An eight-year-old Ecuadorian, caped in his finest clothes, waited patiently at the bus stop. When the vehicle arrived, he hopped on. Young Juan, however, was not dressed in a swanky school uniform, awaiting a ride to go and study towards earning exorbitant wages as a lawyer or doctor. He was, by contrast, wearing what was, personally, his Sunday best, but what would have been, to others, relative rags, hoping to employ his peachy voice to earn a few pennies that would help put food on his family's table.
“I came from a very poor family,” he told FIFA.com. “It was a real struggle for my parents to put food on the table. And my sister couldn't afford the bus fare to go to school. So me and my cousin used to go and sing on buses and earn a few coins from the passengers. With the little we earned, we bought food for our families and I was able to give my sister the money she needed for the bus fare. It made me very proud that I could help my parents.”
The proud ones now are his mother, Lastenia, and his father, Ivan. Juan's surname is Govea. He is presently representing his country on the magnetizing platform that is the FIFA U-20 World Cup. He is currently starring on it.
Pele, Maradona, Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi are all my heroes, but my biggest hero, by a long way, is my dad. Every blade of grass that I cover is for him.
The forward scored Ecuador's goal in their 1-1 draw with Australia. He then proved an incessant source of torment to the formidable Spanish defenders, despite his team's 2-0 loss.
“I'm quite pleased with my performances, but I always want to improve,” said Govea. “But what matters to me and the rest of the players is how Ecuador do. We have only one point but on the balance of play in the games, we deserved more.
“We have one remaining game [in Group C] and we simply have to win it. Costa Rica are a good team who like to play attacking football, and they have one outstanding player [in Joel Campbell]. Our defenders will have to keep a close eye on him, because if he gets space he is capable or hurting any team.
“But we are confident we can get the win we need. We didn't come here to go home in the first round. We came here to really do something special for Ecuadorian football. People are very, very passionate about football back home, and it would be great for them if we could get to the semi-finals, the final.”
If they do reach those fairy-tale stages, Govea's celebrity would amplify vociferously. The man from Deportivo Cuenca, whom his father played for, nevertheless stresses that having his praises sung the world over would not change him from the humble kid from Esmeraldas, an industrially beggared seaport on Ecuador's north-west coast.
“I haven't changed since becoming a footballer. I've had no reason to. I'm just another person. I'm humble, I'm from a humble city. I still have many of the same friends from my childhood, and they're all really happy for me. I'm very grateful for their support. I have ambitions in football but regardless of what I achieve, I will always remain humble.”
Adapting to his burgeoning celebrity is, perhaps, not the easiest task for such an unassuming youngster. But adaptation is something Govea has had to master since establishing himself in the Cuenca team: two years ago, as a teenager, he became a father to a baby girl. And while two-year-old Alison means the world to him, it's another family member who most occupies his thoughts when he enters the field.
“Pele, [Diego] Maradona, Cristiano Ronaldo and [Lionel] Messi are all my heroes, but my biggest hero, by a long way, is my dad. He has given me everything. He taught me how to be a footballer and a person. I love and respect him so much. Every time I walk out on to the field I am playing for him. Every blade of grass that I cover is for him.
“He told me that he is immensely proud that I am playing at the [FIFA U-20] World Cup. He was emotional. It was the proudest moment of my life.”