The ambience couldn’t have been more foreign. At least for the person involved. To one side was a fine-dine restaurant catering to taste buds through a nice a little hole in the wallet. On the other was a swimming pool, as blue as it gets. All around were impeccable pool side furniture. The only familiarity came from across the table, oddly, from a 22-year-old Spaniard.
Jose Currais Prieto is not a man with sophisticated taste. Being a footballer, he could be. Josu, as the Kerala Blasters midfielder is known, is not a man of Barcelona, the commercial heart of Catalonia, Spain, where he spent his days learning football at the La Masia academy. Instead, he is a ‘regular boy’ from Castelló d’Empúries, a small town two hours drive from the academy.
“Ours is a normal family. Working class. My mom works in a factory. She makes this there,” said Josu, flicking the table mat. “She wakes up every day at 4am, goes to the factory and return at 1pm. Eight hours of work. My dad, he drives a truck.”
“I’m the first person from the family to play professional football.”
The desire to play football took him away from home at the age of 16, to be amongst the future World Cup winners at La Masia. He showed promise as a left-back. But as is the case with a club always searching for the next somebody, Josu was branded the next Sergi Barjuan, the club legend.
“They were saying I am the next Sergi Barjuan. He was my coach then. It was very difficult. I remember the first year in the academy, it was hard for me. The media, the pressure. The second year was very good,” he said.
The good was soon bettered, but by someone else. That’s the way La Masia works. “I had to move because a young player was coming up. And they wanted to loan me out, so I said no. (In Barcelona) if there is a young player who is better than you, he will kick you out.”
From there he moved to the club RCD Espanyol, and then to Finland. There, he was moved across the pitch to left midfield, and later to the No. 10 position. He found his home there.
The path wasn’t always so clear, however, especially for a working class family with two sons; Josu has a younger brother, so chasing a football career is a bit of a gamble. “My parents used to ask me all the time, what would you do if you wouldn’t become a footballer,” the Blasters midfielder, who returned a man of the match performance in his team’s 3-1 victory over NorthEast United on Tuesday, recollected. “I would say, ‘I don’t know.’ Because, I really didn’t. I was bad at studies.”
He has, however, made it. At the least, his footballing career helped his family survive the worst of the Spanish financial crisis. “In Spain it was a big problem. But I had a job, in football. Then my mom and dad had theirs. So we didn’t suffer much.”
That gifted left foot could well take him higher. But the man who has his right arm covered with tattoos dedicated to mom, dad, brother and grandma, has simple ambitions. “If I become a successful international, I want to start my own family.”
Those working class ethos has also instilled in him a strong desire to succeed. “I hate losing,” he says.
The same hunger has also made him fearless. A welterweight, or at best a middleweight, Josu is unconcerned of being tackled. “I have never been afraid. My mamma always used to get worried.”
It’s with the same irreverent attitude that he will approach Saturday’s match against Mumbai City FC. “Anelka is a big player. But for me, once the match starts, I won’t think about it. If I have to kick him, I would,” said Josu.
But those who have seen him know he wouldn’t be doing that; they know he is capable of doing far more beautiful things with his feet.