Our experienced goalkeeper Willy Caballero is the latest member of the squad to talk us through his path to the top of the game, which began with him playing in goal without any gloves before being spotted by the one of the biggest clubs in South America…
I started playing football when I was five years old. I played in a local team called Santa Marta. They were my village team and we had a competition between four or five teams nearby.
In my first season I didn’t play as a goalkeeper; I played as a midfielder or a centre-back. The next season, when I was six or seven, the coach made some changes. As a kid sometimes you don’t know which position you are going to play, or which is best for you. The coach decided to rotate the goalkeeper every game and try different players in that position.
He put me in goal, and we won. The rest of the games we had lost. So thank god with this luck, I started to play as a goalkeeper. That was when I was seven years old.
I just remember the pitch being so big, and the goal also! We never played seven v seven, or on a small pitch. We played 11 against 11 from six years old, and in a big dimension of the pitch! As a kid this is my memory: shouting and organising the players closest to me, but I just remember the other goal being so, so far away! As a kid you want to play and touch the ball, and as a goalkeeper at that age it wasn’t the best way to enjoy football.
We didn’t have the organisation to train properly. We just played matches, or went to training and played matches. I improved by watching TV on my own and trying to do what I saw from the goalkeepers in the games.
I had the chance to go to Boca Juniors when I was 14 years old. They took me as a goalkeeper, and I started from zero when it came to training. They saw me playing for Santa Marta and also my city team. As a city we played against other districts in a good competition. I don’t know what they saw in me, but Boca called me for a trial. There were 80 goalkeepers of different ages, and they took me.
'I was 14 years old and I started improving quickly, but it wasn’t until I was 16 or 17 that I thought that I would be a goalkeeper.'
— Willy Caballero
Boca Juniors had probably one of the best academies. It was very well organised: school, training, and accommodation. I lived really far from the capital Buenos Aires. I moved there and lived in a ‘casa amarilla’ - a yellow house. All the players from outside Buenos Aires lived together. We had the opportunity to eat, to sleep, and to study together.
At the training ground we had everything we needed to train. We had clothes, we had boots, we had gloves! Until I arrived at Boca I had never played with gloves. All my childhood was playing with bare hands. From 14 I started to play with gloves. Wow! It was a new experience, a massive change.
Maybe in England it doesn’t make sense, but when I was a kid playing with gloves it was like an outfielder having very good boots. It was too expensive for my family to get me gloves, and seeing the other players with new boots and gloves was really far from what I could imagine. So when I started to have them, it was a big change.
In Argentina, you start to play for points and trophies when you are 13. It was a little bit stressful; there is a lot of pressure to win a trophy. It’s good for your mentality to be in a great team, and prepares you for when you become a professional, but sometimes players don’t rest when they have pain because they are worried about losing their place in the team.
I was 19 years old when I made my professional debut for Boca Juniors. First of all, it was a surprise. The season finished in December, but we couldn’t play the last game, away against Newell’s Old Boys. There were some problems, so we postponed it and we had to play it before the start of the next season.
A new boss came in, and decided to play the second team so the first team could rest ahead of the new season. It was a surprise because normally the first goalkeeper doesn’t have to rest. The stadium was full because it was Boca, the atmosphere was fantastic. I think I did a good game. We drew 2-2. Okay I conceded two goals, but I saved some more, and it’s a very nice memory from the start of my career.