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From the FIFPro Tournament to the Copa Libertadores. It sounds too good to be true, but it has happened.


Gonzalo Bonafina (26) tells us how, after participating in the training camp run by the Argentinian professional football players association (FAA), he went on to face the world's best team.


'I consider myself first and foremost as a persistent person, who doesn't easily admit defeat, and thanks to that and my condition, I find myself today in a first division team, playing in the most important tournament on the continent.'


Gonzalo Bonafina was without a club in summer 2010-2011. This Argentinian forward is a member of the Argentinian professional football players association (FAA), which organizes special training sessions for players who are not affiliated to a club. Bonafina is one of the many professional footballers who benefit from these training sessions.


'Our association trains from Monday to Friday all year long, and the service they give players who have no club is excellent', explains Bonafina. 'It not only gives you a place where you can improve physically and technically, it also cares for the individual person, giving you courses on video, nutrition, drug addiction and many other things that are useful every day, and for the day that you don't play football any more. The truth is, it's very complete.’


This very summer, in January 2011, FIFPro Division America for the first time organized the FIFPro Tournament for South American players, similar events having previously been run successfully in Europe. The objective is to give an opportunity to the greatest possible number of players to display their skills to professional clubs. In all, five South American unions participated in this Tournament: those of Brazil, Chile, Uruguay and Argentina.


'I was invited to the FIFPro America Tournament by a member of the FAA, who told me the team was short of a forward and asked whether I was interested in forming part of the team and the tournament. The idea interested me, so I began to train with the group, and shortly thereafter we travelled to Chile.’


Bonafina and his compatriots made a good impression in Santiago de Chile, ending up in third position. 'That first year, the truth is that I found it difficult to believe that I'd secure a club -- that wasn't what I expected.' He signed up with Club Atlético Vasco Viejo, which plays in one of the lower professional divisions in Argentina.




One year later, Bonafina went back to play in the FIFPro America Tournament, which was again held in Santiago de Chile. 'I continued training, and the following year I was able to get into a professional club. In football, I think the secret is to keep on fighting for what you love.'


Bonafina has again succeeded in finding a club, once more a club in one of the lower divisions. But, very suddenly, in spring 2012 he received news from Bolivia. 'The sports director of the club San José de Bolivia called me, saying that he'd seen my material on the FAA website and it had interested them a lot. I was on my way to Bolivia two days after the call, and a week later I was signing my contract. I arrived in San José very rapidly…'


'The championship had begun in September before I arrived, and I signed up until the end of the season, in May 2013, that is. My job is to be a wing forward and I'm often called on to play as an outside winger or as a goal-creating winger.'


San José is not just any club. It's number two in the opening Bolivian competition of 2012, which means that Bonafina, with his new club, will play in the Copa Libertadores, the most important championship in South America.


What is competition like in Bolivia?
'Well, it isn't the strongest on the continent, given the capabilities of Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. Players are now arriving who are enriching the league, and great Bolivian juveniles with a lot of future. It's an interesting league, since many teams are at a high level and playing is becoming more exciting.'


Are you satisfied with your performance?
'I certainly am, although I'm someone who always likes to go further still. I've been lucky in that the people have got very attached to me since the first time I put on the strip and, thanks be to God, I managed two goals.’


In the competition for the Copa Libertadores, San José plays in a group with Tijuana (Mexico), Millonarios (Colombia) and Corinthians (Brazil). After four rounds, San José is in third place with four points.


On Wednesday 20 February, San José received the great Brazilian power, Corinthians, the defenders of the title and winners of the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup. Bonafina played as a substitute and contributed to the 1-1 draw.




What does this game mean to you?
'I find it more than difficult to describe in words what I felt, for I had dreamt all my life of playing this kind of match. The stadium was full, the hopes of the people were impressive and mine even more so. I'll never forget playing against players like Pato and Paolo Guerrero. I had the luck to change shirts with Guerrero, who is currently for me the best forward in the Brazilian league. It was a dream of a night.’


'Unfortunately, everything didn't end as we would have liked, not because of the result but because of the death of a supporter. A terrible loss.'


What chance do you think San José has of getting through the group phase?
‘Logic doesn't exist in football, so it's difficult to work out whether or not we're going to get through. It's clear that we are the humblest in the group, but that doesn't mean we have little chance. I think we're a team that's going to add a lot at home. We've already added a point against Corinthians and beat Millonarios. It's going to be important to add three against Tijuana.’


Are you aware that you are living an extraordinary adventure? One year ago you were playing in the FIFPro America Tournament, and now you're playing against Corinthians, the best club in the world…
'I think you become aware after some years have passed and you stop to look at everything that's happened. Obviously all of this is highly incredible, nor can I believe what I'm experiencing this year, but I think it's a reward for the efforts over many years and for the great support from my family. I think this must be an example to all the players who aren't in a club, and who dream that some day they'll play against these kinds of teams and players.’


What do you think of the FIFPro America Tournament?
'I very much enjoyed being part of two FIFPro Tournaments. You live in a very pleasant climate when you leave your country and get to know colleagues from neighbouring countries, and you measure yourself against players of great level. The organization is very good. Hotel, food, training fields and matches are at top level, to tell the truth.'


Do you think that you could find a new club, thanks to the help of the FAA and/or the FIFPro Tournament, or that it would be easier for you to find one?
'The FAA and FIFPro are certainly a great help, because it's always important to show yourself in this kind of competition, or in friendlies that are organized against teams of different categories while you're training, and you never know who may be watching this kind of match.'


Would you recommend other players to participate in the training sessions of the FAA and the FIFPro Tournament?
'Yes, I certainly would recommend it, it's a very important experience and I have recommended colleagues who aren't in a club and told them how good it is not to give up training but to have a fitness trainer who tells you what to do, a coach who motivates you and tells you to keep fighting and that the club is going to get there.'


'I'd like to thank them, as I thanked the FAA for always thinking of us players and for being there for what we need. They keep on organizing this kind of event and they keep on helping footballers, for behind each one there's a family.'



San José: vice champions of Bolivia