Tigres UANL are unquestionably the team of the moment in Mexico. Boasting an array of seasoned internationals such as France’s Andre-Pierre Gignac, Argentina’s Nahuel Guzman and Mexico’s Javier Aquino, the Monterrey side are the reigning Apertura champions and finished runner’s up in the 2015 Copa Libertadores.
However, it is not just the experienced players at Tigres who have been responsible for this rich vein of form. At just 23, Jurgen Damm has also played his part in all of these triumphs and, ahead of his side’s CONCACAF Champions League semi-final second leg on Tuesday against compatriots Queretaro, he told FIFA.com: “It’s another opportunity to keep making history."
A score to settle Cast your mind back to July 2015, when football fans across the Americas were transfixed by the two-legged showdown between Tigres and Argentinian giants River Plater for the 2015 Copa Libertadores crown. And while Los Millonarios would eventually prevail, the final provided a stage for the region’s fans to marvel at the audacity and speed of the Tigres right winger, Jurgen Damm.
“Playing a final at the Monumental was an invaluable experience,” said the Veracruz native, whose memories of that game are understandably bittersweet. “The result remains a thorn in the side of those of us who were there. It was a chance to become the first Mexican side to win the Libertadores, and we didn’t take it. It wasn’t for lack of effort – we just didn’t know how to control the game. However, we’re looking forward to being able to make amends for that.”
If the rest of America only woke up to Damm’s sublime talents during that final, fans of Mexican football had known about the 6’1 (1.85m) wide man for some time. Tigres knew exactly what they were doing a few months’ earlier when they paid Pachuca a cool $8m for the winger’s services – at the time a record for a transfer between Mexican sides.
The new recruit hit the ground running at the Estadio Universitario, going on to provide two goals and seven assists in his 36 games to date and proving himself instrumental in the club’s recent successes. “In truth, it’s been an incredible year. This team is full of top players and experienced hands so I’m really proud to be among the starting XI at just 23. I’m also very grateful to Tuca Ferreti and his staff for the great confidence they’ve given me.”
History beckoning Damn’s impressive progression coupled with Tigres' achievements also earned him a call-up to Mexico's national team, for whom he has now played six times and scored twice - one coming in a vital 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifier against Honduras last November.
Yet the player knows very well the importance of taking it one step at a time in football. For Damm and his Tigres team-mates, this Tuesday provides a great opportunity to move a step closer to another of their objectives: playing at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2016.
“It’s a dream of ours to be able to represent our country in an international tournament of that standing,” admitted the pacy wide man. “First, though, we have to beat Queretaro at home on Tuesday. We drew 0-0 in the away leg so any win will see us through. It’ll be tough but we have a great deal of self-belief.”
Mexico, CONCACAF and then the world. For the young international, it would be a dream to go up against some of the best clubs on the planet and change the recent history of Mexican football. “We’re very close, so we want to qualify now and make our experience count against teams of the stature of Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Real Madrid. We know Mexican clubs haven’t done well at recent editions, so now it’s time to do something transformative.”
This mix of quality and the desire to break new ground has brought Tigres to within touching distance of the Champions League final, but for the player, the key to successes – past, present and future, lies elsewhere.
“We’ve got an amazing squad,” Damm said as the interview came to a close. “When you look around you and see so many top players, you might think it’d be a battle of egos. Yet it’s not like that at all. It’s a team in which everyone is well treated, regardless of his experience, and I think great credit must go to the coaching staff for instilling that.”