Cevallos legacy in safe hands

Pursuing the same career path as your father is no easy task, least of all in football, where many youngsters with famous surnames make a conscious decision to strike out on their own, choosing to start their careers in a different position or a different club to their dads.

That is not the case of Jose Gabriel Cevallos, however. The second son of the popular former Ecuador goalkeeper Jose Francisco Cevallos, the U-17 Tricolor custodian, who will be representing his country at the FIFA U-17 World Cup Chile 2015, is determined to be just like his father, as he told FIFA.com.

“He was regarded as the best in the business,” said Cevallos Jr. “He played in the World Cup and he won the Copa Libertadores. Why wouldn’t I want to be like him?”

Such is the connection between Jose Gabriel and his father, who won 89 caps in his 21-year career, that he sometimes wears the same white cap and green shirt that Cevallos Sr wore when on international duty. It was a shirt that graced the biggest of stages in the early 2000s, when the keeper was Ecuador’s first choice in the qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan 2002™ and in the three matches they played at the finals proper.

Though Jose Gabriel was only four at the time, he was already honing his skills between the posts.

“I played in other positions in my age group and kept goal in older teams, but when I was eight I realised that I just wanted to be a goalkeeper, so that’s what I chose to do,” explained the tall 17-year-old, who has already trained with the first team at Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito. “My dad never forced me or suggested anything to me.”

Common ground In discussing what he has taken from his father’s game, the teenager said: “I try to speak in the same commanding way he did and I try to have the same focus and position myself like him. He didn’t need to dive around except when he had to make reflex saves because he was always in the right place.

“The one thing I do need to improve is coming out for crosses. He didn’t come out so far and he usually reminds me that it’s something I need to keep working on.”

Given the physical likeness between father and son, comparisons between the two are inevitable, not that Jose Gabriel minds that at all. So proud is he to be likened to his father that he even goes through the same routine before facing penalties, praying in front of the goal where the kick is to be taken.

That very ritual was one Jose Francisco performed to great effect ahead of the shootout that saw Liga de Quito crowned the 2008 Copa Libertadores champions against Fluminense at the Maracana.

Playing for Ecuador’s U-16s, Gabi did the same thing before keeping out a vital penalty in the final of the 2014 Copa Mexico de Naciones against Paraguay, a tournament his side won without losing a game and which ended with him being named the best goalkeeper.

That team has gone on to form the core of the side that has since booked a place at Chile 2015, with Cevallos playing a crucial part in their qualification, conceding fewer goals than any other keeper in the South American preliminaries.

Despite those notable achievements and despite being the son of the man they called Las Manos de Ecuador (The Hands of Ecuador), Jose Gabriel is not about to get carried away with himself.

“I never wanted to keep goal just because I was his son, and if there’s something I’ve learned it’s that I need to stay humble and keep my head,” he said. “I’m not the worst player when times are bad or the best when they’re good.”

Proud to be there Ecuador will kick off their Chile 2015 campaign against Honduras on Sunday 18 October in Group D, which also features Mali and Belgium. Helping Jose Gabriel prepare for the challenge is his older brother Jose Francisco Junior, a forward who played for La Tricolor at the U-17 world finals in Mexico in 2011 and who has since spent two years at Juventus.

“He told me to enjoy the World Cup as much as I can and not let the pressure get to me because it’s we’ve been preparing for since we were kids,” explained Jose Gabriel.

Ecuador suffered a 6-1 defeat to Germany in their opening match in 2011, a result that the young keeper and his team-mates are looking to learn from: “The team is united and we’re working hard on our tactics. The hardest part of our preparations, though, is the psychological side of things. We can’t feel inferior to anyone.”

An admirer of Germany’s Manuel Neuer and a fan of European champions Barcelona, Ecuador’s “Little Hands” is keen to forge his own destiny in the game, albeit without diverging too far from the path that his father followed to such good effect:

“I want to be what he taught me to be. I think that’s the best way of showing just how proud I am of him.”

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