Player spotlight: Raul Jimenez

The America and Mexico striker is a key player for club and country already and at 22, he still has room to grow into a true difference maker.
Forget what happened that crazy night in Panama last month with the United States scoring two late goals, had it not been for the genius overhead bicycle kick from Raul Jimenez against Los Canaleros a few days earlier, Mexico would have fallen through the safety net of a playoff against New Zealand and missed the World Cup.

Under intense pressure, it was the moment Jimenez stepped up on the world stage to confirm he is a big game player and one that is on course to have a very bright future.

Anyone steeped even in the slightest bit of Mexican football history couldn’t help but think of Hugo Sanchez’s famous penalty area acrobatics and it is perhaps no surprise that Jimenez cites the former Real Madrid player as his first inspiration on the field.  

The 22-year-old Jimenez was part of the Olympic gold medal-winning Mexico team and although he didn’t start a single game in London, the America player has developed at a faster rate than anyone else in the squad.

Marco Fabian, Diego Reyes, Jorge Enriquez and others may have won the plaudits in London, but Jimenez was the only player from the Olympic team even in Mexico’s squad for the playoff against New Zealand.

While others have gone backwards, Jimenez has kicked on.

Born in Tepeji del Rio in the state of Hidalgo – a Cruz Azul heartland – Jimenez supported La Maquina before his family moved to Mexico City when he seven.

It was in the capital that Jimenez started going to a Club America soccer school because Cruz Azul’s training center was simply too far away, according to interviews given by his father.

The striker rose through the ranks from America’s third division farm team America Coapa and debuted in the Under-20s league – considered the reserve league in Mexico – in September 2010.

A first-team debut followed quickly in October 2011, but it was only really when current Mexico coach Miguel Herrera took over at the start of 2012 that Jimenez was truly considered part of Las Aguilas’ full squad. From the Apertura 2012, Jimenez has been a fixture, forming a formidable partnership with the late Christian “Chucho” Benitez to guide America to the Clausura 2013 title.

Jimenez radiates confidence on the field with his straight back and head held high.

His awareness of others around him means he isn’t just an out-an-out goal-scorer and he possesses deceptive speed. Jimenez is also 6-foot-3 tall and good with his head, but has guile in his play that helps him to score and assist from a range of positions.

Off the field, Jimenez already has a throng of female fans and a model girlfriend, but he’s also had problems that have been exposed in Mexico’s tabloids.

In November 2012, a girl claiming to be Jimenez’s partner reported him to the police in Mexico City for physically abusing her, but the international denied the allegations and instead insisted the girl invented the story.

Jimenez was never charged with the offense.

The incident didn’t seem to affect his career on the field and Jimenez has developed into one of the brightest young talents in Mexico.

But while the overhead kick against Panama and the outrageous scorpion kick attempt against New Zealand are ample pieces of evidence that Jimenez has the raw talent and nerve, it is the fact that he is far from the finished product that helps the youngster stand out.

At 22, Jimenez still needs to improve his final decision-making. He often waits a split second too long in thinking whether to pass, shoot or hold the ball up. Jimenez could also get better on his left foot and still has room to bulk up to become a bigger physical presence for club and country.

All those defects can be rectified and would likely benefit from a move to a good European club, something the player is keen to do.

“It is a dream of mine, hopefully it comes true,” Jimenez told Publimetro recently. “When it is my turn, I’ll have to take advantage, but for now it doesn’t obsess me.

“It could happen in six months, one year or three years, but the key is to not let my guard down and keep fighting for it.”

With America on record saying it wouldn’t stand in Jimenez’s way, a move to Europe could well come sooner rather than later.

Another other-worldly goal at the World Cup, and Jimenez's transfer fee would be in for a massive hike.