Chucky Lozano

PSV phenomenon with world at his feet

Chucky Lozano

PSV phenomenon with world at his feet

By Jon Arnold

Hirving Lozano could be on the verge of a huge move. He could also become the greatest Mexico player in recent memory, maybe even in history.

The 23-year-old’s toothy grin already is recognizable in his home country, where fans have serenaded him with the song of “El Chucky Lozano” every time he turns up to represent El Tri.

They wonder if a move to the Premier League, La Liga or Serie A is on the horizon, if he can earn more trophies than those who have gone before him like Hugo Sanchez, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Rafa Marquez, if he can lead the national team to greater glories than even those star players.

What gets lost in so much talk about the future, about a potential transfer that led the narrative even when Lozano scored on the grandest stage of the game in lifting Mexico to a victory over Germany in the World Cup, however, is what's happening in the present.

We've spent so much time thinking about what Lozano could be that we are in danger of missing out on what he is.

It was no guarantee Lozano, who's from Mexico City but called Pachuca home since he was barely a teenager, would adapt well to life in Eindhoven. It was no guarantee that he would see the field, much less dominate like he has.

And while he may soon be wearing the shirt of one of Europe’s elite clubs, he's not just using his current employer PSV as a learning lab to get ready for that day, but as a place where he's truly plugged in to the day-to-day life at the club, living in this moment rather than thinking about the next one.

“Since I arrived here, I've learned a lot and matured a lot football-wise. I think I'm still learning every training session, every game,” he told Goal. “For me, it was a good thing to come here.”

PSV has become home during this stage of his ascendency to footballing greatness. While Lozano admits he misses Mexico, Eindhoven has welcomed him and his young family with open arms, with the arrival of compatriot and close friend Erick Gutierrez in August of last year making life in Netherlands even more pleasant.

”With the transfer of Erick, I played a small role in it because they asked me about him," Lozano said. "I was paying attention to whether they signed him or not, so the only thing I could do is to convince them a bit more to sign him and tell him good things about being here. I think that’s why he came here."

Eindhoven has become the place where Lozano can raise his two children, where his wife feels comfortable and where he can continue to get better at a club that's mostly off the radar compared to some of Europe's superclubs.

That's not to say PSV is some sort of football backwater - far from it. The club has seen some of the game’s biggest names pass through, players like Ronaldo, Romario and Ruud van Nistelrooy.

“It’s a very beautiful thing to play in this shirt," the winger stressed. "I like it a lot. Since I got here, it’s been something marvelous, and honestly I’ve put in 100 percent for the club, in the matches, everything. I feel really good."

It shows on the field, where Lozano has run up a total of 11 goals in 17 Eredivisie matches during the first half of the season. That puts him on pace to surpass last season’s haul of 17 goals in 29 league games.

This year he also added four goals in eight Champions League matches between the qualification round and the group stage.

“It was something marvelous. It’s something very beautiful,” he said of playing in European club football's elite competition.

“I think after the World Cup, it’s the best tournament, and to experience it by playing against great teams, against great players, it’s really beautiful and something where I’ve learned a lot and enjoyed it to the max.”

Isn’t that worth something? A player enjoying himself as much as possible. Someone who appreciates the moments hearing the Champions League anthem playing. Who may not be playing at one of the teams that would make up the proposed European Super League but still delights fans with his speed and the way he goes after defenders without fear.

There were so many snapshots that flash through the mind when we recall Lozano as the best player from the Concacaf region in 2018.

His goal against Germany and overall performance at the World Cup was one highlight.

His stunning first season in the Netherlands, helping PSV lock up the title before the weather had even properly warmed another.

And then there were the goals against BATE Borisov, his first in European play, versus Spurs and against Inter that were even more impressive and perhaps more memorable than those in Belarus.

Despite those milestones, Lozano continues to insist he is far from the finished product. He still has lots to learn and values the lessons he's learned under coaches like Phillip Cocu and Mark van Bommel at PSV and Juan Carlos Osorio with the Mexico national team.

