Today marks 15th anniversary of Mexico's first U-17 world title
Cesar Villaluz was instrumental in that success
"We paved the way for other young players to follow"
Although it has been 15 years since El Tri’s maiden World Cup triumph, for Mexican fans the memories are as vivid as ever. While the splendid denouement came on 2 October 2005, the road to glory began on 16 September, when Mexico defeated Uruguay in their opening game of the FIFA U-17 World Cup Peru 2005.
"It was the happiest moment of my career," says Cesar Villaluz in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. "I still remember it like it was yesterday. It’ll always be a major achievement for us, and it's very nice that our fans still remember it fondly even with the passage of time."
Jesus Ramirez’ young charges got better and better as the competition progressed. After finishing second in Group B behind Turkey, they were imperious in the knockout phase, conceding just a solitary goal – against Costa Rica in the quarter-final. El Tri then swept aside the Netherlands 4-0 in the last four before claiming gold with an emphatic 3-0 win over Brazil in the final.
That world title was the culmination of a successful project to develop youth football in Mexico and would pave the way for a second title in this category in 2011, as well as second-place finishes in 2013 and 2019. A key contributor in that maiden triumph was Cesar Villaluz, who not only weighed in with goals but created them too.
"The preparation for that World Cup played a very important part in our triumph. Huge emphasis was placed on the mental side of things, while the physical aspect also worked quite well. It was the first long-term project with one of our youth teams and that helped us have a more uniform playing style and get to know each other better on the pitch."
Finished second in Group B with six points (wins against Uruguay and Australia; defeat to Turkey)
16 goals for, 3 against
Giovani dos Santos took the adidas Silver Ball
Carlos Vela won the adidas Golden Boot with five goals
Villaluz, along with Dos Santos and Vela, was one of Mexico’s most influential players at Peru 2005, scoring three goals. Unsurprisingly, it was performance that gave a considerable boost to his bourgeoning career.
"It really helped me to go back to Mexico and break into the first team [at my club]. I made my professional debut at 17 with Cruz Azul, whereas young players traditionally had to wait until 23 or 24 for their first-team breakthroughs. We helped fast-track many of these processes. Now there are 17- and 18-year-olds who are already debuting and establishing themselves. Foreign transfers of young players also became more common and now Mexico is exporting young talent to Europe."
His time at one of Mexico's most popular clubs was marked by a period of attractive football. Unfortunately, however, this was not reflected in titles.
"If I could change one thing in my career, it would be to turn championship runners-up spots into titles. If we’d managed to do that, I’d have become a symbol of Cruz Azul for helping them win those titles and end a championship-drought going back to 1997. That would’ve completely changed my story."
Now 32, Villaluz is the first to admit that his career has had its share of lows as well as highs.
"I’ve had a broken fibula, and the feeling is the polar opposite to what we’ve been talking about. You immediately question whether you can keep playing, or if your career is over... One day you're playing football and the next you're in a hospital bed. And there you’re acutely aware that a football career can end just like that. So you value what you have, which is football itself."
With the benefit of this experience, he is more than happy to pass useful advice on to the next generations:
"If you have a dream – if you've always dreamed of becoming a professional player, then fight for it every single day. The only people who can set limits for us are ourselves. That said, you need to work very hard to make it happen."
What does the future hold for him? "Because of the pandemic we’re currently experiencing, I decided to leave Guatemalan football and return to Mexico. We’d just been in a final there but lost. These are complicated decisions, but let's hope it works out for the best. Right now, I hope I can keep playing for a few more years. The age when you start thinking about retirement is approaching. Then it’ll be time to consider things like becoming a coach or manager."