‘Maybe I’ll retire’: How Indian move saved Davila’s career

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on April 27, 2022 and has been republished ahead of A-Leagues All Access Episode 14 | Be Kind, Be Brave, Be Happy, which centres on the story of Macarthur FC captain Ulises Davila.

Ulises Davila has spent three memorable seasons in the Isuzu UTE A-League – but if not for his brief stint in the Indian Super League, the Mexican playmaker may have never made the switch to the A-League Men’s.

In fact, he may have hung up his boots. 

The Macarthur FC captain has had a profound impact on the Isuzu UTE A-League since his arrival in 2019 for the first of two seasons at Wellington Phoenix, highlighted by sharing Johnny Warren Medal honours with Milos Ninkovic in 2021.

In this episode of A-Leagues podcast My Football Passport, hosted by James Dodd, Ulises Davila to discusses his “dream” move to English giants Chelsea, and the winding road that followed on his journey to the Isuzu UTE A-League.

Listen below, or on Apple Podcasts, or Spotify, to hear more about Davila’s many loan moves in Europe, of an unforgettable first day at Stamford Bridge, and the Indian Super League move which resurrected his career.

He was named captain of the ‘Nix in December, 2020, and was handed the armband in Campbelltown before kicking a ball for the Bulls ahead of the 2021-22 campaign.

Davila has quickly become one of the league’s most pivotal figures – but fans of Wellington, Macarthur, and all the neutrals who he’s charmed along the way have the Delhi Dynamos to thank for Davila’s decision to extend his career.

“In one moment I was thinking if India doesn’t work, I’m just going to retire,” Davila told My Football Passport. “I said if I enjoy in India and feel my body can fight and compete, maybe we keep going. If I feel like there’s no more, maybe I’ll retire. 

“After India I was enjoying, and felt my body was still good so I said: ‘You know what? maybe I can play a couple of more years.’”

“We came (to New Zealand) with the mentally to enjoy everything. It’s football, we enjoy football. We are out for a coffee, it’s beautiful. We started to change a lot of things in our heads. It was time to just enjoy life, and try to make the most of your time in life. Not just living, and rushing, and chasing things, (but) living the moment and enjoying. 

That I think works a lot in New Zealand. We started new, fresh and from nothing so it was very nice to be there, to be honest.

The call ‘I was always waiting for’: Why dream Chelsea move never led to EPL, Mexico debut for Davila

August, 2011: Davila puts pen to paper on a five-year deal with Premier League giants Chelsea. 

The deal came in the aftermath of the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Colombia, where Davila continued his rise through the ranks of the national setup. 

The path had been laid for Davila’s five-year future: to make his full international debut, and eventually break into the senior Chelsea squad after a series of loan moves. 

He never played a minute for either Chelsea or Mexico. 

It’s funny how (things work).When I moved to Europe, the national team never called me again.

It was a move from boyhood club Guadalajara (Chivas) which opened many doors for Davila, who played in the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal on loan from the London outfit. But that Blues debut proved elusive – as did the call from the Mexican international setup. 

“It was a little bit disappointing for me from then, because it was one thing I was always waiting (for): a call, or a chance to prove myself in the national team,” Davila said. “I never got that chance.

“It was hard (getting a work VISA) to even stay in Chelsea, the bench or the squad, so that’s one thing I always – not regret – but I could say I should have at least had one opportunity… but it’s part of football.”

Davila grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico, rising through the Chivas academy before receiving a dream contract with Chelsea in 2011 off the back of Mexico’s third-place finish at the U20 World Cup in 2011.

Davila in action for Chivas in October, 2010.

It was in Colombia on international duty with the U20 side when Davila’s agent delivered the news of Chelsea’s contract offer.

“I remember it was exactly after we played the second game in the World Cup against England,” Davila said. “After that, my agent in that moment said: ‘We need to talk.’ I came down into the lobby of the hotel and he (said): ‘Look, it’s done… you are now (a Chelsea player).’

“I said: Okay, no seriously what did you have to tell me?’ And he said: ‘No, Uli, it’s serious.’

“The big dream in Mexico is to become a professional footballer. The second one is to go to Europe. I said: ‘Can I talk with my parents?’ And he said: ‘Yes, but your parents already know this. I’ve already told them. They already know, everyone is just waiting for your decision.’

