Talent alone is rarely enough. Football is drenched in tales of disappointment, squandered potential and broken dreams shorn apart by the ravages of injury, indiscipline, expectation and cruel fate. Sadly, it is often those most blessed with the natural capacity to enthral whose careers wither in wilfulness, unable to rein the maverick excesses that paradoxically crown their on-field glories whilst simultaneously charting their indulgent demise. Well here at The Mambo, we’re indiepop kids and as such have a pronounced admiration for the unambitious, an appreciation for the underachiever and note the romance in wistful, nostalgia-tinged accounts of all that could have been. Here, in the third of a semi-regular feature, we look at the demise of former Colombian wonderkid Johnnier Montaño.
Perhaps only American bluff Freddy Adu and the man lauded with characteristic waywardness as his ‘successor’ by Pelé, Ghana’s Nii Lamptey, have failed quite so spectacularly to live up to their teenage hype as Johnnier Montaño in recent years. The lavishly talented, even those lacking the inherent fortitude to maximise their natural gifts, tend carve out impressive, if somewhat unfulfilled careers with class dictating a respectable hoard of international appearances. Montaño however, earned his 5th and almost certainly final Colombian cap in 2003, aged just 20. That admittedly, is 4 more than his brother, Victor Hugo Montaño, yet despite being by some distance the less gifted sibling, it is Victor Hugo who has enjoyed the more prestigious career at club level, earning a reputation as a solid goal-scorer in France with Istres, Montpellier and now Rennes. Johnnier, by contrast, has to date registered just 2 goals in European football, scored some 8 years apart as he drifted listlessly from potential star to nomadic journeyman.
It all, of course, could have been so different. Emerging as a wonderfully precocious creative midfielder with hometown club América de Cali as a 15 year-old, Montaño’s potential was quickly spotted by Argentine side Quilmes. Following an exceptional season in Buenos Aires, where he hit a career-best 11 goals from just 23 games, Montaño was drafted into his country’s squad for the 1999 Copa America. Despite his youth, Montano’s smooth left-footed elegance saw him shine on the international stage, with a memorable long-range effort strike against Argentina seemingly marking the ascent of a glorious career. Inevitably, such performances garnered much interest from across the Atlantic which at the turn of the century, could mean only a transfer to Serie A. Appearing unfazed by his burgeoning fame, the still 16 year-old Montaño signed for Parma along with compatriot Jorge Bolaño despite the team already boasting a talented pool of forwards, including fellow South Americans Hernán Crespo, Marcio Amoroso and Ariel Ortega, as well as Mario Stanic and Marco Di Vaio.
Unsurprisingly, given such fierce competition, Montaño made little impression during his first season in Italy. Little changed the following season, as although all but Amoroso departed, the club invested heavily in recruiting the likes of Sérgio Conceição, Savo Milosevic and Johan Micoud, consigning the Colombian to another year on the fringes. Belated hopes of first-team football finally arrived the following year, courtesy of a loan move to relegation-strugglers Verona. However, although tipped to shine, Montaño would start only 3 league games (with a further 7 appearances from the bench) and instead it was team-mates Adrian Mutu and Mauro Camoranesi who would burnish their reputations (with Alberto Gilardino also contributing promising cameos) in spite of the club’s eventual relegation. With his star quickly losing its lustre, a similar fate would await Montano the subsequent season, as a temporary switch to relegated Piacenza failed to re-ignite his receding reputation although that campaign would at least see his first and only Serie A goal against Brescia. That the strike would come on his debut merely crowned another cruel false dawn.
Scarred by his premature move to Europe and aged only 21, Montaño returned home to América in 2004, though any hopes of a renaissance were extinguished by the player’s grief following his mother’s death and his consequent submergence into Colombia’s nightlife. Montaño’s homecoming would prove short-lived, with brief, unassuming stints with a string of Colombian clubs, punctuated by an equally transient, if more lucrative, spell in Qatar with Al-Wakra firmly establishing his journeyman credentials.
By now comically overweight for a professional sportsman (see video) and surely damaged watching all dreams of greatness evaporate, Montano signed for Peru’s Sport Boys in 2007. Although clearly hindered by his lapsed athleticism, the move across the Andes partially rejuvenated his career as he hit 9 goals in 34 appearances to claim the most productive season since his Quilmes breakout. Establishing himself as arguably the league’s most gifted player, Montaño was signed by regional giants Alianza Lima, the country’s most popular club and one who famed for producing Peruvian greats such as Teófilo Cubillas, César ‘El Poeta’ Cueto, Hugo Sotil and more recently, Claudio Pizarro and Jefferson Farfán. In Lima, Montaño would settle much more comfortably, racking up over 100 appearances in 4 years, with his skills making him an enduring fan-favourite.
Indeed, such was his restored confidence that he was again was ready to try his luck in Europe. Of course, no longer the highly-sought wonderkid of 1999, Montano had long since fell from the radar of the continent’s elite but memories of his potential were enough to attract an offer from Turkey’s Konyaspor. Sadly, once more Montaño was unable to settle, leaving at the end of his one-year deal to re-join Alianza before moving to rivals Universidad San Martín. Now aged 29 but with fitness and failure elsewhere counting against him, the player for whom stardom once seemed certain looks set to see out his stalled career in South America’s minor leagues, leaving Montaño only to wistfully mourn that, ‘you make a lot of mistakes when you earn so much money at such a young age.’