“I wouldn’t name it strain now: I like it.” Chimy Ávila, the Osasuna striker and human wrecking ball whose astonishing story is written throughout his physique, unfiltered and humorous regardless of the sacrifice and struggling, photos himself on the penalty spot. He sees Seville, the Copa del Rey ultimate in opposition to Actual Madrid, one shot to ship his membership’s first ever trophy. And, inevitably, he sees Empalme Graneros in Argentina, the place he took so many, already taking part in for a residing lengthy earlier than turning into professional. “It’s tougher within the hood,” he says. On Saturday night time Thibaut Courtois gained’t be carrying a gun, for a begin.
Considered one of 9 kids, Ávila grew up in north-east Rosario in a neighbourhood the place, he says, you by no means knew when the bullets would fly, gangs fought and he, too, went armed. His dwelling had a tin roof that leaked when it rained and flew when it was windy, but in addition had a pitch simply exterior the door. “I might do something for my daughter to go and play barefooted the place I did, to come back again with a muddy face, stroll these soiled streets,” he says, and but if there’s fondness there was a concern that solid him, too. You need strain? On the market, the place clandestine video games have been staged, scoring was survival. “That is completely different,” Ávila says. “It is a problem, a pleasant one in opposition to the world’s greatest goalkeeper. Again then it might be in opposition to a goalkeeper with a gun round his neck.
“All these massive golf equipment have academies; mine was Empalme. I look again even simply seven or eight years and I didn’t count on to be right here, taking part in this ultimate. I anticipated to be taking a penalty at 4 o’clock within the morning so my household might eat. You’d exit at night time and there could be video games for cash. One on ones, penalties, bets positioned. ‘Play: 100.’ Folks flip up: ‘200 on the goalie’, ‘300 on the taker’. I inform children now to get pleasure from taking part in as a sport; as soon as there’s cash, it’s completely different.
“Skilled footballers are a sort of commodity, belonging to another person and within the barrio it’s related. You’re capturing in your ‘silver’ and this man’s ‘silver’, too, for different individuals, heavy individuals. A gang chief would come and say: ‘Take penalties for me.’ You’re not going to say no. If you happen to win, you understand they’ll offer you cash and I’ve siblings who want feeding. You place the ball down: a small purpose, individuals in the best way. The goalkeeper’s taking a look at you: ‘You need some?’ And also you assume: ‘If I rating, I’m going to eat all week. And if I miss …’”
There’s a second when Ávila talks concerning the buddies that have been killed or ended up in jail, temptations that weren’t at all times resisted, discussing prisons and the best way they have an effect on individuals’s lives. There’s a nostalgia for the best way Empalme was, an insistence that the poverty and crime are worse now in a spot the place it was “simpler to choose up a gun than a ball”. He’s taken some severe hits however he made it; maybe that was why.
There’s no pity, as a substitute riotous firm. Booming with laughter, Ávila talks a bit like he performs: crashing about, direct, by no means flinching, carrying you alongside. Therefore he cracks up when he reveals his idols to be Juan Román Riquleme and Toni Kroos – gamers that “don’t match me in any respect”. He says, someday, he wish to inform his small daughters all the things, but it surely’s not disgrace that stops him. “I’ve by no means been ashamed of who I’m.” Which isn’t the identical as having no regrets and he tells his story uncooked, the honesty startling.
Ávila reveals how his character was made: a energy, a dedication in-built poverty. He can’t stand meals being wasted or faucets left on. If he hears the cistern going he’s there lifting the lid, tinkering. His father had issues with addictions; he ultimately labored out that his mom’s “abdomen aches” have been simply an excuse to offer what little meals there was to her kids. Ávila had his first tattoo at 10, home made with a biro and a needle. He married Maria at 15. She, like Ávila’s mum, would drag him off the streets.
“Soccer pulled me out,” Ávila says. The choice was “bars or a field”. He talks about “future” now however someday he advised Maria it was by no means going to occur. When he was at Tiro Federal he was accused – wrongly – of stealing equipment and balls, booted out the membership alongside together with his brother and his mum, a cleaner there. He went two years with out kicking a ball however insists: “God provides us all a present. You don’t overlook what you’re keen on, what you have been born to do.”
