x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Gonzalez is ready to show how far he has progressed

CSKA Moscow's Chilean winger returns to Seville, where he played for rivals Betis, for the second leg against Sevilla.

Mark Gonzalez, left, celebrates his first-leg goal.
Mark Gonzalez, left, celebrates his first-leg goal.

CSKA Moscow travel to Sevilla in the Champions League last 16 tonight, underdogs after a 1-1 first leg home draw in the Russian capital. It would have been worse if Mark Gonzalez had not equalised with a wonder goal after Alvaro Negredo's away strike had put the Spanish side in front. Gonzalez has had an interesting career. A Chile international, he will represent them in the World Cup finals in the country of his birth. Born in Durban, South Africa, his father, Raul, was a professional footballer. When he was 10-years-old, Gonzalez's family returned to Chile and, as a promising teenager, he was signed up by Everton, mainstays of the Chilean first division rather than the English Premier League outfit.

There he was spotted by Universidad Catolica, the biggest team in Chile, and from then on his progress was swift, becoming a Catolica regular and making his international debut against Costa Rica in the summer of 2003. A year later Gonzalez joined Albacete, a town famous for making knives and having a team who habitually divide their time between Spain's top two divisions. The jet-heeled winger - unsurprising nicknamed 'Speedy' - enjoyed a good first year in Spain. His acceleration troubled even the most accomplished defences and he scored five goals in 2004/05, including a brilliant equaliser against Barcelona - only for Xavi to give the Catalans a late victory.

Yet despite his excellent crosses, free-kicks and ability to play on either wing or up front, Gonzalez could not stop Albacete from finishing bottom of the Primera Liga. Gonzalez's form brought him to the attention of Paco Herrera, Liverpool's first team coach, who recommended him to Rafa Benitez. Gonzalez agreed to go on loan to Liverpool for the 2005/06 season with a view to a permanent move, but in August 2005 he was denied a British work permit because Chile's Fifa ranking was too low.

A cruciate knee ligament injury further depressed Gonzalez, but Liverpool kept faith in the player and signed him for a reported £1.5 million (Dh8.25m) in October 2005, with Gonzalez loaned back to Albacete to continue his recuperation. He was then loaned to Real Sociedad until the summer of 2006. Gonzalez excelled with the Basque side and few were surprised that San Sebastian's finest wanted to sign him permanently, yet appreciating Liverpool's patience, the thought of going anywhere but Anfield barely crossed his mind.

Still only 21, he joined Liverpool in 2006 yet what should have been his most exciting venture proved to be a disappointment as he made just 25 first-team appearances during a season once again disrupted by injury. He joined Real Betis a year later. Sevilla fans are unlikely to welcome him back to the city he left in 2009 following Betis' relegation to join CSKA Moscow for a not inconsiderable ?6.5m (Dh32.5m) fee.

He was thus doubly pleased with his goal in Moscow. "When I was with Betis, Sevilla were our biggest opponents," he said. "Thank God I played well and scored. It was my first official Champions League goal and an important one at that." Gonzalez, now 25, admits that he would have approached his time at Liverpool differently had he been more experienced, but, like the rest of his career, it was part of a learning curve. Tonight he is eagerly awaiting another chance to show how far he has progressed.

sports@thenational.ae Sevilla v CSKA Moscow, 11.45pm, Aljazeera Sport + 5