to be fit for the world finals. In the meantime, they are also on the lookout for an able replacement to lead Colombia’s front line.
One of the names that is beginning to feature large on the list of options open to national team coach Jose Pekerman is Sevilla striker Carlos Bacca, who, thanks to his innate determination and belief, has come an awful long way in recent times, as FIFA.com reveals.
It was only seven short years ago that the boy from Puerto Colombia was working as a ticket clerk on the bus route linking his home town to the city of Barranquilla. His dream was to make it as a footballer, but given the modern game’s ability to unearth ever-younger talents and the fact that he had still to play a single minute of top-flight football by the time he turned 23, it looked as if his opportunity had come and gone.
Not that he ever saw that way: “I had a lot of confidence in my own abilities,” he explained. “I felt that my chance would come and that I had what it took to seize it. And when I got my opportunity with Junior it filled me with even more belief. Every time I played I pushed myself to the limit so I could keep on improving.”
Having had a short spell in the Venezuelan second division, Bacca’s big break came when he signed for the Barranquilla-based Junior in 2009 and took part in that year’s Torneo Apertura. He made the most of the opportunity, performing so well over the next three years that he earned himself a move to Europe.
“When I got my first pay check as a professional player, I organised a meal with my whole family to share my joy with the people who had supported and helped me along the way,” recalled the happily married Bacca, a doting father of two. “They’re the ones who stuck by me through the bad times and they’re the ones I want to be with through the good.”
Acknowledging his initial struggle to put his sudden success into perspective, he said: “When I turned professional I thought I’d achieved so much already and it made me feel really good. But then I opened my eyes and I realised that it was nothing more than the start of my journey.”
Regaining his focus, he continue to break new ground, signing for Club Brugge in January 2012 and ending the following season as the top scorer in Belgium’s first division with 25 goals, a haul that also earned him the league’s Player of the Year award. Those achievements led to a move in July 2013 to a Sevilla side that was rebuilding following the departure of key personnel such as Alvaro Negredo, Jesus Navas and Gary Medel.
“What they achieved will long be remembered by the club and the fans,” he said of the outgoing idols. “When I arrived I wanted to make it clear that I hadn’t come to replace anyone but to make my own contribution. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do, day in day out: push myself, work hard, improve and produce my very best.”
The Colombian has been true to his word, making a spectacular start with the Spanish club by scoring 13 goals for them in his first 29 appearances, a return far more impressive than that achieved by former Sevilla heroes Luis Fabiano and Frederic Kanoute in their opening seasons with the club.
“It’s all been very positive so far,” he said. The support I’ve had from the coaching staff, the fans and my team-mates has made everything easier. It was much harder for me to settle in Belgium because of the language, the weather and the food. Things have been a lot easier in Spain.”
We produced our very best in the qualifiers, though, and took Colombia back where it belongs.
Living a dream
The progress he has made at club level has not gone unnoticed by Cafetero coach Pekerman, who has already called him up on several occasions, perhaps the most special of them coming in October last year, when Colombia celebrated their qualification for Brazil 2014.
“The best thing was being able to share it all with my team-mates,” said Bacca. “We chased our World Cup dream as one and the celebrations we had off the pitch were very special.”
He added: “Given all the fine generations of players we’ve had it seems incredible that it’s taken 16 years to reach the world finals again. We produced our very best in the qualifiers, though, and took Colombia back where it belongs.”
Explaining the key to the team’s success, he said: “We’re united and we go into each game with our feet firmly on the ground. We are a family, both on and off the pitch. We make decisions as a unit and that’s reflected when we go out and play.”
As Bacca went on to say, there is one other major factor in Colombia’s long-awaited revival: Pekerman.
“He’s a great coach and he’s changed the mindset of the Colombian players,” commented Bacca. “He makes things very clear when he speaks and he gives us the confidence we need off the pitch to make the best decisions on it. On a personal level, I’m very happy with everything he’s taught me and I’m happy to be part of this team.”
From selling bus tickets to the brink of the world finals in only seven years: it is quite a story, as he acknowledged:
“It’s been my dream since I was a boy. I wanted it when I used to watch the competition on TV and now I’ve got the chance to be part of this national side. I know I’ve got some very healthy competition from other players but I’m excited at the prospect of going to the World Cup and I really want it. That’s why I give my very best each and every day. If you work hard and keep believing you can make your dreams come true.”
Having come so far, the intrepid Bacca epitomises that kind of determination as well as anyone.