• Esteban Dreer is a goalkeeper for the Ecuador national team
  • Argentina-born stopper talks rise from free agent to international
  • "In terms of football I owe Ecuador everything"

Argentinian-born goalkeeper Esteban Dreer has come a long way since the first half of 2009. Now aiming for a place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ with adopted country Ecuador, he was at one time without a club and short of money, and spent his days training with other free agents.  

“I’d just been on loan for a year and a half in Lithuania, and though I only played for the last four months, I never thought I’d lose my place at Arsenal, my team in Argentina,” the 35-year-old keeper told FIFA.com. “That was at the end of 2008. After the holidays, my agent suggested I start training at an elite performance centre with other players who were out of contract. So I did.”

As Dreer went to reveal, the challenge became a mental one: “Though I didn’t play when I first went to Lithuania and I was down on my luck, I ended up taking part in the Champions League qualifiers, the UEFA Cup and I won the league. And from there I went to my wife washing my clothes, to packing my own bag and playing against other unattached players or training with professional teams.”

Money was also short, as he explained: “I was able to buy an apartment with what I’d saved, but I didn’t have any money left over and I had to borrow some. I lived quite a way from the training ground and there were times when I didn’t even have enough money for the toll, but I never stopped training or believing in myself. I even went when I was sick.”

When the transfer window reopened, he received offers from third division clubs. Dreer set his sights higher than that, however. After playing in a match against Lanus, who were third in the league at the time, a career-changing offer came from Ecuadorian club Deportivo Cuenca: “They came to see me play against a team of free agents, but against Lanus I played well and we won 1-0. That’s when they made me the offer. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was worth a gamble and it worked out well for me.”

On the up
Dreer quickly made his mark in Ecuador, as Cuenca went from also-rans to runners-up: “After six months there I said to my team-mates: ‘I’m going to play for the national team and I’m going to sing the Ecuadorian national anthem’.”

It was an ambition that grew after Dreer moved to Emelec in 2011, when he took out Ecuadorian nationality. It was there that he met Gustavo Quinteros, the current Tri coach, under whom he won two league titles and was voted Goalkeeper of the Year in 2013 and 2014.

It came as no surprise, then, when Quinteros named Dreer in his first Ecuador squad in March 2015, or when the keeper went to the Copa America in Chile that year, or when he made his international debut that November, deputising for the injured Alexander Dominguez in a World Cup qualifier against Venezuela.

Nicknamed El Rifle, Dreer made the No1 jersey his own in October 2016, by which time Ecuador’s electric start to the Russia 2018 qualifiers had become a distant memory and Quinteros was looking to inject new blood into the team.

Beaten in both their qualifiers in March, La Tri now lie sixth in the table, adrift of the four direct qualification places and the play-off slot.

Dreer on Dreer

  • Reasons for becoming a keeper:  “Out of conviction, but when I’m 40 and I retire I’m going to be a No8 so I can show my link-up skills and score some goals.”
  • Childhood hero: “Carlos Navarro Montoya. I was 13 and I used to go to the Bombonera (Boca Juniors’ home ground), stand behind the goal where he kept and copy how he played the ball out with his feet, which is something I do pretty well now.”
  • Favourite players today: “[Manuel] Neuer and [Marc-Andre] Ter Stegen, for the way they play with their feet. They know what to do when they get a back-pass. They’re like an extra outfield player.”
  • What kept him going when times were tough: “My wife Mariela, my son Felipe and my faith in God.”

“When I look at the table it makes me angry and sad,” said Dreer. “Everything changed when we lost at home to Colombia. It came as a shock to us. We’d just lost in Paraguay, but we’d played well and we were relaxed. We didn’t play well against Colombia though. Maybe we just thought we’d get back to winning ways, just like that.”

Time is running out for Ecuador, who have a trip to Brazil and a home date with Peru coming up. “We played well in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay,” said the keeper. “So, with all due respect to Brazil, anything could happen.”

“We simply have to win in Quito though,” he added. “If we can take four points from those two games, we’ll go into the closing matches with a chance. With the players we’ve got and the football we play, this team deserves it.”

As fate would have it, Ecuador play Argentina in Quito in their final qualifier, a game that could yet prove decisive. There is no question of Dreer being in any way conflicted when that match comes around, however: “I know where my loyalties lie. I was born there, but in terms of football I owe Ecuador everything. It’s thanks to this country that I’m still a professional today. I’ll give my life for us to make the World Cup.”