LAFC’s José Cifuentes advocates for school football programs in Ecuador – NBC Bay Area

Some of the world’s biggest football stars take to the stage for the first time at a fifa world cup this November – one of these newcomers being Jose Adoni Cifuentes.

Cifuentes, nicknamed Cifu by those close to him, is a midfielder for FC Los Angeles and the national team of Ecuador, which has in fact just received permission to participate during the 2022 FIFA World Cup following a complaint filed by Chile.

At just 23 years old, Cifuentes has proven to top the charts as one of the greatest football players to ever emerge from the country without Ecuador’s World Cup.

Let’s see how one of LAFC’s top scorers got into the sport:

Born in a poor town, his football dreams were slim

The young star was born and raised in the small town of Esmeraldas, known for being a very low-income area with one of the highest poverty rates in Ecuador.

Nevertheless, the city has the greatest biodiversity and breeds some of the best football players in the country’s history – one of them being Cifuentes.

School wasn’t always a priority

For the Ecuadorian footballer, school hasn’t always topped his must-have list. Cifuentes “always knew his top priority was football,” said Eric Alvarez of LX News.

It is difficult for a youngster to go to school while pursuing elite football activities in Ecuador.

“Finding elite competition usually requires a teenager to move to a big city. And that move is usually to a demanding football academy that doesn’t provide money or plans for personalized education,” Alvarez said.

Consequently, Cifuentes dropped out of school before finishing college to pursue football, which he explained was worrying for his mother, who always urged school to come first.

“My mom didn’t finish elementary school, so she and my dad worked really hard so we could finish school,” Cifuentes said in an interview with LX News.

Cifuentes and her mother were clearly on conflicting paths when it came to prioritization, so the two had no choice but to reach a compromise.

“I would finish my homework and go straight to the football pitch,” Cifuentes said.

He will do so for five years before being offered an even greater opportunity to optimize his football skills while simultaneously continuing his education.

Watch the second part of the fourth episode of the My New Favorite Futbolista, Telemundo and LX News bilingual podcast on the FIFA World Cup.

Cifu’s talent grew and so did the demands of her passion

To his mother’s relief, an opportunity presented itself to Cifuentes as his footballing talent became more and more evident.

When he was 11 years old, his football career began to change course. People were starting to notice his talent and tenacity. Eventually, he was offered the opportunity to enroll in a football academy six hours from his hometown of Esmeraldas, to Quito, the capital of Ecuador.

“Esmeraldas just didn’t have the resources that a big city offered,” said Juan Pablo Angel, a former Colombian soccer player and current LAFC consultant.

This chance would allow Cifuentes to pursue both football and further his education – which of course was ideal for him and his parents.

“If he stayed at home, he would have risked slowing down his progress and ruining his dream of playing professional football,” added Angel.

“For many Ecuadorians, moving to a big city is a way to get closer to a better future,” Alvarez said. “This is precisely what Cifu experienced.”

Cifu’s career took off, but things didn’t go as planned

Cifuentes’ career was exploding with potential. After a few years at the Quito football academy, he was asked to join an even more intense academy. However, the new terrains did not prove to be suitable for the Cifu.

“Seven or eight games have passed and I haven’t played,” Cifuentes said. “I called my mom and said, ‘Mom, send me some money for my ticket home. I’m going to be hungry here. I want to play, but they won’t let me,’ and my mom said, “OK, I’ll buy you a ticket for tomorrow”.

His mother would, on one condition: that Cifu promise never to set foot on a football pitch again.

The young football star couldn’t stand kicking himself out of anything football related for the rest of his life, so he politely declined his mum’s offer and stayed at the academy.

“That’s when everything changed,” Cifuentes said.

He returned to the academy with pessimism about his game time, but was assured by one of his teammates that things would change and he would get the time he deserved.

Ecuadorian footballer José Cifuentes explains why English was his least favorite subject growing up and what his favorite English words are today.

The trip to the Ecuador national team

As Cifu patiently waited for her moment to prove herself on the pitch, the Ecuadorian national team began to face their own struggle.

Cifuentes’ current agent Cristian Reinoso told the Ecuadorian coach at the time that the team had to find new talent or they would never recover.

Reinoso intended to share promising players with the Ecuadorian team, but he knew he would have to do a lot more than convince the coaches. Reinoso was going to have to convince the families of those miners, which we already know proved difficult for Cifuentes the first time around.

Reinoso had a brilliant idea.

“Together with Aucas, one of the strongest football clubs in Ecuador, and the private John Osteen College high school, Cristian started a free education project called Fútbol Estudio,” Angel said.

As part of the program, teachers traveled to specific soccer training facilities to teach athletes. From 8 a.m. to 5:40 p.m. daily, Fútbol Estudio used an “express” high school curriculum to properly educate young athletes on their way to professional soccer careers.

Cifuentes was one of the first students to complete the program, earning a final mark of 8.18 out of 10, eventually paving the way for his entry into the Ecuadorian national under-20 team in 2019.

Once a needle in a haystack, now an inspiration

Despite the obstacles thrown his way, Cifuentes has achieved the caliber of play he always knew he could. In 2019, he took part in the FIFA U-20 World Cup where he scored what was named “Goal of the Tournament” and one of the FIFA’s “Top 10 Goals of the Year”.

Cifuentes always takes the time to look back on his journey with gratitude.

As someone whose life has been changed by an opportunity, the 23-year-old star now speaks about the importance of access to education – even amid chasing football dreams – for young Ecuadorian children with big dreams.

“Now I can help financially so that other students from similar backgrounds can get scholarships to continue their education,” Cifu said. “Knowing that there is a boy or a girl who will graduate and soon play abroad to represent Ecuador is wonderful.”

Monserrat Creamer, who served as Ecuador’s education minister from 2019 to 2021, describes Cifu as a leader for young people who intend to follow in his footsteps.

Cifu raises “the self-esteem of our country, of our children. And it breaks the vicious cycle of low expectations, low results and low self-esteem,” Creamer said.

Every time he returns to his home country of Ecuador, he makes time to see the children enrolled in the Fútbol Estudio program.

“I visit every time I return to Ecuador. Because of the support, the trust they gave me,” Cifu said. “Because when I thought I couldn’t continue studying in 2015, they gave me an opportunity.”