"LIONEL MESSI IS A 'GENIUS AT WORK' ON THE PITCH AND A VERY NICE GUY AS WELL"
He is just 22 years old, an attacking midfielder in the Bolivian national team, immensely popular in his country and a Beerschot player for three days. Ramiro Vaca his name is. His new job to star in midfield, setting up and scoring goals and guiding Beerschot from the relegation doldrums to safety and mid table. It looks like a tough job for the youngster but Vaca is confident and not scared. "I have set myself three main goals", he said during his official presentation in the Olympic Stadium on Wednesday. "Make the breakthrough in European football. Become an important player for Beerschot. And gain experience in a totally different life and football culture."
How does a young Bolivian footballer end up at Beerschot?
"An email from Jan Van Winckel got the ball rolling. My dad and I were immediately charmed and after googling Beerschot and gaining further information on the club's official website and social media I was convinced. It was a nice offer and when I heard all those positive stories from Hernan Losada on the club's history, the atmosphere, the fans and the popularity of South American players who previously played for the club I decided to go for it. I have always had the dream to become a professional footballer in Europe; so that was the ultimate motivation. Also Belgian football is very popular and highly regarded internationally. Also in Bolivia."
And now you are here, in Antwerpen. At Beerschot. Is it your first time in Europe?
"No, I visited France with the Bolivian national team earlier, in Nantes. But that was just for two days of course. Now, here at Beerschot, it's for real. Living on my own in a foreign country, trying to make the grade as a professional footballer and gain experience as a human being. These are nice challenges. I have already learned taking care of myself when I left my home town Tarija to go and play football for The Strongest in La Paz. I didn't see my mum and dad, as well as my younger brother and sister very often then. And now the distance is much longer... but I hope my parents will be able to come and visit me in Antwerpen soon."
What are your first impressions?
"What a beautiful city Antwerpen is. And I received a warm welcome at Beerschot. Everything is so nice and clean here, very well organised too. Beerschot's kit man Seba is my rock at the moment. He speaks fluently Spanish, takes care of me with all kinds of things, tells me what to do and not to do. In short: he is a perfect guide and makes sure I settle in. Communication is in Spanish. I understand English but feel not confident enough yet to speak it. I will be taking evening classes as soon as possible; English first and then eventually French and/or Dutch. We'll see how it goes. Some team mates speak a bit of Spanish though, which will speed up my integration in the squad. Everyone is super friendly here."
You are the only Beerschot player who has played against Lionel Messi. How did that go?
"I couldn't believe my eyes that night. His ball handling, his movements, his individual actions... it all went so quick, so easy. On top of that he thinks twice as fast as anyone else. Lionel Messi is a genius who can hardly be stopped. And a nice guy as well as I was able to speak to him after the final whistle. He was friendly, spontaneous, not distant at all. It really was an unbelievable experience."
What do you expect from playing in the Belgian Pro League?
"A different kind of football, although you can't underestimate the Bolivian level either. Here in Belgium it will be a bit more tactical I suspect but I am not worried at all about that. By playing with the Bolivian national team I saw and experienced a lot of different styles of football, so I will adjust to whatever type of football our coach prefers to play. When will I be making my debut for Beerschot? That is in the hands of the coach of course. This Saturday already, or two weeks later? I don't know and will see. Next week however I have to fly to Bolivia again to play a couple of qualifying games for next year's World Cup. Tiresome? Not really. I am extremely proud when I can play for my country. It motivates me big time."
And then full focus on Beerschot I guess? Do you know the Beerschot supporters have always had a soft spot for South American players? Luciano, Cruz, Losada, Colman, Kagelmacher,... they have all become extremely popular here and icons for the club.
"I have been told so and also Hernan Losada mentioned it when he promoted Beerschot. I hope I can follow in those players' footsteps. It would be such a nice feeling when the fans take me to their heart."
Do you see your stay here at Beerschot as a stepping stone in your career?
"I am not thinking about the future right now. My one and only ambition is to perform well for Beerschot and fulfill my and the clubs ambitions. I am over the moon with my three year contract, want to make the grade, play as much as possible and be decisive. And then we'll see what happens next."
By Danny Geerts