For any young player making their way in the game, one of the hardest things to come to terms with is the difference in pressure between professional and youth football.
Up and coming Colombia striker Jeison Lucumi knows all about that. Having played a big part in firing his country to the FIFA U-20 World Cup New Zealand 2015, Lucumi is trying to help national heavyweights America de Cali recover the top-flight status they lost in 2011, a task he is relishing nonetheless, as he explained to FIFA.com.
“Playing for a big club and performing well for them has helped me an awful lot,” said the Cafetero No11. “I’ve gained valuable experience, I’m getting plenty of playing time and I’m not afraid to roll my sleeves up and push them team on if the situation dictates. It’s given me confidence and I’ve taken that with me into my international career.”
That international career will shortly see Lucumi appear in his first FIFA World Cup competition in New Zealand, where Colombia will take on Qatar, Senegal and Portugal in Group C. His side’s leading scorer in Colombia’s run to the runners-up slot at the South American U-20 Championship, the kid they call Lucumo believes they have every reason to be optimistic when the world finals get under way.
“We’ve got a solid foundation at the back, where we know how to defend and stay true to our identity as a team,” he explained. “We need to be more mobile up front, because when we are it makes life a lot easier for us.
The talented young Colombian, who struck four goals in the qualifiers, added: “We’re going there with the idea of winning the trophy. We’re working hard and we know what our strengths and weaknesses are.”
A match-winner with the ability to hurt the opposition with his searing diagonal runs, Lucumi is already being tracked by a number of European clubs. Despite his burgeoning profile, however, he remains grounded and is putting the team before any personal glory.
“Everyone tells me to keep my feet on the ground and not to think about things that won’t help me,” he said. “When I visit my friends back home, they tell me, ‘Don’t get too big for your boots!’. I’m working hard so I can do the best I can for my teams, not for me personally. And if my teams do well, then so much the better for everyone.”
Lucumi’s grandmother is one of his most trusted advisors, for a very good reason: “She’s not a great football fan but when I lived with her and wanted to start training, she went out and found a team for me.”
And so it was Lucumi started out in the game, at the tender age of four, playing at the Marroquin II football academy in the district of Aguablanca, in eastern Cali, and then moving on to a number of youth teams.
Then came three seasons with Boca Juniors de Cali, and though things did not go his way there, he kept working hard on his game and nurturing his dreams. A big English Premier League fan, he is a great admirer of Wayne Rooney: “He’s a fighter and he’s very direct. He carries the team and gives everything he has.”
Lucumi’s big break came at the age of 16, when he made his Colombian second division debut with Depor FC and was subsequently spotted by America de Cali, who took him on loan. He has stayed there ever since. “I’ve been playing in the second division since I was 16,” he explained. “I wouldn’t have done that if my coaches hadn’t given me confidence.”
Unpredictability is an integral part of Lucumi’s game, to the extent that it is hard to tell if he is naturally left- or right-footed. “My right is my stronger foot,” he confirmed with a smile. “I learned to use both by playing futsal. In training, Piscis (Colombia’s U-20 team coach Carlos Restrepo) always stresses how important it is to finish with quality.”
Quality is something Lucumi has in abundance, having started out as a playmaker, though he has now been deployed elsewhere: “When I began in the second division, they played me at full-back or out wide. Now I’m more of a wide man or forward.”
More than a game
With his pace and ability to get past people, the slender Lucumi is an obvious outlet for club and country.
“I don’t know if I’m a go-to man for America and the U-20 national team but I do know what role I have to play for both sides,” he said before explaining that he likes to keep out of the limelight. “I’m getting used to it bit by bit I suppose, but I don’t like being in the media that much. I prefer to keep a low profile.”
When he is not driving opposing defences to distraction, Lucumi likes to play dominoes with his cousins and friends or hang out with his eight brothers and sisters. “I love Playstation too,” added the rising Cafetero star, who has only just turned 20. “I’m always Real Madrid. I haven’t played myself yet because it would be a bit strange. I’d put myself up front if I could, though.”
Given the trail blazed by fellow countrymen James Rodriguez, Juan Cuadrado and Radamel Falcao, could Lucumi be playing for a European giant for real one day rather than on EA SPORTS™ FIFA 15?
“They’re great players and they’ve shown just how much talent they’ve got,” he said of his esteemed compatriots. “They’ve opened the way for us, for the ones who are coming through.
“It’s a really tough challenge but I think I’ve got what it takes and I’m working towards that goal. Time will tell, but what I want to achieve first of all is to help America get back to the top flight in Colombia."