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We have to start with the earthquake.
If you want to know what football really means in Mexico, this is the story.
June 17, 2018. We were playing Germany — the reigning champions — in our first game at the World Cup in Russia. When I scored in the 35th minute, it caused pandemonium back home. Everyone watching on TV started jumping up and down celebrating — millions of people at the exact same time — and the earth started to move.
This is not a figure of speech. The goal caused an actual earthquake. The department of seismology in Mexico even put out a statement. Their sensors picked up a seismic event in Mexico City at the exact same time as the goal. We scored, and the fans back home made the earth shake.
Just try to imagine that.
In Mexico, this is what football means. Es una locura. It’s crazy.
On top of that, this was my debut at the World Cup. And I scored the winner. Against the champions. Pffft … come on! So few people get to live a moment like that. It gives me goose bumps. I remember my whole family was crying. I only found out about the earthquake a day or two later, but what I’d seen in Moscow had already been something special. I heard the screaming, the chanting, this incredible energy from the Mexican fans. On social media, I saw the drunken partying in the bars, the metro, the streets.
And they were all singing my name over and over again. You know the tune of the White Stripes song?
“Elllll Chuuu-cky Lo-za-AAA-nooo!”
That day changed so many things for me. It put me in the Mexican history books, it elevated my status in the national team, it even helped get me my move to Napoli (we’ll get onto that later). But, more than that, it changed who I was.
Outside, there was an earthquake. Inside me, it was like a bomb went off. Honestly, I’m still feeling the aftershocks.
I’m only 27, but in some ways I feel like I’ve already lived the lives of 10 people.
I was a skinny kid from Mexico City with the same dream as millions of others.
One day, I'm going to play in the Estadio Azteca.
How many kids have said this to themselves? But it really did seem real for me, because our house was on the Avenida del Iman, three minutes from the stadium. I could literally look up and see the lights. It dominated the neighborhood. Wherever you went, you could always see it.
Our place was in a row of buildings, and out back there was a park where we’d kick the ball around. I’ve gotta be honest, the field was horrible. There were stones and bumps everywhere, but you could always find me and my brothers out there with a ball.
When it came to football, let’s say I had a fire in my eyes and a devil on my shoulder. When my brothers and I would play, we would literally fight. I would fight everybody haha! Off the pitch, I was this shy, little kid but when it came to football, I just lived it in a different way. I was a different person.
Soon, I was “El Chucky.”
Maybe you’ve heard about how I got my name, but I will tell you the real story....
At 10, I was playing in the Pachuca academy, and I was always playing jokes on my teammates — standard kid stuff like hiding in a closet or under the bed and then jumping out to try and scare them. Back then, I was this tiny 10-year-old with spiky hair, so I guess to them I was like the doll from Child’s Play.
But the name was never meant as an insult. One day, during the first week I was there, a couple of my teammates came up to me like, “Hey, y’know, we were thinking … would it bother you if we called you Chucky?”
They actually came to ask my permission!
And I was like, “I don’t have a problem with that.”
I mean, it could be worse, right?
And from that moment on, it just stuck. Depending on where I am in the world it gets pronounced differently. In Naples, I’m used to hearing “Choccy” or even “Cookie” haha! To this day, there are people who never use my real name — I think the president of Pachuca didn’t even know it! I was just Chucky Lozano.
I’m forever grateful to Pachuca because, by the age of 18, I’d already achieved my childhood dream. Five minutes after I came off the bench in my first-team debut, I scored the winner against Club América. At the Azteca.
That was an incredible moment, but you know the really crazy part? Just 10 days before, my daughter, Danielle, had been born.
Talk about timing.
That was … boom … another earthquake.
Man, to be honest, it was scary, too. I was so young. When my wife, Ana, got pregnant, I had no idea what was going to happen in my career. I was still trying to make my way in the under-17s and under-20s. I was a kid. I was still fighting with everyone! But as soon as Danielle arrived? I just knew what I had to do. I was done living for me. I had to live for her.
Even though I was on the verge of making it at Pachuca, I was still earning very little — and suddenly I was going to need to start paying for everything. I needed to be able to give my family the best. So only being able to say that I’d scored at the Azteca wasn’t enough anymore. I needed to set a new dream, bigger goals. I started to see the world differently.
I looked at the map. I listened to what they were saying in the press, and I was like, Hmmm … Europe, I have to play in Europe. That’s where the best are.
Three years later, I’d taken my family halfway around the world to the Netherlands with PSV. I have to thank God, because the move went very well. We won the league in my first season and in the second I was playing in the Champions League and was also a regular for Mexico.
A few times in my career already, Ana and I have had to stop and be like, “Wait, what is going on? This is our life now? How did we get here?!” So much had happened between my debut and PSV. It had been a few years, but in some ways it felt like only a few days.
