Featured / Union

Jamiro Monteiro’s journey from unemployment to MLS star

Photo: Paul Rudderow

On Jan. 10, 2020, the Philadelphia Union made Jamiro Monteiro their newest designated player.

The $2 million transfer fee paid to Ligue 1 side FC Metz set a new club record, and the club rewarded the 26-year-old midfielder with a healthy contract and the No. 10 jersey.

Monteiro appeared destined for a return to European football. He showcased immense skill during his nearly season-long loan in MLS. Instead, the Union signed one of the most talented players to ever wear the blue and gold of Philadelphia to a permanent deal.

Six years ago, that same player was without a club.

Unemployed, the then 21-year-old was denied unemployment in his native Netherlands. He was broke. Without that lifeline, hopes of a professional career clashed with the financial realities of life.

“It was a difficult moment,” Monteiro told Philly Soccer Page. “You need to be patient. Sometimes you need to wait for the right moment. Your moment can be today or the next.”

Jamiro Monteiro’s story is one of perseverance. It speaks to the questions all must answer in their youth. Are you good enough to achieve your dreams? Do you bend when challenged?

Or do you crash against the barrier without knowing what will break first— your ambitions or the adversity?

A kid from Rotterdam

The obstacles Monteiro faced at 20 years old weren’t the first ones he overcame.

The son of Cape Verde immigrants stood out for the wrong reasons in his younger years. He carried a slender frame, always the smallest in the urban tournaments of his Rotterdam home. He was undersized and overlooked.

“People always have something to say, but I never hear what they say about me,” said Monteiro. “If I do hear, that only motivates me more and more. When the game starts, I just show them what I can do.”

During those tournaments, Monteiro showed all he was capable. It led to his first opportunity, joining Dutch-side Excelsier’s under-19 side. At 18, he moved on to Dordrecht’s U21 system.

His play in the Netherlands caught the eyes of a German heavyweight.

Monteiro was invited to trial at Bundesliga club Werder Bremen. While the team saw potential, they also saw a teenager who was too small for German football. They saw a kid who had the tactical acumen inherent with the Dutch style, but lacked the physicality of their own country. At their behest, Monteiro joined Anker Wismar, a miniscule club in Germany’s fifth division.

At age 19, Monteiro was alone in a small German town, without family and without friends. The league was bigger and more rugged. Racism and discrimination came from fans and players alike.

It was a difficult two years. At the end, Monteiro was without a job or even prospects.

Monteiro doesn’t view his time in Germany as a waste. He credits his time there to strengthening both his character and his will.

Jamiro Monteiro’s professional dreams were bleak, but the player never lost hope.

Do not go gentle

At 21 years old, Monteiro was no longer an exciting up-and-comer. It’s the last chance age in the Netherlands, meaning it’s the oldest a player can trial for the reserve teams.

While most in America are celebrating that age with their first legal drinks, Monteiro’s career may have ended before it truly began. He went the majority of the year without an offer to trial. He needed a helping hand.

During those tournaments in Rotterdam, Monteiro had a fan. Carlos Barros, president of Prestige Sports, remembered a kid that was so small and so thin, but was so aggressive on the pitch. Helming a new agency, Barros wanted to focus on younger players from his own country. Monteiro was the ideal player.

The midfielder was willing to do whatever was needed to match his ambition.

“We told him that his weight was too low, and we wanted him to increase his weight by ten kilos in two months,” Barros explained. “The kid started to eat like crazy. He was so determined and focused that within a month, he gained 10 kilos.”

Barros was able to get his player opportunities, but it was Monteiro’s work ethic that shined. He had five reserve trials before the 2015 season with Dutch clubs Paxsuola, NEC Nighhagen, Sparta Rotterdam, Cambuur, and Germany’s Handsa Rosta. All five clubs offered the diminutive midfielder a contract.

Monteiro signed with Cambuur’s U21s. He viewed it as his best option to reach the first team, something he wanted to accomplish in a rapid six months.

It only took two months.

Breaking out

Monteiro’s first taste of the Netherland’s Eredivisie action was against spectacular competition.

