Argentina has been in the midst of an economic crisis, as alarming poverty rates continue to worsen. And Revolution forward Gustavo Bou’s hometown, San Antonio de Padua de la Concordia, in Entre Rios province, is considered by many the most impoverished community in the country. But Concordia is where Bou’s heart is and where he plans to return someday.
“My city, my barrio, the poorest in Argentina, yes,” Bou said. “It has been very difficult times. But my family, my friends — it’s the place in the world where I’m most happy.”
Bou has fond memories of Concordia, including fishing in the Rio Uruguay and playing soccer barefoot against older kids. But times were difficult for the Bou family. In an interview with the Argentina daily/website Pagina 12, Bou talked of splitting an egg and a piece of stale bread as the main meal of the day. There was maté tea, but no sugar. Bou was once recruited for a basketball team but he owned only a pair of dress shoes, so he borrowed shoes from his sister.
Bou, one of 10 siblings (a younger brother plays for CA Union in Argentina), said his parents emphasized education, but school was not for him. He found his way out of poverty via soccer, joining River Plate’s youth team at the age of 14. Four years later, Bou advanced to River’s first team, making his debut under current Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone in March 2008, a month after his 18th birthday.
That would be the start of a career that has taken Bou, 29, to six teams in four countries, an unlikely journey that continued through Buenos Aires to Quito to Tijuana to Foxborough.
New England could not be more different from Bou’s previous stops. But he did not hesitate to jump in, despite having little familiarity with the region. So far, he has adjusted to the climate, cuisine, and customs. He plans to learn English, but he’s able to get by with Spanish, thanks partly to several bilingual teammates.
“I was aware that Boston was a historic city with really good sports teams — American football, basketball, baseball,” Bou said. “They let me know they were interested, and [coach] Bruce Arena called me, and I heard about the project they had.
“It was a place where I had never been before, and that attracted me. But it’s one thing to hear about it and see it, and another to live it. I came here and got completely involved right away and, thank God, it’s worked out.”
The Revolution made the move worthwhile for Bou, offering a salary of $2.1 million annually and a team-record $6.7 million transfer fee to Club Tijuana. And Bou has displayed a knack for scoring, totaling nine goals in 14 games as the Revolution rallied to qualify for a first-round playoff game against Atlanta United Saturday.
“In the time I’ve been here, I like it a lot,” Bou said. “Muy tranquillo for my family, my daughter. We thought it might be difficult but it hasn’t been, and I’m very content here.
“It’s a big city but it’s very calm. I like it here and really hope to stay for a long time, because I feel good here on the field as well as off.”
Arena discovered Bou at Club Tijuana while coaching the Los Angeles Galaxy.
“We played against them every year in some type of training game or whatever, and I watched their games on television, so I was well aware of him,” Arena said. “We did our homework. We talked to Oscar Pareja [former Revolution midfielder, now Tijuana manager]. And I know his agent, who represents a lot of players there.
“He was a player we felt could be real good here. I’m surprised at how quickly he adjusted. We’ve had the right culture for him here. He’s fit in beautifully and feels right at home.”
But Bou might not have ended up with the Revolution had he followed the career path of former teammates such as Rodrigo de Paul, Radamel Falcao, Augusto Fernandez, Erik Lamela, Mateo Musacchio, and Roberto Pereyra, who went overseas on significant transfers.
Bou said there were offers, but deals did not come through.
“They’re looking for young players,” Bou said. “But I’m content to be here and take advantage of the football and the lifestyle here. It is a chance for my family to take advantage of an opportunity to grow and learn in a different culture.”
With River Plate’s juniors, Bou lined up alongside former FC Dallas youth teamer Rogelio Funes Mori. But the path into the first-team lineup was blocked by several established stars. Bou made his professional debut as a late substitute, joining Falcao and Alexis Sanchez on River’s forward line against Velez Sarsfield in 2008. When Bou scored his first goal, he was paired with Falcao up front.
Soon, Falcao and Sanchez would be on their way to Europe, and River brought in veteran replacements such as Sebastian Abreu and David Trezeguet.
In an attempt to find playing time, Bou went on loan to Olimpo, LDU Quito, Gimnasia y Escrima, Racing de Avellaneda. In 2016, he made a breakthrough, combining with Diego Milito with Racing, leading the Copa Libertadores tournament in scoring with eight goals. That led to an $8.9 million transfer to Club Tijuana.
Bou is listed as a center forward, but seems most effective floating along the front line in a free role. Arena has allowed Bou to improvise, and the strategy has paid off as Bou has combined with Carles Gil to spark the offense.
“He’s a smart player, he’s an attacking player,” Arena said. “You never know how to exactly define him. He can set up goals. He can score goals.”
Bou describes his style in anthropomorphic terms, inspired by his nickname: “La Pantera.” Like a panther hiding in the jungle, Bou said, he roams the field in search of opponents’ vulnerabilities. Then he strikes. And he has certainly displayed predatory instincts, converting extraordinary goals ranging from powerful long-distance drives to soft chips to precise, in-close finishes.
Bou made a spectacular debut with the Revolution, his leaping, karate-style volley off a Gil corner kick just before halftime the opening goal in a 4-0 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps in June.
He followed with goals off give-and-gos with Gil and Edgar Castillo, one sequence starting with a Bou backheel; headed in a cross from Castillo; ran on to a through ball from Gil; got just enough on a low bouncer for it to elude Toronto goalkeeper Quentin Westberg; subtly redirected a Teal Bunbury cross in the goal area; and caught NYC’s Sean Johnson out of the net, chipping a 25-yarder in the 89th minute of a 2-0 victory, clinching a playoff berth — his fourth goal from the 85th minute on.
The first time Bou attempted a left-footer, he drilled the shot past Kenneth Kronholm for the decider in a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire.
There has been no garbage-time padding of statistics. Each of Bou’s conversions has been decisive, including a cross that was deflected in for an own goal against Orlando. The Revolution have compiled a 5-3-6 record since his arrival.
And each of those goal celebrations have counted, as well, bringing Bou’s thoughts back to Concordia as he commemorates his mother, who died in 2005.
“Every time I score, I celebrate it with the people, my teammates, my family,” Bou said. “And I look to the sky for my mother. She will always be my inspiration in this life.”