“I think there are always things to improve. Football, game by game, it teaches you a lot of things. You learn new things,” he said.

“Football gives you new panoramas that you have to see in this instant. It is moments. In which moment to do something and in which moment not to do something. I think the game gives you all this. Matches, playing, I think every game you learn good things.

“Honestly, I’m lacking a bit on the left foot. I think that’s what I need to work on a little more.”

Improvement in his game will lead to more and more clubs taking notice of his skills. The list of suitors continues to grow. There are teams in Spain, England and Italy who reportedly want his services.

Luis Suarez, who's faced Lozano in the Champions League and in an international friendly, had words of praise for the Mexico star. Those types of comments from other players have resonated with Lozano.

“Honestly it’s really great that such a great player like him speaks about you. It’s a marvelous thing that fills you with joy. It’s a lovely feeling,” he said.

“I really thank Suarez for those words - and for me he’s a great player. When they talk about you like that, it’s something that’s really nice.”

It's, however, not Suarez who Lozano hopes to emulate. That Barcelona poster in his bedroom as a kid did not have the Uruguayan’s face on it. It's Lionel Messi who Lozano dreams of playing alongside.

“For me, he’s the best in the world,” he said with a smile before discussing his disappointment at his role model’s Ballon d’Or snub. “It’s a shame he wasn't there because I think he really stands out.”

The conversation turns to the idea that one day Lozano could be in the running for the prestigious award himself, and his smile is gone. The childlike joy on his face discussing Messi turns back to the all-business mode he’s in 99 percent of the time.

“There are a lot of good players in the world, but I think hopefully - and if God allows it - I can at least be there fighting for the Ballon d'Or a bit some day,” Lozano stated.

“I think the most important thing is that the work you put in will give that to you, the day-to-day, always getting better, always learning and hopefully that moment will come.”

He doesn’t have to be the best player in the world to be the best active Mexican player, though. That's one aspect where fans do not have to wait.

While Chicharito is finding his form again with West Ham and Hector Herrera continues to wear the captain’s armband for a Champions League last-16 team in Porto, Lozano’s presence after the World Cup indicated a transition.

This is now his national team to lead. Many members of the older generation led by Hernandez, Herrera, center back Hector Moreno and midfielder Andres Guardado won't make it to the 2022 World Cup. If they do, it may be in reduced roles.

That's why Lozano, his PSV and former Pachuca teammate Erick Gutierrez and Wolves forward Raul Jimenez have been involved in every Mexico camp since the team’s round-of-16 elimination in Russia.

“I don’t know if I’m the right one to lead the team, but I think the most important thing is to always be there with the national team, to give your all and be 100 percent,” he said.

“I think I’m always going to go to the national team, and I love being there. I always give my best.”

With Tata Martino announced as El Tri manager earlier this month, Lozano may be asked to do something slightly different going forward with the national team. Of course, in addition to coaching Atlanta United and Paraguay during his career, Martino also worked hands-on with Lozano’s idol Messi at Barcelona and Argentina. Could he use “Chucky” in the same way he did Messi during those stints?

“I don’t know, honestly. I don’t know what plans he might have, but hopefully he gives me the chance to play and hopefully it’ll be good,” Lozano says of how he’ll be asked to play under the 56-year-old.

However, when asked if Martino’s experience will benefit Mexico, Lozano was quick to endorse the Argentine. “I think he has the knowledge to be in charge of the national team,” he said. “Hopefully he’s the best choice for the national team.”

After a stunning season-and-a-half with PSV and moving into a leadership role with El Tri, it will not be long now. Lozano will step onto the biggest of stages. He will get his name in the mix for the most important of awards. He finds himself on the cusp of something great.

For now, though, we should enjoy the grind of a player getting a little better with each passing day. Lozano’s future is bright, but he is giving off plenty of shine in the present too.