Sunday 04 June 2023, 03:00

Julio Gonzalez Ferreira: a tale of triumph over adversity

The accident happened on 22 December 2005, on the road between Vicenza and Venice, hours before he was due to fly home to Paraguay for the holidays. Twenty-seven days later, and despite their best efforts, the medical team were forced to amputate his left arm. Julio Gonzalez Ferreira was 24 years old. The dreams he had had as a kid kicking the ball around near his childhood home in Asuncion were now over. Dreams that had been sustained by goals and hard work at club level and with the national team. He had featured in the Paraguay sides that finished fourth at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Argentina 2001™ and won a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, while his debut on the biggest stage was to come, with La Albirroja having had qualified for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™.

“When the surgeon told me that they had to amputate my arm, my world fell apart,” Gonzalez Ferreira told, during a break from his duties with the FIFA Technical Study Group at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Argentina 2023™. “It’s hard to express everything that went through my head…I even had a pre-contract signed with Roma…I was going to replace my childhood hero, Gabriel Batistuta!” he added.

How did he get through it? “Football was at the heart of it. I knew that my future depended on my perseverance, on the same thing that made me a professional footballer in the first place. So I set out with the aim of playing again, no matter what the doctors said, or how many people thought it was impossible,” explains Gonzalez Ferreira, now 42 years old.

Interview with Julio Gonzalez during the FIFA U-20 World Cup Argentina 2023

While Vicenza offered him a coaching role within their youth set-up as his recovery advanced, Julio returned to Paraguay in 2007, and signed with Tacuary. There, after a great deal of hard work, on 18 November 2007, 22 months and 26 days after the accident, he took to the field and played professionally once more.

With his brother Celso playing alongside him, Gonzalez Ferreira was on the field for nearly 60 minutes against a powerful Olimpia side. The story made headlines worldwide, and served as inspiration for thousands of people. “That achievement meant that football could be the main priority in my life once more. Since then, I’ve stayed in the game in one form or another.”

He retired in 2008. Since then, he has worked with Inter Milan’s foundation in Paraguay, running training sessions for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. He also qualified as a coach, working in the lower divisions. Last year, he joined the FIFA Legends programme.

Interview with Julio Gonzalez during the FIFA U-20 World Cup Argentina 2023

His time at the current tournament in Argentina is, he says, “bringing back so many memories”. It was here that he was one of the key players when Paraguay secured a historic fourth place finish in the U-20 World Cup Argentina 2001. He is surprised when shows him a video of the two goals he scored in that competition, against Iran in the group stage and against Ukraine in the round of 16. “I really wanted to see them again. They bring back such happy memories, a really nice feeling!” he smiles.

He speaks with a touch of emotion when asked what it means to him to form part of the FIFA Technical Study Group here. “It’s life’s way of answering me, of saying ‘this is your reward for all that effort, all that sacrifice, for never giving up, never throwing in the towel. Life and football are repaying you now.’”

Interview with Julio Gonzalez during the FIFA U-20 World Cup Argentina 2023

In between memories, the former forward organises his papers and his tablet ahead of the first of the round of 16 games. During the matches, he observes and analyses all the “tactical, technical, physical and even psychological aspects of the game, generating data that the teams and players can then use. And FIFA makes them available to the world of football via their Training Centre, which anyone can access,” he explains. “All this material we generate is fantastic, because it goes into a final report for the tournament. Have you any idea how valuable all this information would have been in my time as a player?” he adds.

With his coach’s eye, he has been impressed by what he has seen so far in the tournament, particularly “how the teams are building play from the goalkeeper or the central defenders, through the full-backs and midfield and ending up in organised attacking plays”.

The next game is about to begin, and Gonzalez Ferreira dives back into his work with a smile, happy at what he now helps to create. Football always gives a second chance to those who persevere.

For more information on the FIFA Technical Study Group and the FIFA Training Centre, click here.