- At 26, Yoel Barcenas is a key member of Panama’s new generation
- After Russia 2018, he moved to Spain’s Real Oviedo
- “I want to play a bigger role than before” the player says
For Edgar Yoel Barcenas, the seeds of ambition sown at the age of five slowly but surely bore fruit. From a very young age, the Panamanian knew that if if he wanted to escape poverty and improve his family’s lot, then he would have to realise his dream of becoming a professional footballer.
A native of Colon, Barcenas learned to dribble in the streets of the Panamanian province that has produced such giants of Canalero football as the Dely Valdes brothers and Reynaldo Lewin.
“It’s a rather deprived neighbourhood,” Barcenas told FIFA.com. “That desire to succeed that we coloneses possess is what gives us the extra drive to represent our club or country. From the moment I started playing, I knew I had to do things right to get ahead and break into European football,”
And that dream first began to take shape at the Colon club Arabe Unido. After joining as a nine-year-old, he gradually worked his way through the youth ranks until debuting with the senior team in 2012. “It all depends on your mentality. The road is far from easy; there are many obstacles along the way. But from the moment I began training for this, I’ve always wanted to fulfil my dream.”
Two years was all el Mago (the Magician) needed to break into the national team, with whom he would later make history as part of the first Panama team to qualify for the FIFA World Cup™.
“Qualifying for that World Cup was undoubtedly the happiest moment of my career. There was a lot of expectation. It was the first time it had been done and I was delighted to have achieved that historical feat with the team.”
The joy of participating in the tournament itself was no less intense. “The keenest emotion is when you qualify because that’s the most difficult thing and the road is long and hard. But there are also many pleasant sensations when you get there. Our first match against Belgium was a huge thrill – several of us wept because of the joy we felt. It’s an indescribable and beautiful feeling that I hope we can repeat.”
Specifically the player is hoping to experience that happiness a second time by qualifying for Qatar2022™. Now 26, he will be aiming to draw on the experience gained with Spanish outfit Real Oviedo, where he has matured a lot as a player over the last two seasons.
“Living in Europe has changed the way I view football. I’ve learned a lot by observing European culture, where you strive every day to improve and prepare for games in the best possible way. I always try to learn from all the people who can teach me.”
Heart of a leader
Barcenas’ career trajectory and valuable experiences make him a natural candidate to become one of the leading players in a Panama side undergoing a marked generational change.
“I’m ready and am training to be an important player for Panama. I don’t know if I’ll be one of the leading players or not, but I want to play a bigger role than I did before. I’ve already experienced a period of adaptation and integration into the team, and I handled it well. I’ve already been through a World Cup, played in Europe, and now I want to play a more significant role in the team.”
The path has never been a straightforward one for Panama and the road ahead would not appear to be any different. Sacrifice, a lot of effort and the leadership skills of players who, like him, learned from an early age that life is not easy, that everything worthwhile is hard to achieve and that you have to give absolutely everything to realise your dreams on and off the pitch.
“It’s complicated. We’re being given another chance because we were practically out, and we have to take advantage of it. And we should always remember that the opportunity can get away from us again. But by doing things right at least we can get to the final stage of CONCACAF qualifying. Physically we’re good; we have good genes. We’re strong and fast. What we’re lacking and need to improve is our on-field organisation and tactics,” he concludes.
Fortunately, Panama can count on Yoel Barcenas, a young man who began to dream at the age of five and who today is determined that the joys of competing at the World Cup will not just be something mentioned in the country’s history books. Whether he can achieve that or not remains to be seen once the whistle goes on CONCACAF qualifying…