“I said: ‘Yes, for sure I want to go.’”

Davila was made to keep the news secret until the conclusion of the World Cup, when both Chivas and Chelsea went public with the announcement. 

“I think I went back to my bed and started to cry because it was the dream. I made a dream true. I called my parents and we started to cry together. Crying for happiness, you know?”

Davila arrived in London as Chelsea’s fifth signing of the off-season leading into the 2011-12 Premier League season, following Oriol Romeu, Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois and Juan Mata through the doors at Stamford Bridge.

The Mexican recalled: “I started to meet all the players, (Didier) Drogba, John Terry… I was like: ‘Can I take a picture with them?’ And they said: ‘No, you cannot even think to ask for a picture, now you are a player in the squad!’ 

“But I said: ‘I see all of these (players) on the TV, I want to take a picture!’ And they said: ‘No chance, Uli, please don’t say you want a picture!’”

It was amazing, I cannot forget it. It was one of the best experiences of my life.

Chelsea legends Didier Drogba and John Terry.

But difficulties obtaining a visa to play professional football in England hindered Davila’s chances of breaking into the Chelsea squad. Instead, he was sent on a series of loans: to Vitesse in the Netherlands, to CE Sabadell FC, Cordoba CF and CD Tenerife in Spain, and Vitoria Setubal in Portugal before his eventual return to Mexico via Santos Laguna in 2016.

His stint at Cordoba produced perhaps the most brilliant moment in his European stay: a stoppage-time equaliser in a promotion play-off final against Las Palmas secured his side promotion to LaLiga for the first time in 42 years. 

The following off-season presented a simple situation on paper for Davila: peruse any opportunities available to him for the following campaign (he cites LaLiga sides Sevilla and Espanyol as potential suitors at the time), or stay another season at Cordoba. 

What followed next made Davila “lose his head.” 

“I don’t know what happened,” he said. “A bad decision, maybe, to give all the decisions to my agent in that moment.

Davila continued: “Giving all the power to my agent… everything happened because of that bad decision, I gave all the decision to him and maybe he wanted to push (for) more money, or he wanted to receive more money, I don’t know.

“It didn’t happen, and then on the last day he told me: ‘You aren’t going to Cordoba, you are going to Tenerife.’ 

“I said: ‘Second division? Again? But I already passed that. How can you not close the deal with Cordoba? It was the simplest thing in the world. I was happy to go down in money, whatever you needed, just close it, make the deal.’

“He told me we were going to Tenerife and I said: ‘No. No chance I’m going.’ I didn’t want to go – not because of the team, with all respect Tenerife is a big team in Spain – but my in my head I (thought) I don’t want to go back to second division when I already got (to the) first and played a big role in the team.

After that I lost my head… I said: ‘I want to leave Spain. I don’t want to keep playing in second division.’

Davila split the 2014-15 season at Tenerife and Portuguese side Vitoria Setubal before the conclusion of his Chelsea contract, and a return to Mexico with Santos Laguna.

“I came back very proud, very happy, and I didn’t regret,” Davila said. “For sure, if you ask me I would have loved to play at least one minute in Chelsea. But you know how it is in football, there’s many things you can’t control and circumstances that don’t depend on the player. But I came back happy, I came back different like a player and like a person. 

“I came back happy and proud of what I did.

Davila added: “I always try to be very positive in my life, because I know what it takes. Nothing is for free, no-one gives you anything for free, especially in football.

“When I moved to Europe, I learned how hard it is to be there. Especially when you’re a foreign player, it’s very hard. You have to show, and prove you’re good enough. 

“I stayed there for five years, it wasn’t easy but I don’t regret. For sure, I went with the mentality to play for Chelsea. It didn’t happen for the reasons what happened, no problem, but I never regret. I’m proud because I (fought) and tried to do my best.”

Watch A-Leagues All Access Episode 14 | Be Kind, Be Brave, Be Happy on Thursday night on KEEPUP.

Produced by KEEPUP Studios and JAMTV, each new episode of the docuseries will debut on Thursday night on 10 Play, KEEPUP.COM.AU, the KEEPUP app. It will be available on Australia’s fastest growing streaming service, Paramount+, and will then be broadcast on 10 Bold at 2:00pm AEDT on Sunday afternoons as an appetiser for the evening’s Isuzu UTE A-League Men game on the same channel.