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Hirving Lozano: The making of Mexico's breakout World Cup star
The PSV Eindhoven winger has shone in Russia and been linked with Barcelona, Arsenal, Liverpool and Everton
Last Updated: 02/07/18 1:48pm
Hirving Lozano has been one of the breakout stars of the World Cup and could be set for a big transfer this summer, but his rise to prominence has not been straight-forward. Nick Wright finds out how Mexico's maverick talent fought his way to the top...
"The boy is making me famous," Marco Garces tells Sky Sports with a chuckle.
This is not the first phone call Pachuca's long-serving sporting director has taken about academy graduate Hirving Lozano recently. The moment he tore through Germany's backline and drilled a low finish past Manuel Neuer at the Luzhniki Stadium, the explosive little winger marked himself out as one of the World Cup's most exciting young players.
Lozano's goal was the beginning of the end for Germany's World Cup defence, and he produced another exhilarating display against South Korea, providing an assist for Javier Hernandez in a 2-1 win. Mexico's 3-0 loss to Sweden pits them against Brazil in the last 16, but with Lozano rampaging down their left flank, it would be foolish to rule them out.
Lozano's big impact in Russia comes after he scored 19 goals in his first season with PSV Eindhoven. The 22-year-old's future has been the subject of intense speculation, with Barcelona reportedly joining a list of suitors which is already said to include Liverpool, Arsenal and Everton, but there has also been a scramble for information about his past. Where exactly has Lozano come from?
That's where Garces comes in. The former midfielder, a close friend of Mexico's head coach Juan Carlos Osorio, witnessed Lozano's development first-hand at his boyhood club Pachuca. Los Tuzos, as they are known in Mexico, have a fine reputation for developing young players. But while Lozano was one of hundreds on their books, there were few others like him.
"He was a beast to handle," says Garces. "He came to us from one of our subsidiary schools in Mexico City, but we had a lot of difficulties with him. The boys live with us at Pachuca, so they receive schooling and accommodation and everything, but Lozano was problematic. He was very active all the time, he wanted everything, and he didn't like school."
Lozano's penchant for hiding under beds or in wardrobes and scaring his team-mates earned him the nickname 'Chucky', after the horror film character. He railed against authority and regularly caused confrontations on and off the pitch. For Garces and his staff, the unruly behaviour presented a serious challenge.
"We have a whole army of people here working with us, so there were psychologists working with him, teachers, tutors, coaches, fitness coaches," says Garces. "They all spoke with him and tried to get some sense into him, but he was always very rebellious and very active."
Lozano's temperament was not the only issue.
"He was tiny and very lightweight, so we had doubts about whether he was going to make it all the way to the first division," says Garces. "He had a lot of problems holding down a starting spot in his age groups, but he was very fast, very offensive-minded and very brave. He always wanted to take people on. It made us think that maybe there was something coming."
Once Pachuca found a way to focus Lozano's energy on his football, their suspicions proved correct. "It was about setting him the right challenges," says Garces, "so he could get busy playing football and not worry so much about the outside things. He eventually began to respond."
Lozano's headstrong character may have made him difficult to control in Pachuca's youth teams but it served him well when he made the step up to the senior squad aged 18. He scored just a few minutes into his debut in 2014, securing a 1-0 win over Club America at the 87,000-capacity Azteca Stadium. There was a goal on his CONCACAF Champions League bow too.
"There's something very interesting about Lozano," says Garces. "The greater the challenge, the better he plays. We used to call him 'the step up', because every time he steps up, he plays better."
It's a trait which is still evident today. Lozano scored on his first appearance for Mexico in 2016, he netted on his debut for PSV Eindhoven last August, and he was only 35 minutes into his first game at a World Cup when he scored that goal against Germany. "His ability to step up, it makes you think there is still more to come from him," says Garces.
Lozano improved his behaviour at Pachuca but he retains his natural aggression and rebellious personality today. There were two red cards in his first season at PSV, including one on only his fourth appearance, and he has played on the edge at times in Russia too, chasing down defenders relentlessly and reacting angrily when decisions go against him.
"I think you have to take the whole package with Lozano," says Garces. "That rebelliousness is part of what makes him so dangerous. He will get in trouble because he's that kind of person, but we knew we couldn't mess that up. People say he needs to change this or that, but it's difficult to change one thing without changing his whole personality."
Even his diminutive frame has become a strength. "He still looks lightweight but he's very strong physically," says Garces. "If you see him with his shirt off, it's pure muscle. I still have all his measurements here. He is well above 50 per cent muscle and below six per cent body fat. It gives him speed and power to go with his aggression."
Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and the rest of the German defence he destroyed in Moscow will be first to testify that it is a potent combination, and Osorio, who encouraged Garces to allow Lozano to move to Europe long before last summer, now describes him as an "unbelievable prospect" capable of playing at the very highest level.
"His pace, his ability to take people on makes me believe that he is a player that will go very far," Osorio told Sky Sports after the Germany game. "I just think that whoever takes a chance on him will do well. He can play in any league and any place."
Before the rumour mill cranks up and decisions are taken on his next step, however, Lozano is facing his biggest challenge yet with his national team. Can the rebellious little winger from Pachuca's academy stun Neymar and Co in the same way he did Germany? Garces might be wise to clear some room in his diary for a few more phone calls in the weeks ahead.
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