Sunday 25 February 2018

Making his name in an alien world

Everton's Ramiro Funes Mori
Everton's Ramiro Funes Mori

Paul Wilson

Ramiro Funes Mori is a bit of a mouthful, so Everton's new centre-half from Argentina has been thinking about shortening it. "I have asked my team-mates to call me Funes," he says. "Though in the media I like to be Funes Mori, and that's what it says on my shirt. Jose is really my first name, but my mum and dad call me Ramiro. Actually, I think I have too many names."

Whatever they choose to call him Everton supporters had better get used to him, because with Phil Jagielka out for two months Funes Mori is in for a prolonged run in the first team. The chance may have come slightly sooner than he expected or wished but it is unlikely to faze him. This 24-year-old is not just a veteran of the superclasico derby between River Plate and Boca Juniors, he scored the winning goal for River Plate in his last one. A header, at Boca's ground. An experience, he says, that allowed him to remain calm about making his Goodison debut against Chelsea then appearing in the Merseyside derby.

"What you have to understand about football in Argentina is that it is life and death," he explains. "People are crazy about it, and sadly there have been fatalities. For that reason, they don't allow away supporters at games any more, there is too much trouble and fighting. So in the last derby it felt like it was 45,000 people versus 11. When I scored there was perfect silence. When I screamed I heard myself, and so did the rest of the ground."

Funes Mori speaks in fluent English, a result of spending his teenage years in Texas, where his father moved to work as a mechanic. Along with his identical twin, Rogelio, he gained a degree of fame in the USA by taking part in a football reality show built around young players trying to break into the big time.

The prize for winning was supposed to be an MLS contract, though it did not work out quite like that. "Rogelio won and nothing happened," he says. "He never got a contract with FA Dallas and we wanted to play professionally, so we went back to Argentina when we were 16 years old."

Both imagined they would one day move on from Argentina to Europe and both did, just not together. Rogelio moved first, but a spell at Benfica did not work out and after a period on loan in Turkey he moved to his present club, Monterrey in Mexico. Ramiro stayed longer at River Plate and stayed focused on England. "As a kid I always watched the Premier League, so when Everton came in for me I had no doubts," he says. "For me this is the best league in Europe, playing in it is a dream come true."

Funes Mori nevertheless sounded out a few fellow Argentinians on the advisability of a move to England. Having just broken into the Argentina team he was able to ask Martin Demichelis and Pablo Zabaleta of Manchester City about life in the north-west of England. "They both recommended it," he says. "Mostly for the fish and chips, actually, but they said I would have no problems with English football. They said it would be faster and more intense than I was used to, and it is, but I don't mind that. I am here to adapt and learn, and so far I am enjoying it a lot."

Everton play Sunderland today seeking their first league win since September.


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