After the World Cup (and the earthquake), another amazing thing happened. One day, I got this call from a number in Italy.
“Hola, Chucky? This is Carlo Ancelotti speaking.”
When I heard the name, man, it blew my socks off.
You see, Ancelotti had been working as a pundit for Televisa in Mexico during the World Cup and had seen my goal. He wanted me to come join him at Napoli.
During the 2018–19 season, I would get calls from him every week. When I got injured, he would ask after me, “How is your knee doing? How is the recovery going?”
That’s just the way he is. When he asked me to come to Napoli, how could I say no?
You already know Ancelotti. He’s a great coach, but he’s an even better person.
My first night in Italy he took me and my family to dinner with his whole family. And I mean his whole family — he even brought his grandkids. That meant everything to me, because I think sometimes people don’t realize how tough it is to change countries as a footballer. Especially for Latin Americans, when the culture in Europe is so different and you are so far from family. But Ancelotti just had a way of making you feel at home. That humanity stayed with me.
It was a shock when he was sacked after a few months of tough results. And to be honest with you, I struggled mentally that first season. I was in and out of the team and things became difficult.
Not long after Ancelotti left, COVID hit. Ana and the kids had gone back to Mexico and I was supposed to join them during an international break in March of 2020, but suddenly all flights were canceled and I was trapped alone on the other side of the world.
At first, no one really understood what was going on. I thought this thing would blow over in a few days. After a few weeks, I told the club I couldn’t take it anymore. I was begging them to let me go back home. But they were like, “Look, you can’t leave. We’re not just talking about a fine, you’ll go to jail.”
That moment hit me like a horror movie. In the end, like many people during that time, I spent three months on my own, feeling like I was going crazy. I felt so alone and so far from my dreams. I’d moved to Europe for my family and now we were so far apart. I didn’t even have football as a distraction.
There have been other stones in the road since then, but I’m fortunate that I’ve always bounced back. We won the Coppa Italia when football returned after lockdown — and I became the first Mexican player to win a trophy in Italy. I am also the first Mexican to score in Serie A. Since then, we’ve been so close to the Scudetto, too.
I’ve had other great coaches that I’ve learned a lot from. Very different characters like Gattuso (the man wants to live at 100 miles an hour) and Spalletti, who tries to harness that little devil that sits on my shoulder.
I hope I’ve been able to open doors for my countrymen to go through. And if they do, they’ll find a culture that is very different, but in some ways very similar. The passion the fans have here in Napoli is incredible. I can’t possibly explain it. The way they go all out for their team … as a player, it just fills you with energy and pride. There’s pressure, too, but by now I’m used to it. I enjoy it.
Mexican fans have the same mentality — as you saw in Russia, our passion is something different. It can cause earthquakes. What can I say? We live football beautifully.
I know people like to talk about the curse of el quinto partido — the fifth game at the World Cup — and the pressure on the Mexican team, but honestly, I’ve got no time for that. It’s not worth speaking about except to say: I’m not interested in superstition. It’s a cliché but we have to focus on the present, not history, and take it game by game. First game, second game, third … and then, hopefully, good things will follow. Maybe even a fifth game.
But we can’t take anything for granted. When the World Cup rolls around, I think everyone just expects Mexico and our fans to be there filling the stadiums and the streets with our passion and color.
And we know what it actually takes just to make it to the final 32. We have struggled a lot to be here.
Maybe other people think CONCACAF qualifying is easy for a team like Mexico, but let me tell you, it’s not a joke.
Anyone who thinks that we have it easy should try going to Panama for an away game, with rockets and fireworks going off all night outside your hotel window. Fans smashing up the team bus with bottles, rocks, coins — everything that can be thrown.
One time in Panama, they turned off the floodlights mid-game, just to mess with us, and then left them off for 30 minutes, all to try to ruin our rhythm.
You can also try going up north to Canada like we did last November and playing in –23°C, with the pitch totally frozen over like cement. Man, I have never felt cold like that in my life! They were calling the stadium in Edmonton that night the “Iceteca”!
Then there was the Gold Cup last year. Do you remember when I collided with the Trinidad and Tobago keeper’s knee?
My neck snapped backwards, my spine was damaged, my eye just exploded. I was so scared. I cried a lot. I feared for my life, honestly. Thanks to the surgeon, I was only out for three months, but so many doctors told me that it was a miracle that I had even survived, let alone come back to play again so quickly.
For this World Cup, we have suffered.
Personally, I am not the same kid I was four years ago in Russia. We are not the same team. We have lived so much in these four years, some good, some bad. But we are the same country. We will all live these moments together — 130 million of us.
We will suffer, and you will suffer.
We will feel joy, and you will feel joy.
If you believe, we will believe.
Even when we are all the way across the world, we can feel you.
I have felt it.
We can make the earth move.
This article was originally published on theplayertribune as The Aftershock.