Striker Johan Vonlanthen was born in the Colombian town of Santa Marta, but for the past four years, he has played for Switzerland and several European clubs.
It was only after he turned 12, and the marriage of his mother with Swiss citizen Roger Vonlanthen, that he arrived in Switzerland.
His first home was in Flamatt, not far from the Swiss capital, Bern. It was there that his talent was first recognised.
Today, Vonlanthen plays for Red Bull Salzburg in the Austrian league and lives 15 kilometres away in Obertauern.
“The atmosphere here is super and my neighbours are really friendly,” he told swissinfo. “The village’s international cooking school has a lot of students my age, so I’m almost never alone at home. And as I’m not far from Switzerland, my friends come to see me.”
Vonlanthen hasn’t forgotten his childhood in Colombia either. “Colombia is a part of me and much of my family lives there. It’s a part of life I cannot forget,” he adds.
However, that is the past and he is happy to have immigrated to Switzerland. “It is also an important part of me. I learnt a lot and grew up there as a person and as a player,” he says.
“I’m a professional now and I have no doubt that my life is meant to be here in Europe – even if I like to spend my holidays in Colombia and see my old school friends. It’s important not to forget your roots.”
When he arrived in Switzerland, he joined the local football club and was soon the goalkeeper. “A lot of my friends are there too, and that’s where I finished high school. I really feel at home [in Flamatt],” he points out.
It wasn’t easy though living the Swiss life at first. “I had problems at the beginning. I had to overcome some inner conflict, smooth out some of my rougher edges and understand the Swiss way of thinking,” he says.
Football helped him integrate. “Sport is a good school; for me and my family it was a real blessing,” he reckons. “Not everyone is as lucky.”
When he was 15, he signed his first professional contract with the Young Boys of Bern and was selected for the under-16 national team. By the time he was 16 he was playing in Switzerland’s first division for his club. At 18 he was part of the national squad.
He is also the youngest player to have scored during the European championships, with a goal against France in Portugal in 2004.
At 22, he has already done the rounds in various national leagues, playing for PSV Eindhoven and NAC Breda in the Netherlands, Brescia in Italy and now for Salzburg.
“I’m very pleased with my career so far,” he says. “It has gone very quickly and I have learnt a lot along the way. I have also matured over the past two years and I have had to absorb plenty of things.”
Not so long ago, his suggestion that he might play for Colombia instead of Switzerland didn’t go down too well in some quarters. But after arriving in Salzburg, he realised that he had learnt the tools of his trade in Europe and that Swiss coaches knew him far better than the Colombians.
“Switzerland made me into the footballer that I am today, so I should be thankful. I am proud to wear the national strip,” he says.
“To represent a country with such cultural and linguistic diversity is very rewarding. But that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten where I came from.”
Vonlanthen speaks seven languages at least partially: his native Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Dutch, English and a bit of Italian.
“Every time I’ve moved, I’ve wanted to learn the local language. Let’s say that I have plenty of free time when I’m home alone,” he admits.
And hinting at another career move, he’s already warning that he might take up Arabic.
swissinfo, Ivan Turmo
Born on February 1, 1986, in Santa Marta, Colombia.
Current team: Red Bull Salzburg
Height: 175 centimetres
Professional career start: 2001 with Young Boys Bern
International career began against Liechtenstein in 2004
Five goals in 17 international matches
Young Boys Bern 2001-2003
PSV Eindhoven, Netherlands, 2003-2004
Brescia, Italy 2005
NAC Breda, Netherlands, 2005-2006
Red Bull Salzburg, since 2006
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