Auckland City forward Fabrizio Tavano is a big admirer of Chelsea and Spain star Cesc Fabregas. “I identify with him,” the 21-year-old Mexican told FIFA.com, not without good reason.
Just like his role model, Tavano has spent his fledgling career switching between the midfield and the “false nine” position he now occupies with the New Zealand club. And like Fabregas, he too was a precocious talent who left his family behind while still a teenager, all in a bid to become the best player he could be.
“Moving to another country on your own when you’re 15 is not very easy at all, but my dream since I was a kid was to make it as a professional footballer,” he explained, recalling the first move of his career, to Italy.
Now ensconced in the Auckland City front line, the Mexican will be gunning for glory when his side take on ES Setif in the quarter-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2014 on Saturday, a big occasion for a young man harbouring dreams of playing in the world’s biggest leagues and for a club that has never reached the last four of the competition.
Asked for his views ahead of this weekend’s make-or-break showdown, Tavano said: “I can’t describe how happy we all felt at getting this far, but we’re all focused on going further than the club’s ever managed.
“Opportunities like this don’t come around very often and we have to approach this game like it’s the last one of our lives. Tiredness is not an issue. We all have to give it everything we’ve got.”
The young Mexican relaxes between training sessions by playing poker with his team-mates and enjoying a little light music with his fellow Latin Americans, among them his Argentinian strike partner Emiliano Tade.
“We Spanish speakers like to party a bit more than the rest, but as soon as we put our music on in the dressing room we get told to switch it off,” he revealed with a smile. “So they put their electronic music on we put our headphones on. I like music with a real beat to it, like reggaetón or bachata. It really gets me pumped up.”
Tavano’s job out on the pitch is to hold the ball up and bring his midfield team-mates into play. An avid student of Lionel Messi’s moves, he was also never anything less than impressed whenever Fabregas slotted into the false nine role at Barcelona. Pointing to their influence, he said: “We try to emulate Barça and pass and move.”
Tavano has been floating between the lines for the Navy Blues for the last four months, though this is by no means the first time he has had to adjust to unfamiliar circumstances, having left his native Mexico for New Zealand at the age of 12, when his journalist father decided to lead the family on a new adventure on the other side of the world.
I can’t describe how happy we all felt at getting this far, but we’re all focused on going further than the club’s ever managed.
“I couldn’t even say ‘Hi’,” recalled Tavano, who aside from having to learn a new language also faced the task of trying to get a regular game of football in a country where rugby is a religion.
“We couldn’t find anywhere,” he recalled. “We had to go to quite a few places before we found a club where I could keep on developing my game – a feeder team for Auckland City.”
Tavano was only 14 when his performances attracted the attention of long-serving Auckland coach Ramon Tribulietx, who promptly whisked the teenager away for first-team training. Before long, Tribulietx’s assistant coach had arranged a trial for Tavano with Italian side Vicenza.
It was an opportunity that was too good to miss for the ambitious youngster: “My first move to New Zealand helped me with my football career because when the opening in Italy came up, I knew what was involved. I knew how to deal with the situation.”
As well as Vicenza, he also played for Pisa and Carpi Calcio during his time in Italy, appearing in the Primavera – the country’s premier youth league – and in a clutch of first-team friendlies.
Switched from the attack to a holding role in midfield – the very same position Fabregas started out in – he found regular football hard to come by and decided to cut his losses in 2012 and return to Mexico.
Though he went on to form part of the Santos Laguna side that won the national U-20 championship – the club’s very first youth title – he found further success elusive. With Santos not exactly short of quality defensive midfielders, his route to the top was blocked.
“I’d lost hope,” he recalled. “There comes a time when you say: ‘What can I be doing wrong? I’m training day in day out’. But if things don’t work out, it’s because God has got something better lined up for us.”
His faith has allowed him to see the virtue of biding his time, and since the start of this year he has been reading the Bible every day, on the advice of a friend. “It gives me greater peace of mind,” he said.
Calmly pondering the options open to him, he put a call in to Tribulietx and made the return journey to Auckland, attracted in part by the lure of the Club World Cup and the chance to play up front again.
And all of a sudden, here he is in Rabat, plotting ES Setif’s downfall and hoping to emulate his idol Fabregas and earn a shot at the big time.