I-League 2021: Love for football made Clayvin Zuniga travel to India, wants title to make it more memorable
While players often switch clubs and countries for better prospects and salaries, football means a lot more to Clayvin Zuniga. It's a medium that helped him beat poverty. Through it he wants to see the world.
This time last year, Clayvin Zuniga was playing his football in El Salvador's top division for CD Municipal Limeno. Now he's part of the I-League bubble in Kolkata playing for the Goan outfit Churchill Brothers.
The change has not just been with the club but outlook to the world too. It's a change that he desired, something that made him travel almost 16,000 kms from El Salvador.
"It was a difficult decision," Zuniga tells Firstpost. "I played for four years in El Salvador and three years in Honduras. After this, I wanted a change in my life. This opportunity came, so I spoke to my family that I want to go (to India). They said 'if you want, okay, go after this,' I took the decision to come here (India)."
"After spending four years in El Salvador I wanted to see football in a different country and different continent and that’s why I took this decision," says the 29-year-old.
Difficult as the decision may be, the start of the new journey was nothing short of surreal. Zuniga fired in a hat-trick in his very first game for Churchill Brothers as they romped to a 5-2 win over Indian Arrows.
A striker who also plays as an attacking midfielder has six goals to his name so far in the I-League and led the scoring charts before recently falling down the order.
Football, however, hasn't only made Zuniga see new parts of the world, it has played a more significant role in his life. Before it empowered him to travel across the globe, it helped him get out from the clutches of poverty.
"Before I started playing professional football I used to go to the beach to sell bread with my sister but now I don’t have any problem. Now in my country, I eat wherever I like. One of my friend from El Salvador who looked at football as an opportunity to help himself and family. After that, I worked very hard to meet my objectives in football," says a proud Zuniga.
He is also firm in asserting that money wasn't the factor in deciding to come to India, an offer to play in India, he says, had been on the table for him for the last three years.
"I had offers from Guatemala, Costa Rica, (Saudi) Arabia, and Honduras, to go back and play in my country. The salary is the same," says Zuniga who has played for his national team at U-20 and U-23 levels.
"I had many good offers to play in top teams of El Salvador. I didn’t come here for the salary. I am here because I want to experience different leagues, different countries, continents. It’s about football."
He finds the food "too" spicy in India but loves the football here and wishes to convert his sojourn into a saga.
"I want to continue playing here, I like the league, I like the ambiance, it’s good...My friends and fans keep asking me about how is the experience of playing here. My experience has been very good, I speak good things about the country and the league," says Zuniga.
Churchill Brothers are chasing their first I-League title since 2013. They currently sit atop Group A with 25 points. They are closely followed by Gokulam Kerala and TRAU FC who have 22 points each. With three more games remaining, Churchill hold a slight edge.
"We need to be confident because we are now in the toughest phase of the league," says Zuniga. "It's crucial to remain strong and continue doing the good things that we did so far. We have an objective and we must work towards that."
Along with the country and league, the style of football has also changed considerably for Zuniga.
"The football leagues in Honduras and El Salvador are good. In Honduras we have very good infrastructure, very good stadiums, and the league is better than EL Salvador. Here (in India) there’s some difference. This league has good stadiums, this is on basis of what I have seen in Kolkata," he says.
"It’s (football) is not easy there. In El Salvador, Honduras, or Latin America the players are strong and big. The football is more technical and tactical here."
The love for football and new experiences made Zuniga travel thousand of kilometers, the I-League title isn't a must to make it worth the while, but it would surely make it more memorable.
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