Any sporting triumph for a small country over a larger neighbour brings with it great joy, and a sense of enormous pride amongst the population of the successful nation.Uruguay’s Copa America victory was a magnificent achievement in its own right – the fact the competition had been hosted by Argentina made it extra special. Likewise, anytime Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland defeat England on any field of play, it’s a moment to savour for the victor.
Earlier this month, Honduras scored a notable win of their own, when they hosted an international friendly against Colombia. The match itself ended as a 2-0 victory for the visitors, but perhaps more significant was the second-half appearance of a young man making his first appearance for Los Catrachos.
Andy Najar was born in the remote Honduran village of Santa Cruz de Marcovia (population 4,000) and with his father and uncle both having spells in the professional game; he was introduced to football at an early age. Najar honed his skills on the local pitch, where on a daily basis matches were contested by villagers of all ages.
While he had a happy childhood, Najar’s upbringing was far from privileged. In an attempt to provide for their young family, Najar’s mother and father moved to the USA to find work, with the boy’s grandmother taking care of him and his younger brothers.
When the time was right, Najar then joined his family in their new home. While such a journey may seem straight forward, it was anything but – the 13 year old’s parents paid for him to be smuggled into theUSA. This involved a hazardous trip on land across Guatemala and Mexico before arriving on American soil. Then the hard work really started. Once intoTexas, Najar then had to hike across the desert for 2 days. He was eventually reunited with his mother whom he hadn’t seen for 5 years.
As well as adjusting to life in an American high school (Najar spoke little English), he also adapted to playing organised football. Impressive performances for his school team led to Najar being selected for MLS side DC United’s academy – at the second time of asking. Although technically as able as any of his team-mates, he initially struggled with his conditioning. Several months of hard work lay ahead but after bringing his fitness levels in line with his ability he never looked back.
By the start of the 2010 MLS season Najar was still only 17 years old, but DC United decided he was ready for the first-team. 26 appearances and 5 goals during the campaign led to Najar being voted the MLS Rookie of the Year. A player who had initially been viewed as back-up had quickly established himself as a key figure in his side’s starting line-up.
Standing at only 5ft 7, Najar normally starts on the right side of midfield. Happiest when running with the ball at opposing defences, he is comfortable using his left or right foot, meaning he can go inside or outside of full-backs. Najar’s technical ability is matched only by his work-rate, perhaps a consequence of his life experience and the sacrifices he has made to get where he is today.
An impressive start to his professional career led to media speculation about Najar’s international future. Would he, if given the chance, represent the country of his birth, or would he pledge his allegiance to the nation he now called home? For a time, it appeared he was uncertain where his future lay, with Najar saying that:
“The US is a place that opens the door – it doesn’t matter where you come from or what you bring. But you can’t forget your roots.”
However, despite concern’s from Honduras that the Americans would ‘poach’ their man, Los Catrachos were always favourites. The player actually had a third option –El Salvador– due to his mother’s family background, but they didn’t appear to be serious contenders.
So in April this year, Najar confirmed he would indeed turn out for Honduras. While the decision was welcomed in his homeland, the reaction in the US was mixed – some applauded a player who had remembered his roots, but others felt let down by someone who had turned his back on his adopted home. They believed Najar should have shown more appreciation after he was given an education and the chance of a professional career, despite entering the country illegally.
He has already been linked with a move to Arsenal and has spoken of his admiration for Real Madrid, and Najar will almost certainly make the move to European club football in the years ahead. If he continues to progress at the same rate, the fight for his signature will be every bit as fierce as the battle for his services at international level.
Written by William Heaney.