His debut came against FC Twente. Their midfield featured a triumvirate of Kamohelo Mokotjo, a South African international now with England’s Brentford, Felipe Gutierrez, a Sporting Kansas City designated player, and Hakim Ziyech, the former Ajax star who recently signed with European giant Chelsea.

Cambuur’s newest midfielder shined in that meeting, and his stock only rose as the season continued. Stellar play meant Monteiro wasn’t long for the small Dutch outfit, and a transfer came in 2017 to fellow Eredivisie club Heracles Almelo.

Monteiro wouldn’t be long for Heracles either, quickly garnering the attention of bigger clubs, including an MLS team from eastern Pennsylvania.

“The first time I was approached by Philly was when Earnie Stewart was still the Sporting Director because of the Dutch connection,” said Barros.

The Union were scouting another Heracles player, but it was Monteiro who blew them away.

Philadelphia initially tried signing Monteiro then, but were beaten out by FC Metz. It was Monteiro’s third transfer in four years.

“We believed he already proved and showed to be capable of standing out at that level, regardless of his physique.” said Barros. “We had a big conversation and specifically chose to go to Ligue 2 instead of Ligue 1 so he could adapt to the French style of football before playing in one of the toughest leagues in the world.”

Fall from France

The French club had been relegated from Ligue 1 the season before, but were hungry for a return to the top flight. Seeing Monteiro as a key component, Metz made him their most expensive acquisition of the offseason.

But there’s always a catch.

Monteiro was acquired by a regime that was replaced before the start of 2018 season. The new manager didn’t see the player as part of his plans, again calling his size into question.

The Cape Verde international featured only three times for Metz.

“[FC Metz] wanted to go to back to Ligue 1, and that’s why I wanted to go to France,” said Monteiro. “I never knew I wouldn’t play. Not everything went the way I was thinking. You cannot go back. You can only go forward, and that’s what I needed to do.”

Monteiro knew he wasn’t the type to sit on the sideline forever.

“That time was hard because I’m a player that wants to play every week,” said Monteiro. “Soccer is like that. One day you can be the big player, and the next day you can be the little player. You always need to believe in yourself no matter what the opposition is. No matter what people say about you, you have to trust yourself and be patient.”

After months went by without opportunity, Monteiro’s patience wore down. He knew it was time for a move.

Finding a home

When it came time to find his client a new club, Barros went to a team that had previously expressed interest.

While Ernst Tanner had replaced Stewart as Sporting Director in Philadelphia, the interest in Monteiro remained. The Union’s Chris Albright flew to Europe to meet with his target’s agent.

Barros and Albright met at a lousy French restaurant. While the food was bad, the conversation was sparkling. Both parties had a desire to make the move to North America happen. After some strenuous negotiations, the Union secured the initial loan to get Monteiro to MLS for the 2019 season.

Arriving as an unknown, he quickly asserted himself as a star in the league, helping lead the club to their first playoff win in club history.

Financial restraints and thoughts of a return to European football put Monteiro’s future in Philadelphia in question.

“I’m very happy here,” Monteiro said before the permanent transfer. “It’s always good to go back, but I feel good here.”

Now, as a permanent fixture in the Union’s starting 11, the team’s most expensive signing is helping the Union close in on their first piece of silverware in club history.

Monteiro’s path to MLS success may not be the end of his journey. Supremely talented and still in his prime at age 26, a return to Europe could still come.

But for now, Monteiro has found a home in Philadelphia, becoming the newest star in a city of underdogs.

9 Comments

  1. Chris Gibbons says:

    *SLOW CLAP*

  2. Steve Whisler says:

    Great article and reporting, Nick!

  3. Andy Muenz says:

    I HATE having to hear stories about people encountering racism.
    .
    To me, the only color that matters is the color of the player’s jersey.

  4. OneManWolfpack says:

    Absolutely awesome article and great story. Well done. Great read!

  5. Nick Fishman says:

    Thank you guys for the kind words.

  6. He is such a talented player and I love his BITE! How many times have we seen him get in defenders’ faces even when they tower over him?

  7. Interesting read. Thank you. Deeper appreciation knowing a little more about the journey.

  8. Great piece, Nick. I knew none of this about Monteiro. Scrappy, indefatigable, and overlooked — the guy is made for Philly.

  9. Great story – thank you for sharing!

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