Wednesday 10 June 2020, 16:54

Santiago: If I do well here, other Mexicans will follow

  • PSV Eindhoven has special ties to Mexican football

  • Cecilia Santiago is the first Mexican woman to play in the Netherlands

  • The Tri international talks about her first year there

It all started with Carlos Salcido and his move to PSV Eindhoven in 2006. The experience was so good that he would later be followed by fellow countrymen Francisco 'Maza' Rodriguez, Andres Guardado, Hector Moreno, Hirving 'Chucky' Lozano and Erick Gutierrez.

In recent times, the Dutch club has become the favourite destination for Mexicans seeking to make the transition to Europe. "They really like us here," says the latest addition, goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago, who became the first female professional from Mexico to follow in the footsteps of her male compatriots.

Chatting to one year into her PSV adventure, the shot stopper says: "The Mexicans who have been here have done a great job, and it’s cool they’ve paved the way for women to follow. That brings with it responsibility, the knowledge that if I do well, then others can come after me."

Cecilia Santiago poses with the PSV shirt

Did you know?

  • In 2011, aged just 16, 'Ceci' Santiago became the youngest goalkeeper to play at a FIFA Women's World Cup™

  • She also kept goal for El Tri in the subsequent edition at Canada 2015 and played in three editions of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup™

  • Prior to signing for PSV, the 25-year-old had already played in Mexico, the USA and Cyprus

A country enamoured with women's football

Despite being denied the chance to win the 2019/2020 Eredivisie because of the COVID-19-related suspension of the rest of the season, PSV have been nominated to compete in the 2020/21 UEFA Women's Champions League. For 'Ceci', on balance her first year has been very positive.

"I am growing and enjoying the experience. Coming to the Netherlands was an important decision and I'm happy. Last year their [women’s] national team were runners-up at the World Cup and the league has come on a lot. Since the World Cup boom, the league has been attracting more media attention and people have been showing more interest. Sometimes we even play in the same stadiums as the men."

The keeper came to the Dutch league after two seasons with one of Mexico's top sides, Club America. "The biggest difference is that the league here has been professional for longer and also the players are more experienced and mature. I'm learning a lot," she says. 'Ceci' hopes this experience will help her have more playing time with the national team, saying, "I hope it reflects the work I'm doing. It’s good preparation to represent Mexico in the best possible way."

PSV players pose prior to a game

Home away from home

The keeper has adapted well to a country whose climate and customs are markedly different to those she left behind. "Yeah, the Netherlands is totally different (laughs). When I tell people that in Mexico the typical temperature is 24-25 degrees, they say, 'What!?'"

The support of her compatriot Erick Gutierrez and, above all, that of her team-mates has been a great help. "Having that support has been fundamental because, while I had lived abroad before, I hadn’t been alone. I do feel more mature now. It's cool when people help you and make you feel at home when you're far from it."

One of the people who helped most with her transition last season was her rival for the No1 jersey, the Spaniard Eli Sarasola. "She helped me a lot. She's been in the Netherlands for a long time, so she knows the language, how things are... Having someone by your side who speaks your language is very special, and she’s also an amazing keeper. I think we learned a lot from each other. Unfortunately, she is retiring."

Compete in order to learn

Sarasola’s replacement and the person 'Ceci' will be competing with next season to defend PSV’s goal is not just any keeper, but Dutch captain Sari van Veenendaal, winner of the Golden Glove award at France 2019 and The Best FIFA Women’s Goalkeeper 2019 award. "I'm delighted about Sari," she says with a broad smile.

"Obviously, it's going to mean very stiff competition, but it'll allow me to measure myself and see where I really am, and also to learn. Being able train daily with the best in the world is going to be beneficial both to me and the team. So, yes I’m happy, and eager too! I hope she’s' learned some Spanish – last season she played at Atletico Madrid – but if not, I’ll have to teach her some (laughs)."

Learning during lockdown

The keeper is making the most of her final days in Mexico, where she has spent quarantine, before returning to the rigours of club life. "During these weeks, besides exercising to stay in shape, I’ve been reading a lot. I’ve tried to get a deeper understanding of myself and get to know myself a little more. And I've also done some things I never imagined, like learning to sew and cook, as well as some bits of carpentry."

On 12 July, 'Ceci' will resume training with her PSV colleagues ahead of the new season. It promises to be an exciting campaign and one in which she will continue to play her part in ensuring that PSV remains the most Mexican of all Dutch clubs.