Until the age of 12, football was pure fun for Costa Rica’s Randall Leal. His days revolved around about playing in his Moravian neighbourhood, receiving compliments from his friends on his impressive standard, then heading home to his parents’ very humble abode.
The changes then came thick and fast for the teenage Randall. First, his father gave him permission to finally try out for Deportivo Saprissa, where he would have to stay, and then he found out that there would be an addition to the family.
“When my brother came into the world, I was 14 and starting to play seriously. Back then my mum was 43, so the pregnancy had its risks. I told my parents that I was going to take care of them and my little brother, and that I was going to try twice as hard so we could improve our situation. We weren’t a family with much money, so that was motivation to get ahead,” he says in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
And thus far, Leal has delivered on that promise. And when things are not going well on the pitch, the 24-year-old works tirelessly and draws on his steely resolve, doing everything possible to turn things around.
It was no surprise then when the dedication he showed in his formative years earned him a coveted move to Europe at a very young age. “I left for Belgium at 18 to play for KV Mechelen, where I spent three years. The first went very well as I made my debut and got quite a bit of playing time. Then they extended my contract but, a week after I signed, a new coach was appointed. Things got tougher for me then and I didn’t do so well.”
“That said, I wanted to stay at the club and keep learning. The things I could learn there, I wasn’t going to pick up in Costa Rica, so I stayed another couple of years. Sometimes people imagine that because you go to Europe, everything is perfect. But no, it was complicated. And I was suffering in silence, because I didn’t want to worry my parents. Especially my mum, because she said she’d clean houses to have have money for me to come back. However, my dad always handled the situation well and gave me the strength to persevere.”
After three seasons, Leal understood it was time to come back. Times had changed and it was now or never:
“I wanted to go back to Costa Rica because by that time the team had played at the World Cup in Russia and the talk was of rebuilding and bringing through a new generation of players. So I wanted to go back to Saprissa to be closer to the national team. And it was a good decision: I did well when I returned and got called up to the Tico squad.”
Randall Leal in brief
He was born on 14 January 1997 in San Jose, Costa Rica
He played at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2017, where he scored one goal
He made his senior national team debut in 2018
He normally plays on the wing and is known his for speed and dribbling skills
In 2020 he joined MLS side Nashville SC
Mindset the key
Though just 24 years old, the manner in which he has managed his career thus far indicates an ever-present maturity shaped by the lessons of his own family.
“My dad played in Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras, but a lack of commitment prevented keep playing for longer. That’s why he’s always supported me so that the same thing doesn’t happen to me.”
Currently on the books of MLS side Nashville, Leal and has been named in the Tico squad for the 2020 CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship.
“In Costa Rica they say that our group is the generation in which they have the most faith. It’s a generation with a lot of talent as well as ample experience in the country’s top flight – with some having even played for the senior national team. It’s a good opportunity to show what we’re capable of. My dream is to do well at these kind of things and get the opportunity to make amends back in Europe.”
Understandably, he has been counting down the days for the chance to end a period of 17 years without an Olympic appearance by Costa Rica’s footballers.
“This month, with the qualifying tournament, is the most important of 2021. I’ve spoken to several team-mates who have actually been to an Olympiad, and they say it’s like going to a World Cup. But why should I only hear about it secondhand? I want to experience it for myself. It would be nice to qualify after so long.”
This gifted winger is also ready for the next challenge in his life. He even has a goal celebration planned as his family, which has always been his driving force, is about to get bigger. “My wife is six months pregnant so I’m going to put the ball underneath my shirt for my future child,” he concludes.