Zambrano: I wanted to make my family proud
For many young people, moving out from the family home constitutes a major step in life. Whether due to studies, work or other reasons, it is never an easy choice to fly the nest, making Carlos Zambrano's decision to leave his country of birth aged just 16 deserving of the utmost respect.
The Peruvian swapped homeland side Academica Cantolao for Bundesliga club Schalke 04's youth team back in 2006. "It was very difficult for me at the start because I had to leave my family behind. I wanted to make them proud by moving to Germany and becoming a pro. It gave me drive and made me stronger," said the 21-year-old in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. Schalke first became aware of the youngster during the 2005 edition of the FIFA U-17 World Cup, where Zambrano impressed in all three of Peru's group-stage matches.
The defender required little time to settle in to his new abode. He soon became captain of the Schalke youth team before making the jump into the first-team squad two years later and making 16 appearances during the 2008/09 season.
It was around this time that Zambrano celebrated a goalscoring debut for the Peruvian national team in a friendly against Costa Rica on 26 March 2008. "It was very special, it means a lot to me to play for my country. Every time the national anthem plays, my heart beats faster and I feel very happy. It makes me and my family very proud and I'm desperate to play in the World Cup in 2014."
Zambrano missed out on his first opportunity to appear at a FIFA World Cup™, playing ten of his country's qualifiers for South Africa 2010 though Los Incaicos ultimately missed out on a spot at the finals. "Of course I watched some of the World Cup matches, and sometimes I felt a bit miserable about it, but we'll be there next time," he said confidently.
"Football is very important in my country. Unlike in Germany, you can't earn as much money as a professional footballer no matter how hard you work. My family have always struggled with money and I'm very lucky that I made it as a footballer as it means I can support everyone back home.
"Several other things in Germany are different too. They're very strict, professional and disciplined. Back home it's chaos in comparison," he told FIFA.com with a smile. "Still, the people of Peru are very happy. Being together as a family is very important. Seven of us lived in one house for years."
Zambrano embarked on a new chapter of his career over the summer, joining promoted club FC St. Pauli on loan from parent club Schalke. "I was welcomed with open arms and I feel very happy here. The team is very ambitious and I like that. I'm still a young player and I want to gain experience at the top level. I also think that Hamburg [where St. Pauli are based] is the most beautiful city in Germany."
Zambrano has settled into the northern German city quickly, playing a major role in the Kiezkickers' solid start to the new season and starting in six of his new club's seven league matches to date. "I'm going to complete the next stage of my development at St. Pauli. I can't plan beyond that, you can't plan in football in general.
"Sometimes things change from one day to the next, which you don't expect. I've only just arrived in Hamburg and I'm very happy here. I think every player wants to play in Europe one day, but I have enough time for that. At the moment I'm concentrating on making sure St. Pauli avoid relegation so that they're in the Bundesliga for next season."
Zambrano's attentions will turn to the international scene over the next few days as Peru take on Costa Rica and Panama in friendly action. The youngster is hoping to add another two caps to his current total of 11, still some way behind his idol Hector Chumpitaz. "He's a legend in Peru. He was captain of the national team for the Copa America in 1975 and is considered one of the best South American defenders of all time."
The bar has thus been set very high but, judging by his swift rise to prominence over the past few years, Carlos Zambrano has a very bright future ahead of him.