It has been an emotional rollercoaster of a few months for Christian Bolanos. In November, the 21-year-old buried his father in Costa Rica, in December he performed on the world stage in Japan and in January the midfielder found himself training alongside Steven Gerrard and co. in Liverpool. On Wednesday, the Deportivo Saprissa star is back home at the Ricardo Saprissa stadium hoping to lead his team past the United States' LA Galaxy to a place in the semi-finals of the CONCACAF Champions Cup.
"I'm young, my future's ahead of me and if I want to improve, I'll have to work doubly as hard," Bolanos told Prensalibre after his whirlwind trek across the planet. "The World Cup is not far away and we all want to be there."
Already one of the region's hottest prospects, the pony-tailed midfielder added to his burgeoning reputation at the FIFA Club World Championship Japan 2005, scoring the winning goal against Sydney in the quarter-finals, impressing against Liverpool in the semis and ending the tournament clasping the adidas Bronze Ball award.
"He has pace and skill and is prepared to shoot when he cuts inside," raved former Luton Town and Tottenham Hotspur coach David Pleat in England's Guardian newspaper. "Saprissa looked overawed (against Liverpool), but Bolanos did not share those nerves. He wanted the ball and showed shrewd positioning by coming to receive from the touchline and then turning and facing defenders.
"Shielding the ball strongly he also had the courage and confidence to try the outside, and showed when he popped up on the right that he is comfortable on either wing and can cross to good effect from both flanks. He has a good physique and an all-important change of pace."
Tico testLiverpool, who defeated Saprissa 3-0, had seen enough and invited the player for a one-week trial within days of the tournament's conclusion of 18 December. Barely able to register what was happening to him, Bolanos, accompanied by Saprissa sporting director Jeaustin Campos, was whisked off to England's north-west to train with the five-times European champions. Paulo Wanchope was the first Costa Rican player to achieve any kind of success in England but, for the moment at least, Bolanos will not be the second.
"He did well in his time at the club but we decided he was not exactly the type of player we were looking for at the moment," said a Liverpool spokesperson.
Saprissa have revealed that the English side wanted Bolanos to play first in Spain in order to adapt to European football. "They told us that European football is different and the English game, with its greater contact and high balls, even harder to integrate in," said Campos. "But we are convinced of Christian's ability."
Meanwhile the player was left to contemplate the quick-fire succession of events as he boarded another long flight home.
"I felt a bit put out that the coach (Rafa Benitez) had doubts about me and that's why I didn't want to sell myself short," said the young international, who stands 1.78m (5ft 10in). "Travelling to Spain was not exactly what I wanted and I was sorry Liverpool didn't give me a chance to prove I could adapt. For me, the main difficulties would not have been football-related but day-to-day things.
"I don't feel frustrated. Quite the opposite in fact. it's given me the motivation to work harder and now I know exactly what I want in the future. I'm grateful Liverpool gave me the opportunity. It was an experience that will stand me well both as a player and as a person."
Back at the place where he began his career as a 16-year-old, Bolanos is determined to help the Purple Monster to more continental glory as they take on MLS' champions LA Galaxy. The midfielder, who came on as a substitute in the goalless first leg at the Home Depot Center in Carson, had probably the best chance of the match only to see his effort cleared off the line.
But he continues to win admirers. Among them Galaxy coach and former Tico boss Steve Sampson who, reports suggest, is hoping to bring the player to the MLS. However Saprissa's Mexican owner Jorge Vergara, who has introduced a no-foreigners rule to the club, will be intent on holding on to his main prize - at least until the World Cup.
Bolanos is a central component of Alexandre Guimaraes' team that will feature in Group A at the finals. And with Costa Rica kicking off the tournament with hosts Germany on 9 June, the club can expect to receive plenty more lucrative offers for the player when the next transfer window opens in Europe.