Ezequiel Ponce was one of the three signings in the Elche winter market. This Sunday he returns to the Martínez Valero, where he made his debut two weeks ago and scored one of the goals in the comeback against Rayo. El Tanque plays with the illusion of earning the option of staying in Spain. Even more so with the war that has broken out between Russia and Ukraine. He still belongs to Spartak, but his dream is to take root in the League. He believes in the options from Elche to surprise and, to do so, he relies on the support of a crowd that, unfortunately, will not be united by just one voice.
Overcome his first month in Elche. How do you live your new stage in Elche?
I am very happy to be in Spain, in the League and in Elche. My new teammates, the coaching staff and the fans have received me phenomenally. I feel happy. The process is being nice. I had to score in the opening match with the Elche shirt. I’m finishing adapting and getting the shape. The staff, both Francisco and his assistants, take me in the best way to reach my best level.
What percentage of shape is it?
I don’t want to talk about percentages, but I’m already enjoying myself on the pitch. That is the value by which I measure myself. I’m happy on the pitch and that’s how I can push myself and manage the times. My conditions are good to compete at the highest level.
Why did you spend more than four months without playing because of your meniscus injury?
I was injured playing with Spartak, in the Europa League, against Napoli. I had a problem in the external meniscus of my right knee and they advised me to have surgery. It was on September 29 and on October 4 I went through the operating room. Nothing was taken from me, I still have it complete, although the recovery was longer because of that. It took me four months to compete again and now I enjoy my physical condition. I’m perfect.
He is 24 years old and has gone through five leagues. How does he explain it from the beginning?
I started in the lower categories of Newell’s. When I was barely 16 years old, they brought me up to train with the first team as the culmination of all the sacrifice and the time I had been working from the grassroots. It was a great experience and joy for my family and for me to get there. Those great players helped me keep my feet on the ground because I was too young to make that leap.
He launched as a very young rising star in Argentina…
They took me with the squad to the game against Quilmes, on their field, and I didn’t expect to be part of the game. They gave me about ten minutes and it was a dream come true. I was very young and everything came to me at once.
Like Lucas Boyé, he played at Newell’s, although they didn’t meet until AEK and now at Elche…
I didn’t coincide with Lucas at Newell’s. He arrived when I left for Rome.
So he was his replacement after his millionaire transfer to Roma.
Yes. The operation was closed at eight million euros. Roma paid a part for 60% of the pass, for about four million euros. Before I fulfilled my entire contract, I had the option to pay the rest.
But he did not adapt and left up to three times on loan. What happened?
It was very difficult for me because he caught me very young. During the first six months in Italy I tried to adapt, training and learning to eat well. The team helped me grow personally and football-wise, before and after the games. After that half a year I broke the crossed knee. Everything was very difficult for me. A year passed and then the transfers to Granada, Lille and AEK started. I was looking for sporting stability and I couldn’t achieve it until I played in Greece, where I felt like a player and a protagonist. That helped me become the player I always was. At Spartak I was also happy in football. Now Elche comes to me at a very good moment of maturity.
How do you define those leagues you’ve been through?
Each one has a different way of watching football. In Spain, I really enjoy it because it’s all ball. In Greece it is more physical, without as much talent as in the League. In France it is more individual than collective. There are footballers who are technically very good, with very good game dynamics. And Russian football is very strong physically, running throughout the match. The top teams invest in quality footballers.
Do you feel that they are capable of giving the surprise?
With the way I see football, because of the passion I have for this sport, if I enter a field it is to win. Beyond the arrival of Barça, who is having a good time with the quality players he has. In the end, we are eleven against eleven on a pitch. With the ball they can make a difference, but we are also going to come out in order and compete together with a united block. We will fight for the three points. We are mentally prepared and focused for a duel of this magnitude.
The forces in the stands, unfortunately, will be level. What does he ask of his people?
I am very happy with the Elche fans. We already saw the support he gave us against Rayo and the large number of people who went to Valencia. Now we have to go home and I hope that most of the fans want us to win because we are going to need the euphoria they generate. We need them to compete and we hope they return home happy to have seen their team compete to the fullest.
Do you see yourself for the title?
