#MLS #CF97 I would like to address @JimmyConrad_com's recent comments regarding Nery Castillo in his @WFootballDaily podcast on May 4. I have known Nery since 2004, when he was just 20 years old. I introduced Javier and Frank to Nery in Manchester in 2008, and I completed the deal with the Fire on Nery's behalf in 2010. I felt compelled to respond because Jimmy has a significant platform and his comments reinforce a widely-held perception of Nery that is somewhat unfair (though understandable). There is a lot more to Nery's story than what we saw on the field in his short time with the Fire.
Jimmy mentioned that Nery's father controlled his career. That was true for a long time. For Nery, his parents were his compass (his father is often singled out because his area of responsibility included football, but his mother was just as important). For most of us, this may sound pretty standard, but Nery was especially reliant on his parents -- Nery arrived at Olympiakos (not Panathinaikos, as Jimmy stated) at just 16 years old, without speaking Greek; he was thrust into a new world, and his parents were his only guides (although they, of course, did not speak the language or understand the culture either). Nery's parents guided him every step of the way, on and off the field, as Nery developed into one of the most exciting and beloved players in Olympiakos history. His ability to run at defenders and score goals was thrilling. His passion for the game and his club was infectious. In 2007, Nery's brilliant performances for Mexico at the Copa America made him a bonafide international star. Nery was 23 years old. Life was good.
After the Copa America, Olympiakos sold Nery to Shakhtar. The move was unsettling. He left his family. He left the club and country he loved. He was struggling to adapt on and off the field. Initially, there was a feeling that it was just a matter of time before he found his way. It became difficult if not impossible to focus on that process, though, when his parents became sick. All of a sudden, Nery's world was truly turned upside-down, in every sense.
In the year preceding Nery's arrival in Chicago, Nery lost both his parents to cancer. Nery was 25. He was lost, personally and professionally. As far as Nery's career was concerned, it had stalled at Shakhtar; he wasn't playing regularly, and he had lost his match fitness as a result, and he was generally unhappy with life in Donetsk as well, which wasn't helping. Now, without his parents, it felt like he had fallen into a bottomless hole. I knew he desperately needed a supportive environment. When we met Javier and Frank in 2008, they showed that they genuinely understood Nery. With Javier being Mexican, and Frank being Greek, they knew his history, and there was a cultural connection between them. Javier and Frank told Nery that if there was ever an opportunity for him to come to Chicago, they could provide the environment he needed to be happy. Nery appreciated that. In 2010, it felt like the time was right, and we made it happen.
It's worth going back to this article written by @JefeCrandall for the Fire's official website shortly after the signing, which mentions comments Nery made upon his arrival in Chicago in regards to coping with his parents' passing: http://bit.ly/LwGkOt. "It has been difficult,” Nery said. “I am dealing with their loss. I have my wife, my daughter. I have my brother. Together, we support each other. My parents had to leave for a reason. Now I have to continue on.” We felt like Chicago might be a good place for him to continue on.
On the field, Nery had a lot of work to do. He hadn't been playing for Shakhtar, and had only been doing basic training during the summer, so he had a massive uphill climb to reach full match fitness and catch up to his teammates, who were in mid-season form. Nery made his Fire debut only about two weeks after signing. In his first few appearances, Nery got by on adrenaline, and showed flashes of his ability, but his physical condition would not allow him to sustain it, and he soon struggled. I think Mr. de los Cobos was also struggling to figure out how best to use Nery along with Freddie, who had also just arrived, but that wasn't the biggest problem. Nery told me, "I'm trying to move like I normally move and I can't." He just didn't have his legs yet. He would try to cheat, but was getting caught offsides.
This didn't come as a surprise to anyone. We all knew that it was going to take more than a few weeks for Nery to get back to being Nery. We were taking a long-term view. If Nery couldn't make an immediate impact in the second half of the 2010 season, he would be ready for a great 2011 season, once he was settled in Chicago and was able to go through a full preseason with the club. Importantly, the Fire were providing him with the love and support he needed at that time in his life. At Shakhtar, Nery was just a shirt number. But the Fire put an arm around him.
Nery never made it to preseason though, and the reason was that Nery's family was never able to settle in the States. Nery's brother -- his older brother, who was now a father figure for Nery -- went back to Greece after a month or so. Nery's wife (who is Greek) did not speak English, and was often alone with their daughter, then two years old. This situation made it difficult for Nery to focus on the game. I spent a lot of time with them in Chicago during those days, so I know that it was difficult. With his parents gone, he needed his wife, daughter and brother more than ever, and he had to make sure they were comfortable.
In the offseason, Nery felt like he had to look at options to go back to Greece for his family's sake. He did not come to that decision easily. We believed he would have a big year with the Fire in 2011. I think people should also know that going back to Greece would mean a major pay cut from his DP salary. But his family was most important. Wwhen Aris showed interest, a deal was worked out.
Jimmy suggested that Nery is no longer playing. After leaving the Fire, Nery made a few appearances for Aris in the second half of the 2010-11 season, but he was still a work in progress physically. This season though, after a full preseason and achieving some stability in his life, Nery enjoyed his best form in many years, and scored 6 goals in 20 league matches. I think it is safe to say he has weathered the storm. He looks great. And I'm very happy for him. He deserves it.
I hope that enough people read this to provide some context to Nery's time with the Fire. I still believe the move made sense. I think people at the club believe so too. Nery just needed more time.
Fire fans should know he really wanted it to work. And the support they showed him really meant a lot to him.