MLS MVP Carles Gil’s football journey led him to success in New England


Professional footballers are constantly looking for the perfect situation. It is where the talent of the player, his role, the team, the manager and the city come together to allow this artist to show the best version of himself.

For some, this goal is achieved early in their career. For others, it never happens. For New England Revolution midfielder Carles Gil, it meant a winding path through several clubs in several countries, but he finally found his comfort zone, and after an exceptional season for the Revs, it culminated with the ‘announcement on Tuesday of his Major League Soccer MVP title. award for 2021.

“I’m very happy, but also for my team, my teammates,” Gil told ESPN. “I think this trophy bears my name because it is an individual trophy. But we do it together, right? Because we’ve had an amazing regular season. « 

There is also gratitude for what his move to New England has meant for him and his career.

“When I arrived I was at a time when I didn’t have that confidence,” he said. “I didn’t like playing football, and [New England] changed all of those things. « 

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Gil’s football journey began at the age of 5 with the club from his hometown Valencia. Among the youth coaches who noticed him were former US assistant and new FC Dallas manager Nico Estevez. While Estevez spent more time training Gil’s brother Ignacio, he recalls that Carles was a late bloomer due to his short stature. Some clubs wouldn’t have the patience to take a smaller player, but Valencia’s experience with another small playmaker in David Silva meant they gave Gil the time he needed.

Its size also had its advantages.

“When you play against pretty physical players you have to be smarter than them, you have to read the game faster than the rest,” Estevez told ESPN before taking over in Dallas. “You have to find a way to survive. « 

Estevez notes that the demands of a club like Valencia are high. Fans love nothing more than to see an academy player break through, but the club are also set to play in the Champions League and fight for the titles. Then there is the competition for places.

“Even Isco had to go to Malaga, then he went to Madrid,” Estevez said. “Portu had to go to Albacete, Girona and now to Real Sociedad. Juan Bernat is the one who could make it happen because his position in the first team as a full-back, there was a need at that time. It’s hard for you to be going to have minutes with the first team, and it was the same with Carles. « 

Gil was loaned to Elche for two seasons, including a successful promotion campaign in 2012-13, but that was not enough to make a consistent breakthrough with Los Murciélagos, and halfway through the 2014-15 campaign, he secured a transfer to Aston Villa. Gil admitted that the expectations of playing for his hometown club weighed heavily.

“It was difficult for me. I was so young. It was too much pressure for me, ”said Gil of his time at Valencia. “I played in my country, my city, being close to my family, to my friends. I don’t know why, but I felt the pressure, I didn’t feel comfortable. In Valencia, we had an important team, with Rodrigo, Alvaro Negredo, Andre Gomes, so it was very difficult to have minutes. And that’s why I left Valencia. I needed to change because I wasn’t feeling well. « 

Her time with Villa didn’t go much better. Manager Paul Lambert was fired shortly after Gil arrived, and replacement Tim Sherwood preferred a more physical presence amid a relegation battle. While the club avoided the drop this season, they weren’t so lucky the following campaign.

A move to Deportivo La Coruna followed, but the search for the perfect situation again proved elusive. He suffered another relegation at the end of the 2017-18 season, and he barely saw the field under then-coach Clarence Seedorf. His playing time increased in the second Spanish level, but his joy in playing was fading.

“Football is so physical, and sometimes you just don’t happen to win, [even if] you work hard, ”he said. “It’s not just up to you, but it was a tough time for me. « 

When news of Gil’s displeasure reached then New England coach Brad Friedel, he leapt into action. Friedel undermined his contacts at Villa, and they vouched for Gil’s ability and professionalism, although the deal nearly collapsed several times over the course of financial terms.

“Carles had to bend a lot to close the deal,” said Friedel, grateful to finally have a playmaker on the team. “He sees it two or three passes earlier than most. It has a very quick change. You know he’s left footed, and more often than not he’s going to go on his left foot, but he does it so quickly and with such cunning that it’s hard to stop. « 

But the deal eventually crossed the finish line, and despite the team’s early struggles that season, Gil quickly won over his teammates, not only with his ability and competitiveness, but also with his almost complete lack. ego. New England forward Teal Bunbury remembers meeting Gil for the first time at the team’s training camp in Marbella, Spain, and was immediately won over by the Spaniard.

« He had this humble self-confidence, and I just remember he came over and said, ‘Hey’ and in my mind I was like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna really love this guy,' » Bunbury mentioned. . “I just liked his behavior. A lot of nominated players came and went, and I got a feeling at that point there was going to be a special type of PD. Then we watched him train, I was like, ‘Oh, wow, this guy is on the next level, this guy is a DP that we need on this team, something really special.’ « 

Gil backed the DP tag every step of the way, winning the league’s Newcomer of the Year award in 2019. His numbers this season were bordering on staggering. His 20 assists led the league, and without an injury in the second half of the regular season, he could have threatened Carlos Valderrama’s record of 26 assists in a single season. Gil’s 136 chances created, according to ESPN Stats & Information, were miles. ahead of second-place Minnesota United’s Emanuel Reynoso, who had 97.

It helped that in New England everything lined up for Gil. He is surrounded by talented players like Adam Buksa, Gustavo Bou and – so far – Tajon Buchanan. The fact that the Revs are one of the best teams in the league means he spends a lot of time on the ball. He has a manager at Bruce Arena ready to hand over all the offensive responsibilities to him, although Gil’s defensive work rate is impressive as well.

“He gives me confidence to be an important part of the squad,” Gil said of Arena. “I think that’s why I’m having this great time with him. « 

And it must be said, he is in a league which is at a lower level than La Liga and the Premier League. The spaces are a little easier to find, the defensive pressure is slower to come. His past experience in England made it easier for him to adjust to life in the United States, although he doesn’t hesitate to thank his teammates for helping him in this process.

Estevez said Gil « finds peace in his mind. » Gil doesn’t argue, although the fact that the Revs, in the middle of a record breaking season, didn’t win the MLS Cup still motivates him.

“In football, you never know. Sometimes you’re looking for the perfect team, the perfect place, and you can’t find it because it’s not just you, that’s a lot, ”he said. “I find the perfect place to be happy, to enjoy, to improve myself, to try to do my best. And yes, now of course I want to rest to be ready for next season. We did a good job. We did it “I didn’t finish the way we wanted but I think this club gets better every year. Hope next year we will be a better team. « 

With Gil in charge, it seems likely.


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