The Copa América has kicked off and expectations are running high for Juan Guillermo Cuadrado – as well as James Rodriguez and Radamel Falcao. The 27-year old player has had a tough second half of the season since his transfer to Chelsea, but he is fresh and eager to prove he is still a top class player, and will be a huge asset to the Colombian team in Chile. The Bogota Post looks back on his early years
The fact that Juan Guillermo Cuadrado made it as a professional footballer could be seen as a miracle in light of his childhood. When he was only four years old, his father was killed by an armed group in the violent environment of his hometown Necocli. His mother Marcela Bello, now head of the family, worked in the bananeras of Apartado, cleaning and packing bananas to make a living and pay for Juan Guillermo’s football school.
Sometimes, he helped his mum with her job, pasting stickers on to bananas. Marcela describes how he accompanied her to night classes, she studied while he slept by her side. That was how she was able to finish high school. When Marcela moved to Apartado for work, Cuadrado stayed with his grandmother so that he could continue at school.
But it wasn’t long before Cuadrado joined his mother in Apartado. She had found a football school called Manchester Fútbol Club and so he went to play in the red Manchester United tops. Cuadrado has since set up his own foundation in Medellin which helps more than 100 children.
At a very young age Juan Guillermo showed great skills with the ball and he stood out wherever he played. His biggest problem was his stature: he was very short and slim for his age so clubs were hesitant to add him to their academy. However, a youth trainer for Deportivo Cali, Nelson Gallego, saw beyond his size and invited him to the Cali academy.
Gallego remained an important figure in Cuadrado’s life, taking him to Independiente Medellin, where he made his professional football debut. On September 14, 2008, he scored his first goal as a professional player against Boyaca Chico. He had two successful seasons in Medellin before Italian team Udinese signed him in 2009.
However, the cold of northern Italy was hard to get used to for the Antioquia-born winger, so they sent him to Lecce on loan. While there he won an award as the ‘player with the most dribbles in Serie A.’ But in spite of some sterling ballmanship, he and fellow countryman Luis Muriel couldn’t prevent them from dropping out of Serie A.
Fiorentina were very keen to keep Cuadrado in the top tier of Italian football, and he soon became the star of the Viola team. Further success followed as the skilful winger proved to be one of the sensations at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
In this year’s January transfer window, Chelsea manager José Mourinho made the 26-year old a primary target.
He moved to the UK in February this year, but while he shone as a child in the red top of Manchester Fútbol Club, he hasn’t yet been able to dazzle with The Blues in London. Chelsea have already won two titles with Cuadrado – the English Premier League title and the Capital One Cup – though the Colombian player has been mostly on the bench.
Cuadrado remains one of the undisputed main players for Los Cafeteros in Chile, and wily Argentine Pékerman continues to have a lot of confidence in him. Colombia will be eagerly hoping to see him return to the level that got him his transfer to Chelsea.
Make sure not to miss our Copa América special and our correspondent’s thoughts on Colombia’s first match against Venezuela
By Juan Camilo Giraldo