Veteran Gallito Vazquez hopes to bring winning pedigree to Santos Laguna
When Jose Juan "Gallito" Vazquez describes how he wants to be remembered, he doesn't worry about what he has accomplished on the playing field, although it has been remarkable -- two consecutive league titles with Leon in the 2013 Apertura and 2014 Clausura and one with Chivas in the 2017 Clausura. "First, I want to be remembered as the great human being I have been, that's the trace I always want to leave wherever I set foot and whomever I speak with. This one is important. And afterwards, the people will decide how they want to remember my skills."
This past offseason, Vazquez was sent to Santos Laguna in a deal that saw one of Santos' main young prospects, Gael Sandoval, land in Matias Almeyda's team. His day-to-day challenge will be to work hard to put Santos once again in playoff contention, but without taking his eyes off the possibility of convincing Juan Carlos Osorio that he has what it takes to be part of Mexico's national team for this summer's World Cup.
"I'm very happy for this new chapter, this new opportunity," Vazquez told ESPN FC about his move to Santos. "The team is in great shape. We have a great group and a coaching staff that's working well." However, he doesn't forget his time at Chivas, where in the 2017 Clausura he helped the club win the league and cup double. "I learned many things. One of them was to appreciate my teammates' friendship. The group was amazing, and we were all Mexican. I left the club feeling happy but sad at the same time."
At first, his departure from Chivas was questioned because Vazquez's contributions in the midfield are well known and regarded in Liga MX. As a defensive midfielder, Vazquez is a player that provides a lot of stability, but at the same time, Almeyda needed to add more spark to Chivas' attack. The spark came in the shape of Sandoval.
Vazquez provides a vast amount of experience, most of which includes success. At all the clubs he has played for -- Celaya, Leon and Chivas -- he has won silverware, but when he reminisces on those successful times, it is the ones with Leon, which he cherishes the most.
"All championships leave a different saborcito (taste), but in all I was there 100 percent, extremely happy. But to help a club [Leon] get promoted from Liga de Ascenso to Liga MX and then play in first division, there are no words to express all the gratitude for the opportunity," Vazquez recalled. "The club spent 10 years in second division and right away after getting promoted we won back-to-back titles, 'Uyyy!' the city went crazy. All those memories are still with me, and in Guadalajara, to win the league and cup was incredible. I still remember how the Minerva was, and it felt special because I scored a goal in the [Liga MX] final. Each celebration had a certain style, but all were important to me."
But for Vazquez to finally get his shot in the big leagues, it took time, a pinch of luck, but also a lot of patience. It wasn't easy for him to become a professional and make his First Division debut with Leon on July 21. 2012. "It's very difficult [to become a professional in Mexico]. I played in Tercera, Segunda, Liga de Ascenso before getting to First Division. A lot of my friends and teammates couldn't make it.
"There's a lot of talent, but many get lost in the journey. They get an opportunity and think that they've made it, but in reality they haven't. This career goes day by day. You have to leave your heart on the field every day, take care of your body and do lots of other things. If you do all this, you'll be ready for when the opportunity comes and all you have to do is take advantage of it."
In this difficult journey of finding his First Division opportunity, Gallito almost gave up. His older brother came up to him one day and made him an offer to work in the United States. In that instant he had to decide whether to stay in Mexico to continue his football dream or head north of the border to make money, so he could provide something to his family back home.
"In my family, we are a lot of members. There's a lot of cousins, uncles, aunts, and many of them have gone to the United States to work. A lot of my brothers left to work over there, and one of them offered me the possibility to work in the U.S.," his voice cracked. "There was a moment where I wasn't helping my family; I wasn't providing anything.
"I began to doubt if I should keep on playing, or if I should start working. I wanted to start winning money, so I could buy me a house and help out my family, but at the end I decided to stay.
"I stayed in Mexico to follow my football dream."
Only two years later after making his Liga MX debut, Vazquez was in Mexico's starting XI in the 2014 World Cup. Alongside Real Betis' Andres Guardado and FC Porto's Hector Herrera, Vazquez formed a strong Mexico midfield during the group stage.
"Every position in that team was very disputed. All the lines, whether offensive or defensive, were in good shape because we trained hard. I remember that we would finish training and afterwards all of us would go to the gym. We were making a lot of sacrifices, and you could tell that everyone was sharp.
"We had to rest as best possible because we always needed to work twice as good. So that's why our midfield looked so good."
In the Round of 16 game against the Netherlands, Vazquez couldn't dress, because he saw two yellow cards in the group stage. "I saw it from the stands and said to myself, 'there's a reason behind everything.' I would have loved to play in that game. I was desperate, wanting to jump onto the field, but you can't do anything about it."
Gallito hasn't given up on the dream of making the 2018 Mexico World Cup squad. "I work every day thinking about that opportunity," he says. If he does make it, much will depend on how he does at Santos and what he's able to immediately provide to his new teammates. But the quick assessment is that his inclusion in Osorio's final World Cup roster would be a miracle.
However, a player who plays and thinks like Gallito could provide a significant boost to the current national team. "Personally, I don't like to lose. Even when I play marbles, I always want to win. I hate losing, so that's why I train to win and always give my maximum," he reminds why he has been one of the most successful Mexican footballers of the current decade
Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.