I see myself prepared and able to start. I am comfortable physically and mentally. Obviously, it is a personal opinion; then there will be the coach’s decision, which we will respect a lot, and the camaraderie of the team. We are a lot of forwards and we must carry it as well as possible to benefit the group. If you ask me, I’m ready to go.
“Ronaldo Nazario and Batistuta marked me, they were scorers of the highest level”
Do you like being called Tank?
It comes for my playing characteristics and for always being close to the area. It is a fairly common nickname in many forwards. I feel comfortable because of the way my colleagues tell me. They also call Guido Carrillo that way.
How was your signing for Elche and the call from Christian Bragarnik?
The first time I spoke to him was through a message he sent to my mobile. He wrote to me to ask about my situation, to find out how he was physically and how long my knee was injured. I called him quickly and from there the conversations progressed; I am very grateful to Christian for the trust he placed in me. I hope to return everything he did for me to be in Elche. Hopefully we can play next season together.
Did he talk to you about being Boyé’s substitute for the future to exchange that play at Newell’s?
No, he never talked to me about being someone’s surrogate. He wanted him to come to the club to reinforce Elche’s forward. That motivated me to accept the proposal. I want to enjoy Lucas, Guido and Pere to get along as well as possible on the field of play and achieve permanence.
Are you surprised by the new Boyé that has exploded in Elche?
Lucas doesn’t surprise me because I know him well from his time at AEK. He is a boy who is very good with the ball and he is showing it this season. I am happy for him for what he gives to the club. The future will reward him for everything he is doing, along with the rest of his teammates up front.
Both Boyé and Ponce debuted very young in Argentina. He had to work hard on his head to overcome the pressure that came over him. Did the same thing happen to you?
All players go through critical and specific moments in which you think that bad moments must be faced. You have to assume being known and earn a lot of money. With Lucas we have had conversations about this and how everything influences the world of football. The key, for me, is sticking with my people through thick and thin. Then there are the fans who express themselves positively and who are welcome. When things go wrong, there are people who do not like you well and it is difficult to overcome it day by day, especially when you are young. He always finds a way to turn that situation around.
What was that critical moment for you?
I never had a situation, not even with injuries, in which I considered throwing in the towel. In my head I know everything I invested to be a footballer and the commitment I have to this sport. Yes, I have experienced, due to my own decisions at Newells’s, criticism that was not positive for me personally. With the necessary people by my side, everything has been easier in those moments when you are blind and cannot see. The fundamental base is family and friends to cling to and not only carry that burden.
“Lucas Boyé doesn’t surprise me because I know him well. He’s very good with the ball”
He was international with the inferiors of Argentina, do you dream of dressing as an albiceleste again?
Obviously I dream of returning to a prestigious place like the national team. I work to be ready when the opportunity arises and the shorter the deadline, the better. That’s clear.
How did you celebrate the Copa América title?
Of course, very happy to obtain the title that makes us Argentines so happy. It was time for us to raise a Cup for as much quality as there is within this country and this team.
In the goal against Lightning, the Tank pointed to the sky. To whom was his burden of affection going?
Unfortunately, I recently had to deal with the loss of a child I was expecting. It was a difficult time for my wife and me. It’s still hard to get over it and there are many memories present (he gets emotional)… I’m very grateful to God for everything he gives me and for everything I have, which is my wife and my son. The goal I scored against Rayo goes to them. My son is not yet two years old and you can see that he likes the game of soccer.
What do you think of Bragarnik’s adventure in Elche?
During the negotiation with him, the contact was fair. Afterwards, he is a person who is interested in the day-to-day of the team. He is a man who is interested in Elche and who is doing things very well so that the club continues to grow. With everyone I talk to, he tells me very good things about how he is leading the institution, and so we are also seeing it from within. We have the best conditions to play in such a demanding league.
Who were your idols since you were little?
As a child I always tried to do my best and aspire to be a great striker. The reflexes of Ronaldo Nazario or Gabriel Batistuta marked me. They were important scorers of the highest level. I did not see Batistuta play live, but I did see videos. I like him a lot and in Rome they pointed him out over and over again because they love him too much there.
And do you find any in this Barça?
I have admiration for the career that Daniel Alves has had. Everyone dreams of it and it is an example for everyone. Despite his successes, he has always gone for more. I like his positive mindset. We hope to apply it this time to achieve victory with Elche.