Ávila did lots. “I pushed a trolley spherical, scavenging cardboard and scrap steel, labored as a bricklayer, a painter, I minimize hair, I did something.” Not less than it was sincere, he was not hurting anybody, which he had achieved. There have been guidelines: a code, he calls it, one whose loss he laments. However he talks about “misbehaviour”, dangerous firm, fights, weapons, “borrowing” issues. There was jail, too, a spot, he says, “the place everybody is identical. Severely there are thousands and thousands of harmless individuals who have been simply on the lookout for one thing. It’s laborious to struggle for a life, for cash, work, a mattress to sleep in, meals.
“In Argentina there are such a lot of good gamers however it’s simpler to discover a gun than a ball, they usually want somebody to belief them, give them an opportunity, the dream of being a footballer, somebody to offer them meals, boots. I might take you to see a sport in jail and you’ll have a greater time than watching Madrid‑Barcelona, I swear it. However nobody needs to assist. They see the cash, not the child.”
Jorge and Carlos Bilicich did, finding the opportunity Ávila needed. And, when his newborn daughter had a respiratory infection and suffered a cardiac arrest before a miraculous recovery, it changed him, too. After two years’ inactivity, his agents took him to San Lorenzo, which didn’t stop him returning to the barrio for games. “Me in this old VW Golf, 300km, going vvvvrrrrrrrm, smoke coming out the exhaust, just wanting to get back,” Ávila says, laughing. “I enjoyed those games even more than playing for San Lorenzo.”
Spain called. First Huesca, then Osasuna, Ávila convinced to join by the way the fans are. Noisy, committed, battlers like him. This is the club where Michael Robinson played, one he described as “soul, soul, and soul.” Successive cruciate ligament injuries kept Ávila out of action for 435 days but if he is anything it is a fighter. The second injury arrived when Barcelona came for him, yet there’s no concession in style and he calls that fate too, joking: “I just don’t want to be on a transfer list again or I’ll spend my life inside an MRI machine.”
Pamplona is his place now and here they are, in only the second final in the club’s entire history, achieved Ávila’s way: epic, overcoming the odds, an act of defiance, resistance. Survival. Osasuna needed extra time four rounds running; in the last 16 against Betis an equaliser in the 106th minute took them to penalties, where he scored the first. In the semi, he was introduced in extra time even though he wasn’t fit, and they found a way.
“Just my presence on the bench might have an impact on them,” Ávila says and, sitting next to him, with his thick neck, bulging thighs, knees the size of Navarre, scars scored into them, you can see why. “The manager said: ‘You’re going on.’ ‘But, mister …’ I was wearing sports socks and trainers. The kit man’s rushing about. I go on without warming up, like a fighting bull, just to see what I could catch. I remember the first pass from David García, gritting my teeth and chasing.”
The plan wasn’t to play but, exhausted, Osasuna needed him. Besides, they thought there was a shootout coming, just holding on, until Pablo Ibáñez somehow scored another extra-time winner. “I was on the list: first, always first,” Ávila confirms. At Seville’s Estadio Olimpico de la Cartuja, it will be the same.
So, has he studied Courtois? “Studied? I’ve never studied anything,” Ávila says, laughing. “It’s the goalkeeper that has to work it out.” He stops, leans into the recorder. “I hit it down the middle,” Ávila says, then cracks up. “Courtois!” he shouts, “it’s going down the middle!”
(An hour later, as he gets up to head home, jet-lagged family waiting for him, having flown in for the final, he sends the message again. “Don’t forget, Courtois! Don’t move: you stay right there!”)
“Thousand of feelings come together,” Ávila continues. “It’s nice to think about where I was seven years ago and now I’m playing the cup final with the best team in Europe. On that pitch you learn not to be scared, to finish quickly. When you won a game, you earned a meal and enjoyed it more for that. There are life lessons, too. True teachers are at home and I learned from their sacrifice. You learn to live with fear, need, happiness. We all have fear inside: sometimes we show it, sometimes we don’t. I work every day because my only fear now is to let down people near me, my mum. Those lessons, brought me here. Everything happens for a reason. It’s tough but it teaches you.
“Sometimes you don’t know why but nostalgia grabs you. Yesterday I was at home with my wife, my mum, sister, sister-in-law, niece, and you know that feeling where you’ve lost a conversation completely because you’re flying to some other place? I had that. I was thinking: ‘In two days, I’ll be playing a Spanish cup final. Back then that would have been impossible, impossible.’ You think: ‘How long the journey was, and across the desert.’ Now it’s close and I think to myself: ‘How beautiful it was to dream.’”
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