Noah Toribio went from hitting the heights at Boca Juniors to rejection at Fleetwood Town – and is now hoping to establish himself in Spain’s third tier.
The 22-year-old, who was born in London, trained alongside Carlos Tevez and Daniele De Rossi at Boca, having been poached from fellow Argentine side Banfield.
But he left the South American country last year and, after a spell away from the game due to coronavirus, found himself on trial at League One club Fleetwood, on Lancashire’s Fylde Coast.
The Cod Army turned him down, however, and in October Toribio signed for Malaga-based Velez CF, who he helped lead to promotion to the newly-formed Segunda RFEF.
But his ultimate goal is to one day return to his birthplace – and play for his beloved Chelsea.
“That is my ambition,” says Toribio, whose mother is American and father Argentine. “I want to come back to where it all started.”
Toribio and his family moved to Kingston-upon-Thames when he was five before emigrating, two years later, to Houston, Texas, where his nomadic footballing journey began.
Such was his talent that he progressed to playing in a local league for 19 and 20 year olds when he was only 15. Following a family discussion, it was then decided that the next step in his football education should be in his father’s homeland.
In 2015, Toribio joined the academy of Banfield, a club based near the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires.
“I had visited my family over there when I was young, but moving there permanently was a huge culture shock,” he says.
“It was obviously extremely difficult, firstly because I was only 15. Economically, too, it was not as safe as the States or the UK, so it was tough.
“I never actually spoke Spanish, so I had to learn it fast because nobody at Banfield spoke English. I was submerged pretty quickly into an unknown environment.”
He spent three years with Banfield before Claudio Vivas – a former assistant to current Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa with Argentina and Athletic Bilbao – recruited him for Boca Juniors.
Toribio was originally a left winger or central midfielder but was converted to a left-sided centre-back at Banfield.
“I reached 6’3″ in my second year there, so I didn’t quite cut it as a left winger, especially when I had 5’2″ Argentines running circles around me!” he laughs.
But it was at Boca that he truly honed his footballing skills, training regularly with former Manchester United and Manchester City forward Tevez and Roma and Italy legend De Rossi, who had a six-month spell at La Bombonera from July 2019.
“As a kid, I had watched Tevez play for Manchester United and Manchester City, so to be on the same pitch as him was surreal. His shooting ability was something else.
“I was there when De Rossi arrived at the club and his first touch was unreal. To train alongside these guys was an incredible experience and they were all so welcoming because I was really nervous. They are good people.”
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Among those who came through the youth system at the same time as him were current Borussia Dortmund defender Leonardo Balerdi and Barcelona’s Santiago Mingo, as well as Exequiel Zeballos, Cristian Medina and Alan Valera, who have all appeared for Boca’s first team.
That was not to be the case for him, though, which became evident when Boca icon Juan Roman Riquelme returned to the club as vice-president.
“He let most of the staff go, especially the guys who I had worked with,” Toribio says. “It was a complete clear out, so I did not think I was not going to have much of a chance to progress further.
“There was disappointment because I felt I was doing well and that I was going to have a shot at the first team.”
Toribio departed Argentina at the end of 2019 and, after a couple of trials with European clubs including Northern Irish team Larne and Dutch top-flight side FC Utrecht, the pandemic struck.
It meant that he had to return to his parents’ home in Texas and was without football for months.
September 2020 saw him spend a couple of weeks with Fleetwood, who were managed by Joey Barton at the time.
“I loved my time there,” Toribio says. “Unfortunately, they didn’t think I had the physicality to play at that level and it seemed they were looking for something else.”
The following month, however, he signed a contract with Velez, who had recently been taken over by an ambitious Swedish consortium.
👋 Hoy presentamos al dominador del juego aéreo…
— Vélez Club de Fútbol (@VELEZCFoficial) March 5, 2021
Managed by former Atletico Madrid midfielder Juan Carlos, the Andalusians were promoted to the third tier last month after a 29-year absence.
“We basically had a whole new team last season, including a few Argentines,” Toribio says. “Next season will be exciting, as we will be playing teams like Barcelona B and we will be entered into the Copa del Rey.”
He currently possesses American, Argentine and Italian passports – the latter thanks to his Italian-born paternal grandparents. The defender is also in the process of acquiring British citizenship but has run into some bureaucratic difficulties due to Brexit.
If he does secure a British passport, it would mean he had a choice of four countries to represent internationally. Should that dilemma ever occur, Toribio’s first pick would be Argentina.
“The majority of my footballing education took place there. I feel more Argentine than anything else, plus football is a way of life there – it is the main thing that they look forward to every day.”
By Simon Yaffe