Postcard from Mexico: New Yorker joins Boca Juniors
GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Boca Juniors first inquired about 16-year-old American midfielder Nick Gaitan back in August, pestering him about joining the famous youth system that produced legends of the game such as Diego Maradona.
Finally, Gaitan can announce that early next week he will be flying south to Buenos Aires to join the club he has loved since he was five years old.
“It’s not every day a kid gets to play for Boca Juniors, especially an American kid,” Gaitan told MLSsoccer.com over the phone from New York on Wednesday.
The Long Island native has played for the best part of the last two years in Argentinos Juniors youth system, turning down the chance to join US Soccer's famed U-17 residency program in Bradenton, Fla., so the trip to Argentina won't be anything new for him or his family.
Still, this time it is clearly different.
“I’ve been a Boca Juniors fanatic since I was five years old,” said Gaitan, who speaks fluent Spanish. "This was always my dream to play for Boca Juniors and now it’s coming true, so it’s a great feeling."
The defensive midfielder’s mother is clearly excited about the move, Gaitan said, but his father, Adrian, has not been keen to show any outward emotion at the prospect. That's mostly because he is a huge River Plate fan and the divide that splits Buenos Aires also splits the Gaitan clan.
Father and son have to watch the Argentine Superclásico between Boca and River separately, “because we fight,” admitted Gaitan, who had trials at Liverpool, Newcastle and Sporting Lisbon before joining Argentinos Juniors.
Pressed about the possibility of his father donning a Boca shirt at the famous La Bombonera stadium should his son one day make his first-team debut in the Argentine first division, Nicholas isn't optimistic.
“He’d show up to the stadium, but he’d definitely not wear a Boca Juniors shirt,” he said. “That’s for sure.”
Banter aside, there is no doubt Gaitan’s family background has aided him in becoming the rising star that piqued Boca’s interest.
Gaitan’s father had a spell at River Plate, played for the NASL Fort Lauderdale Strikers, had stints in Belgium and France and is technical director at Long Island-based Albertson Soccer Club. The 16-year-old midfielder’s grandfather also played professional soccer in the Argentine first division and has coached in the US.
In short, and as he himself acknowledges, soccer is in Gaitan’s blood.
“I was born with the ball,” he said.
The footballing icon Gaitan most admires is Juan Román Riquelme, and the young American says he was slightly star-struck on the couple of occasions the two have crossed paths. Not that Gaitan is seeking game to replicate Riquelme’s style of play on the field.
“I play defensive midfield, so I win a lot of tackles,” he emphasized. “I’m not afraid to tackle, I love tackling. I’m not the type to stand out, score three goals and meg somebody. I’m very simple, but I’m very technical and very good with the ball.”
US national team fans will be pleased to note Gaitan has represented the US from the U-14 level upwards. He attended a U-18 camp last month, and is happy within the US setup. Perhaps in part due to his family’s experience in the game, Gaitan seems to have his feet firmly on the ground while maintaining major ambitions for his career.
“I want to play in the first division, whether at Boca Juniors or in the MLS or in Europe,” he said. “Also, I’d like to represent my country in a World Cup.”
Well aware that you can't run before you can walk, Gaitan is focused on turning pro at Boca for now and seeing where the ride takes him.
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.