Not every football player earns millions of dollars, wears shiny clothes and drives in fancy cars.
Actually, most of them don’t. The majority of players must work extremely hard, in order to provide for their families and secure their own future.
Nowadays, almost every team has foreign players from Latin America, Africa, Asia, etc. Many of them are talented players that played most of their careers abroad, but never capped for their national teams. They are not millionaires, they haven’t signed commercial contracts and they do not have a Nike shoe named after them. They are the ‘football labors’, the true workers of this profession. They are almost always on the go. A call from an agent may lead to an international journey - Today you are in Russia, tomorrow in Angola and next week in Saudi Arabia. Wherever the contracts and agents will take you, you go.
Adrián ‘Carucha’ Fernández, 33, is a representative example of a ‘football worker’. His career took him through many countries, obstacles, peaks, people and adventures, but he never gave up on his values and goals. BabaGol had the pleasure to sit with Adrián for a cup of coffee and a long conversation about life in the football world.
Fernández grew up in San Martin, a tough and a poor neighborhood of Buenos Aires. Drugs, guns and crimes were part the daily life. A few of his friends, whom he played football with, are now dead or in prison. In his case the cliché is true; Football was his only ticket out of this reality.
Fernández attributes his work ethics in football to the environment his parents fostered at home, teaching and showing him and his siblings the value of hard work and education.
“I didn't have 7 pairs of shoes like my kids have today, thank god”, he says, tapping his kid’s head, ”I had only one pair and I had to protect it well. Back then, we only had the hunger in our stomachs - both for food and success- to keep us going”.
Nicknamed ‘Carucha’ due to his wide-rounded face, Fernández made his debut for local club Nueva Chicago when he was 17 and played there for five years. After he recuperated a knee injury, he spent a season at El Povernir, before his journey abroad began.
Chilean club, Colo Colo, was Adrián’s first stop outside of Argentina. As an anonymous Argentinean, he debuted at the Chilean Classico and played with a few of Chile’s greatest players. Arturo Vidal, Matias Fernández and Claudio Bravo, who were all wearing the Colo Colo uniform these days. Seven months in Chile’s biggest club were enough for him to become one of the fans’ all-time favorite—a repeating theme in his career since Adrián is a truly beloved character. “I am a very emotional person, and I give everything for the team. My teammates know that I’ll be there for them in any situation. I am not a star, because I am just not, but at every team I played for, I was an important player because of the things I brought to the field.”
His second team abroad was The Strongest of La Paz. The club had targeted qualification for the Copa Libertadores as their number one goal and Adrián was charmed by the idea of playing in the region’s top tournament. Unfortunately, they failed. After 12 games and 6 goals, Adrián left the club without a salary when the management couldn't meet his contract due to financial losses related to the failure in the Copa Libertadores. Luckily, Fernández impressed a German agent who saw him score a few goals. “Until then I never worked with agents, because I didn't want anybody to maneuver me or control me. For agents, football players are just numbers. They can send you to play in China or Siberia when there is nothing there, but if they got paid its fine, you are not ‘on their list’ anymore. With Billy, it was different. We had a good relationship.”
When the Bolivian adventure came to an end, he came back to Buenos Aires on the verge of a financial rock bottom, after months without a salary, to one of his career toughest moments.
“Billy asked me to send him two video cassettes of my highlights from a DHL office. When I was asked to pay for the shipment, I realized that this is it. I have few hundred Pesos left in my pocket, and this is it. It was the moment I asked myself: ‘Adrian, what are you doing? Where is this thing going?’. Eleonora, my wife, helped me and encouraged me to pull myself together. It was the hardest moment of my life because I understood that if I want to progress I must leave Argentina for good. I've decided that I must look only forward and never look back”.
So he did.
Since then, Fernandez traveled and played in Austria, Germany, Russia, United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, Bulgaria and Israel. During his travels, Fernandez has raised a family with his wife Eleonora, learned six languages, experienced new cultures and lifestyles and scored an enormous amount of goals.
“It’s very hard to adapt to a new place every year or two, but I am a nomad”, he laughs. “I didn't have an alternative. I was never offered fat contracts, so as a free agent, I needed the signing fee in order to live and save for. I am 33 now. I have been playing professional football for 16 years. It’s true that I am not rich and that I don’t have a lot of money, but I am rich in the manners of cultures, spirit and experiences. I could stay in Colo Colo for 5 years and win every title I want, but it didn't happened. I can be frustrated for it, but would I learn to speak six languages?”.
In Dubai, he played for Al Sha’ab and many of his teammates were multi-millionaires, who parked their Ferraris outside the training facility. In Switzerland he had great spells both with Schaffhausen and St. Gallen, and become a known striker in a European league; In Bulgaria, he learned the local language and culture. He also had his second child there. During his time in Chernomorets he scored 18 goals, passed 12 assists in 62 matches and also played in the Europa League. When the team’s sponsors disappeared and the club had a funding problem, Fernandez tried to go back to Switzerland after talks with Lugano, but eventually found himself in Israel.
In the past four seasons Fernández was a second division’ striker. He played for Hapoel Ramat Gan, Ramat HaSharon, Hapoel Petah Tikva and now for Maccabi Herzliya. Simultaneously, he also coaches the young strikers of Hapoel Petah Tikva’s youth department.
“Israel is my second home. Usually I change a country after two years and now it’s my fourth season here. It’s certainly a record”, he smiles modestly.
Like in every BabaGol Interview, Adrián answered the ‘Personal Football Questions’, but in an extended version.
What is your favorite position?
Forward, of course.
What is your favorite formation of a football team?
I think that there is no such thing like formations. It depends on the players you have in the team. As a coach, you must find the style of game that fits your players the most, in order to allow them to provide 100% of themselves, enjoy playing. Eventually, Football is a game of momentum.
Who is the best coach you had?
There are two. Rolf Fringer at St. Gallen and Krasimir Balakov at Chernomorets Burgas.
Describe Adrián Fernández.
It’s a sentence my father once told me. “I prefer that people will remember me as a great person than a great player. A good player is a good player, but a good person is someone who people remember as a friend, as a connection”. Well, that’s me.
What would you do if not for football?
I would either become a chef or a movie actor.
Who is your favorite team?
Nueva Chicago. There’s no other.
Who is your Favorite player?
Carlos Tevez. When I was a kid I liked Batistuta, Maradona and Ronaldo (‘El Fenomeno’).
What is your greatest football moment of all times?
My favorite moment was the promotion with Nueva Chicago to Primera Division. It was my dream, it was my family's dream. That was a moment of joy and pride.
What is your dream in football?
I have a football coaching project that I develop in the United States, but I don’t like to call it a ‘dream’. I prefer to call it a ‘goal’. Dreams are something we can’t touch. Goals are realistic and achievable.