In the United States, sports competition is clear. Leagues such as the NFL (American football), NBA (basketball) and MLB (baseball) dominate the market and taste of fans. A little further back is fútbol -or soccer, as they call it-, which has made huge strides in recent years.
There are many factors behind the growth of the discipline in the country and among these figures the development of young talents, who come in football an opportunity to stand out in the sport above the traditional activities.
In the Month of Hispanic Heritage, a Latino emerges as a mentor who hopes to bring success to football in North American territory: Juan Carlos Hernández.
The 32-year-old Venezuelan has a professional license to work as a full-time coach. His base of operations is located in Houston, where he is part of the staff of Juventus Academy, the prestigious school in the state of Texas managed by the most successful Italian club in the local tournament.
In an exclusive interview with El Tiempo Latino, the young man of Uruguayan fathers explained what is behind his development, and how from a young age he began to see mentoring as a springboard to gain a space in the discipline.
For the Venezuelan, falling in love with football was not a difficult task; on the contrary, his parents are of Uruguayan origin, the organizer and champion of the first World Cup (he has led two in total) and the land of numerous figures who go beyond borders.
“My passion for football comes from the cradle. When I was born, the first thing they put on me was the Nacional shirt – one of the most popular teams in Uruguay – and I’ve had that fanaticism since I was a child,” he commented.
As the years passed, that love was shaped in its own way. He remembered that the environment added up to make it look like this: “My gifts were always balls. I had more balls than toy carts. It was crazy.”
Despite the fact that every child who dreams of being an athlete does so by being reflected in the stars of the moment, Hernández managed to go both ways without any problem, because while playing in minor categories, he learned the art of directing.
“My dad had a soccer academy in Caracas. As the group grew, I gave it to the little ones, who taught them how to train me,” he said. These labors began when he was only 13 years old.
After several steps in minor football, including indoor football and the first university stage, he decided to go to Uruguay, where football became his definitive profession; yes, he studied it thoroughly to become a full-time professional in the discipline.
The success in the sur
The Venezuelan arrived in the south of the continent at the age of 23. After settling down, he decided to take the step to specialize in the area and take a series of courses over the course of four years that certified him as a professional football coach.
To do so, he commented that four licenses must be obtained: the first two are obtained with six-month courses each. The next two, one year each.
Duality has always been a virtue. Just like when he was little he managed to play and direct, this time he got the opportunity to study and face the challenge of taking on the role of coach.
His first experience was at Club Atlético Bella Vista, of women’s football, in the year 2014. In his first season, he took out the B division team to take it to the top flight. In the following campaign he kept the players in the A, until he was called by the Colón Fútbol Club, also in the women’s, to bring his talent to said entity.
The 2016 season was running when Hernández made the jump in quality by becoming undefeated champion with his new team and getting the ticket to play in the Copa Libertadores Femenina. Con Colón reached the semifinals, the first time any Uruguayan women’s soccer club has advanced in the region’s most important continental tournament.
When asked about his journey in women’s football, he pointed out: “When you see him in the paper, he always enjoys the masculinity more because of his high level”; however, he assured that the feminine caught him.
“Up to a certain point, I think the players are much more compromised,” he said.
An unmissable opportunity
The success in his passage through Uruguay generated in him a desire to continue adding; however, he did not think that his arrival in the United States, specifically at the Juventus Academy, would happen so quickly and favorably.
“I came with my wife to visit her family. In a meeting I met the president of Juventus in Houston. We talked and he asked me for my resume. I sent it and they called me immediately. They reviewed my history and there I was given the opportunity to be part of the staff,” he said.
Weighed at the great opportunity and with a brilliant past, the Venezuelan explained that it was not expected: “I feel that it was a stroke of luck”.
Hernández was just a month away from turning 29 years old. At that stage of life it is estimated that the athlete is at a high peak according to his talent. In the case of the Venezuelan, he achieved it, although this time he was on the bench as a manager.
It ran in the month of October of the year 2019 when he was called by the academy in Texas, he got a three-month trial opportunity and until now he is still part of the staff of specialists.
“Hay que hacer las cosas bien, pero muchas veces necesitas ese golpe de suerte”, he explained.
On professional development
South American football is special. The players stand out for their irreverence in order to shine in sport, a topic that for talent hunters in Europe is pure gold. It is not for nothing that every year the market of countries has its own names of new talents native to that region and that are quoted at a high price.
Juan Carlos Hernández grew up with that mentality, who was nourished by it, but not without first adapting to what the discipline offers in the United States.
“(American football) opened my mind a lot. I was used to South American football, to resilience and desire for victory. Here there are many amenities that come in the court. Without underestimating American football, you can tell the difference when a child is Latino and when he is not,” he explained.
Such is the Hispanic influence in sport that he assured that in the academy they always seek between three or four Latino players for each team in order to generate greater competition: “The culture is different until certain point. Already in adolescence, everyone faces a little more towards success”.
Without neglecting studies
One of the aspects that most caught the attention of the Venezuelan coach in the Juventus Academy, and which he now strengthens with his knowledge, is the preparation of the smallest not only to make life in football; also in order to make them more and more complete in their efforts to obtain a university scholarship.
“For the majority of players in training, their objective is also to be able to grab a scholarship at a good university and then pursue professional football,” he said.
This led him, along with the rest of the trainers, to develop methods that today bear fruit. Last year, for example, of 10 young people from academia who applied for university scholarships, eight got it.
“Here the dream is not to debut at such an early age unless they give you a scholarship. This changes the point of view of the trainers, because the training becomes more specific. In South America, the focus is on solving in each party; in exchange here, if for example the player is a right winger, we help him to accumulate experience only in that position because he is going to fight against many in that position for a scholarship”, he argued.
About visiting South America and North America, he said that “each experience is different, but enriching”.
Proposal to grow soccer
About to complete three years in academia, Hernández heads a project proposed by himself. It is about Once upon a time (Había una vez, in Italian), through which a street court is set up for children to play with others, “of different ages and new people.” It’s something enriching.”
El norte está en “sumar no solo a los niños de la academia. The street program goes to everyone who wants to come, because the intention is to nurture American football.”
There, as well as in his journey since he took charge in 2019, he noted how idiosyncrasy is also responsible for shaping the player. The origin and environment are impossible to separate from the young talent: “The Latino is more aguerrido y luchador. The difference is noticeable when in a group you see that on one side there are those who seek to be good sportsmen and those who want to be good on the court”, commented Hernández, who pondered the values of young North Americans.
For him, it is important to “bring (to the academy) the rebellion that differentiates the South Americans” and he praised the work of the Hondurans and Venezuelans while he directed in the US.
Juan Carlos Hernández closed by answering how the ideal future would be for him in the discipline and if the United States would continue to be an option for him.
“I always visualize myself every five years. I would like to close this cycle (at Juventus Academy) in one or two years and there are two paths that I would like to explore. The first, a ticket for some university that plays in the first division. That would help me understand a little more at that level. The second, take advantage of the cargo with Juventus and thus obtain a more centralized one in Italy. I had the opportunity to travel twice and next season will be part of their camps, and that’s a great step”, he concluded.