The definition of success for Mexican players is a narrow one. Plaudits are few and far between and largely reserved for two categories of players: those who show promise, go abroad and carry the Mexico flag high in one of Europe's top leagues like Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez and Andres Guardado and those who dominate Liga MX and play well for the national team like Oribe Peralta.
Ulises Davila doesn't fit in either of those buckets.
He was on the path for a while, playing in Chivas' academy and standing out both in the 2011 Toulon Tournament and the U-20 World Cup. He played so well in the U-20 tournament, in which Mexico finished third, that he signed with Chelsea just weeks after its conclusion.
Things didn't exactly go to plan. Eight years after becoming the first Mexican to sign with Chelsea, Davila became the first Mexican to score in the A-League.
Now 28, the Guadalajara native never got onto one of the tracks seen as leading to success. After spending his entire Chelsea career out on loan as he struggled to obtain a work visa, he returned to Mexico where he played with Santos Laguna. Then he decided to pack his bags once more. He had a stopover in India where he suited up for the Delhi Dynamos and this summer signed a two-year deal with Wellington Phoenix.
It's a fascinating career arc, yet one that has led many in Mexico to label him with the harsh yet omnipresent label 'fracaso.' A failure. Davila believes it's the opposite.
"Failing would’ve been if I didn’t leave the country, if I hadn’t taken the chance, taken on the challenge. It would’ve been a failure for me if I hadn’t had the courage," Davila told Goal by phone from New Zealand this week. "For me, triumph in life is about doing well, enjoying my family, becoming a better person. I’ve enjoyed it, and for me that’s success.
"Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but the most important thing in life is how much you fought, how much you enjoyed and beyond winning or losing the important thing is that, being brave, taking risks and fighting for your dreams. That was the dream: to play soccer, to go to different places, and I feel happy and satisfied with everything I’ve done in my career."
He's not done yet, either. While the club hasn't been able to get a win in their first three matches of the season, Davila has already found the back of the net twice, with his debut goal against reigning champion Sydney FC on Oct. 20 and a converted penalty against Perth Glory last weekend.
The fast start, combined with being at a club he says "treats me well, that does a lot to help make sure I’m happy so I can enjoy football," has Davila setting his goals high.
"In the short-term, my goal is to be one of the best players in the A-League and be able to win a championship with Phoenix," he said. "They’ve never won a title before, and I want to win one here as the best player in the season or one of the best players during the season. After that, see what happens in soccer, I’d love to continue here, I really like being in Wellington and my wife feels really good here as well."
Davila says he'd actually prefer to stay abroad in the future rather than return to Mexico, something his actions seem to back-up after a summer training stint with Chivas. While some media outlets reported Davila was on trail and Chivas declined to sign him or that his salary requirements were simply too high, he says that wasn't exactly what happened with his hometown club.
"We were seeing if there was an opportunity there. I was at home and the chance came up to see if I could come in and train for a bit, to help me stay fit physically," he said. "Honestly, when the chance in New Zealand came, I left, told them thank you and that I didn’t want to stay longer with Chivas, that I had to take this important opportunity for my career.
"We left on good terms, I thanked them and I told them that I was hoping to continue my career outside Mexico."
One of the things that intrigued him about the Phoenix is the vision manager Ufuk Talay has for the team, one in which a creative player like Davila is a central focus after the offseason departure of attacking stars Sarpreet Singh, a 20-year-old playmaker, for Bayern Munich II and Roy Krishna, who led the league in goals, for a club in India.
That may not square exactly with most Mexico fans' idea of what should excite a player or what the end goal should be, but for Davila it was an opportunity he didn't want to pass up.
"Everyone makes his own decisions. I’ve had good opportunities football-wise and economically that I’ve taken. I enjoyed India for the little time I was there - it was only three months with the club. Now here in New Zealand, I signed for two years," he said. "That’s why I made the choice to come because I felt like I’d be a very important player here, that I’d be happy here with my family and enjoying playing soccer here."
Ultimately, taking enjoyment from his work is what Davila has prioritized. He's lived in the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, India and New Zealand. He's living in a place where it thrills him to leave home and walk around his neighborhood and enjoy the natural beauty. He's a young man starting a family and trying to do what's best for himself and those closest to him.
Davila won't add a trip to Qatar to the list (unless it's an Asian Champions League game), he won't be in the picture for El Tri and he's never going to play in the English Premier League or return to Spain to sign for a megaclub. But listening to him speak, you get the feeling he's done dealing with expectations. He's done doing 'the right thing.' He's doing what he wants, and he's happy doing it. Isn't that what success is, after all?