Jürgen Damm: what slowed the career of one of the fastest players in the world

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May 8, 2002
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The Atlanta United player helped lead Tigres to the Copa Libertadores final but was portrayed as disloyal before moving north to the USIn was February 2020, and Jürgen Damm sat behind a microphone twiddling his thumbs and picking at his ear. He looked down, avoiding eye contact with the press and his manager at Tigres UANL, Ricardo “Tuca” Ferretti. There was tension at the press conference. No one was surprised when Damm said he was leaving the club. Still, he sat there, visibly nervous and made his announcement.The winger, who had clocked in as the second-fastest player in the world when he signed for Tigres, was a mainstay in his first years there. Through three consecutive domestic cup winning seasons, he spent plenty of time sprinting down the line and delivering crosses to the prolific André-Pierre Gignac. The formula seemed to work, too. In 2015, Tigres became only the third Mexican team to reach the final of the Copa Libertadores, losing to River Plate over two legs. But he later fell out of favor, especially after Enner Valencia’s arrival in Monterrey in 2017, and it appeared he would become a free agent.To foreign eyes, he was in a prime position to shape his future but, sitting next to the legendary Ferretti, Damm knew he carried a heavy burden. He was being made a villain to Tigres fans, presumably for transgressing an unspoken rule: in Mexico, leaving on a free transfer is all but verboten.Damm repeatedly thanked Ferretti for developing him, but the manager responded with a rhetorical dagger: “Why should I worry about a player that doesn’t want to be a part of this institution?”Damm trudged to the press conference through deep sighs and clearly held back tears at the end. He had been hung out to dry, bait for loyal fans to eat up.In 1995, a European court ruled that all players who are out of a contract are free to negotiate with whomever they please. Fifa sides with the ruling, but in Mexico the law didn’t stick. Since the early 2000s, Mexican teams have operated through a number of unspoken agreements to protect their bottom lines, forcing often unfair, and technically illegal, pressure on players looking for a move. Francisco Fonseca sued Tigres under similar circumstances.“There were differences and tensions between us,” Damm tells the Guardian. “But like on the pitch, situations happen and after, it all gets better.” He insists that his bond with Ferretti, Tigres and the club’s fans remains intact. “In five years they gave me everything,” he says, but thinks “clubs should be more flexible.”Putting the past behind him, Damm makes it clear he is looking to “renew himself” at his new club, Atlanta United, where the culture, one of respect, he says, attracted him. Already, he feels a sense that all players are “equal before the front office” in Major League Soccer.“Even up to the number I wanted to wear, 25, no one steps on your toes” Damm says.After his performance in the 2015 Copa Libertadores, Damm was called up 12 times to the Mexico national team by Miguel Herrera. His work taking on defenders down at the touchline garnered him some comparisons with Garrincha, too, but he has been absent from El Tri since 2018. It crushed his confidence, he admits.“I want to be the player I had been,” Damm says. For now, like many other of his MLS colleagues missing the tournament in Orlando, Damm is on pause while he waits for his US work visa to come through.Atlanta’s connection to Gerardo Martino may be the ticket back to El Tri, should the Mexico coach still have an eye on his former club. Damm will need the consistent starts he lost at Tigres. Luckily he is slated to fit smoothly into the squad, which was manager by Frank De Boer until the Dutchman left Atlanta on Friday. Atlanta’s vertical attacking system with flyers down the wing is one that Damm knows well. The club lost Julian Gressel and Tito Villalba to DC United and Club Libertad, respectively, so Damm will have the space to rediscover his old form.While he is not as creative or tricky on the ball as Villalba, Damm will add the pace that Gressel lacked, and is expected to be tasked with creating chances for Josef Martinez to poach once he returns from his ACL injury.Damm is excited for the partnership because of the criticisms he faces about his lack of consistency in the final third of the pitch. Those attacks have grown to such an extent, in fact, that Damm responded via TikTok. It’s said numbers don’t lie – in his time at Tigres, Damm only managed 23 assists – but he believes the criticisms are overblown because that part of his game is simply overexposed. “A lot of [my crosses] don’t perfectly reach the forward’s head, but they fall and catch a rebound causing a goal, I don’t get the assist.”“Hopefully [Martinez] makes me the league’s assists leader, so the fans can get off my back!” he says laughing.It’s something to look forward to when the pair are eventually on the pitch together.

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