Morelia's Erick Aguirre dreaming of Olympic glory with Mexico
GUADALAJARA -- Type the town "La Ruana, Michoacan" into an internet search engine, click on images and the impression you get is of a place that is or has been in the midst of some kind of civil war. The town and the complicated situation it has gone through in Mexico's ongoing battle against drug cartel-related violence is also the place that Monarcas Morelia's 19-year-old starlet Erick Aguirre calls home. While other players head for the beaches of Cancun, Miami or Los Cabos when the soccer season is out, Aguirre returns to visit his family, who have remained in La Ruana through the troubles.
"When I read the news (about reports of violence), it is a bit difficult," Aguirre admitted to ESPN FC in an interview in Guadalajara last Friday. "I'm witness to the fact we are hard-working, very humble, very loyal people. Further down the line, I'm sure we'll get over this and it will be the same town as always with peace, hard-workers and happiness."
Aguirre isn't just any player, either. The Morelia youth product is considered one of the best Mexican players in his age group and is in line to be chosen to play at the Olympic Games this summer in Rio de Janeiro, despite also meeting the Under-23 age restriction for the 2020 games in Tokyo.
Mature beyond his years in his use of the ball, Aguirre is still lacking in the physical department, which has been evident at times during the 32 first-team Liga MX matches in which he has played for Morelia. But that side of his development should naturally come.
What is difficult to teach young players is something Aguirre seems to innately possess, namely a perception of space, of the players around him and the vision to spray passes around the pitch.
"With time he will get to the full national team," said Morelia's experienced manager Enrique Meza, when asked by ESPN FC. "He's a great player with knowledge of the game and resources that make him different as a 19-year-old."
Featuring mainly as a ball-playing central midfielder at club level and a right-back with the national team, the player himself says he is completely comfortable either as a full-back or holding midfielder and won't commit his future to one or the other. But his admission that Andres Iniesta is the superstar he most admires seems to hint at a more central role moving forward.
While Iniesta's career trajectory is something Aguirre can only dream of and work towards, the Mexican's game does bear some initial resemblance.
"Aside from his distribution of the ball and his vision, I admire his humility off the pitch," explained Aguirre.
Next up for Aguirre and Morelia is a home game on Saturday against high-flying Pachuca, who has a number of youngsters Aguirre knows well from his career in youth national team camps. Morelia is a surprise playoff contender under Meza after three consecutive wins, but the real aim is staying up after the 2017 Clausura, with Mexico's points-per-game relegation system meaning the side from Michoacan is likely to struggle next season.
Come August, if all goes well, the Olympics will be the main focus for Aguirre, although things didn't go so well for Mexico's U-23 national team in their trip to Portugal last month, with the side losing 2-1 to Japan and 4-0 to the Portuguese U-23 national team.
"Obviously we want the results to be in our favor, but those results made us see what we still lack technically and tactically," surmised Aguirre.
With El Tri defending the gold obtained in London four years ago, Aguirre believes the side can once again make the medal podium, despite there being some concern in Mexico after the recent results and a relatively difficult group alongside Germany, South Korea and Fiji.
"We all know we have a very strong group and competition, aside from being loyal, is fierce among us," he stated. "I believe that will help us to keep getting better. More than being excellent footballers, they are excellent people."
The future for Aguirre appears bright and he doesn't seem to be the type to let a little bit of success go to his head, even if scouts from abroad are undoubtedly keeping a close eye on him.
Just maybe, a few years down the line, when someone types "La Ruana" into a search engine in some remote corner of the world, the images of violence and protest will be replaced by those of Aguirre -- who dreams of playing in Europe -- plying his trade successfully in a foreign land.
Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.