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From tears in Russia to smiles in the United States: How Ajax signing Edson Alvarez bounced back from World Cup frustration

20:00 BST 19/07/2019
Edson Alvarez Mexico FIFA World Cup 2018
Alvarez didn't live up to his potential at the World Cup but helped Mexico win the Gold Cup and now is on his way to Ajax

Edson Alvarez didn't feel like a loser. Sure, his World Cup didn't go as planned. French newspaper  L'Equipe  put him in its Worst XI of the tournament - a selection no doubt spurred by his own goal against Sweden in the final group game. It was a gaffe that left him in tears after the whistle blew on a 3-0 El Tri defeat.

Yet, the rising Club America star knew better things were ahead. "The only defeated people in the world are those who quit fighting and dreaming," he wrote on Instagram after Mexico was eliminated by Brazil in the round of 16.

Today, Alvarez's dreams are alive and well. Now 21, this summer will be remembered as the one in which he lifted the Gold Cup and moved to Ajax. The Amsterdam club fended off West Ham and Wolves for the versatile player who, since those difficult moments in Russia, helped America to the Liga MX Apertura title and became a critical piece of Tata Martino's national team.

Each summer has brought something new for Alvarez. He's currently the starting holding midfielder in Martino's 4-3-3 but went to the World Cup last year as a right back. That was tough since he'd only come in for spot starts there with Las Aguilas, more often playing in the middle. This season, club coach Miguel Herrera deployed him in the midfield next to Guido Rodriguez far more frequently, and his comfort playing in that role has grown.

“Really, I’m comfortable in the middle, I feel really comfortable as a five,” Alvarez told Goal this summer. “I don’t dislike playing center back either. It’s a position where I started my career, even going back to the academy days, when I was just starting I was playing center back.

“To be honest, right back isn’t my strongest position. At the end of the day, though, I’ve always said that’s football and at the time the manager needed me there. I wanted to show him I that I was able to do it.”

The summer of 2017 also was formative for Alvarez. Former Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio brought him along to the Confederations Cup to observe, though he wasn't part of the squad. Then, Osorio played him in the 2017 Gold Cup as El Tri's right back, paving the way for his World Cup performances after injuries to Diego Reyes and Nestor Araujo allowed Alvarez to make the team. Since 2017, Alvarez has said his dream is to play in Europe, and seeing how players like Rafa Marquez and Hector Moreno landed at the game's highest levels had a big effect on Alvarez.

"I couldn’t believe it, being a young guy who at that time was 18 or 19 years old. I felt really happy to be involved with these stars, with these ‘cracks’ who have done a lot of things in their careers," Alvarez recalled last year. "They’ve come to me giving me advice, advice on the field as well. I feel really fortunate to have been in with the group because with this I grew daily."

He's now set to follow in those players' footsteps. Alvarez's physical presence, plus his comfort on the ball make it easy to see why a team like Ajax would want to bring him in.

It was a frustrating end to his America tenure, with injuries limiting him and keeping him out of the Liguilla in the Clausura. A knee issue threatened to keep him out of the Gold Cup as well, but he recovered quickly from the knock suffered in a pre-tournament friendly against Venezuela and played the full 90 in all but one match for Mexico.

"Possibilities are opening up. I'm really happy to be more and more close to this dream that I desire with all my heart and hopefully it will be the best for me," Alvarez said earlier in the tournament.

His test in the Gold Cup final was one of his biggest to date. With little help from others, he was tasked with controlling a United States midfield that included veteran savvy in Michael Bradley and youthful raw ability in Weston McKennie. He played well in the middle and spent much of the second half dropping between the two center backs - a tactical shift inserted by Tata Martino to free up his wide players to get further up the field and frustrate the United States’ outside backs. It worked well, with Mexico winning 1-0 thanks to a second-half goal from Jonathan dos Santos.

At club level, Alvarez has leaned on Rodriguez next to him to cover him if he's in the wrong place on the field. With Mexico, he has Moreno and Carlos Salcedo behind him but has far less support in the midfield. He looked increasingly comfortable as the tournament wore on - even as the rest of the Mexico team took a dip from the group stage to the knockout round.

Alvarez helped El Tri to victory in the tournament, and he beamed during the celebrations in Chicago, with the Gold Cup win coming just a year after those frustrating moments at the World Cup.

With a big role to play for Mexico going forward and an exciting club future with the Eredivisie champions, Alvarez should feel like a winner.