Jalil Anibaba is an extremely humble individual.
When asked why he has made it further than any of the myriad Davis High School soccer prospects, he points to the chances given along the way as main reasons for his success in college and Major League Soccer.
He is, perhaps, too grounded an individual to point out that he has succeeded where most others have failed.
“There are plenty of other guys that have had the same opportunities (but) haven’t taken advantage of them,” said Sam Reynolds, the only other DHS alumnus to play in MLS. “It’s all credit to (Anibaba) that he’s taken advantage of these opportunities.”
It comes as no surprise then that the 2007 Gatorade California Prep Soccer Player of the Year and former Blue Devil was given another opportunity — this time to train with Atlético Madrid in Spain’s La Liga.
Anibaba’s Chicago Fire were eliminated in the Eastern Conference knockout round match of the MLS Cup playoffs (by eventual runner-up Houston), giving the promising, rising third-year player some time off … or time to work on getting better.
“(Chicago coach Frank Klopas) asked me if training with Atlético Madrid would be something I was interested in,” said Anibaba, 24, back in his Chicago-area home. “I wanted to get more training over the offseason. It just kind of lined up perfectly.”
Training with European teams has become commonplace for MLS players, but Atlético Madrid is no normal European team.
With a 12-2-1 record, it is in second place in the world’s best league, a mere six points behind FC Barcelona (14-0-1) and five points ahead of storied arch-rival Real Madrid (10-3-2).
Atlético Madrid includes arguably the second-best forward in the world in Radamel Falcao — a foe against whom Anibaba was forced to go toe-to-toe with when he recently trained with the first team.
The Fire defender originally was scheduled to train from Nov. 18 to Dec. 2, but the club chose to extend his time by six days.
“I thought I fit in really well,” Anibaba told The Enterprise. “I didn’t find too much of a gap in the game, I didn’t think I was behind (in the level of play) at all.”
Though the training stint isn’t likely to result in a full-time move to the Spanish giant, the fact remains that Anibaba is putting himself — and Davis — on the international soccer map in an unprecedented way.
And he isn’t just succeeding on the field, but off it as well …
“I don’t think we can have a better person from Northern California to go over there and represent the area,” continued Reynolds, who is now a soccer agent/scout based in San Francisco. “I hope other kids follow Jalil in his career and see that (his success) is attainable.”
Anibaba concurs, but, as always, mentions the help he has received from his family.
“I just hope that what I’m doing now and what my family has done for many years now will inspire a kid from Davis to put everything into whatever it is they’re doing,” Anibaba explained.
The success on and off the field has convinced Reynolds that Anibaba soon will make MLS’ Best XI — the official list that annually recognizes the 11 top players in the league.
“He’s not just an athletic player,” Reynolds believes. “It’s too easy to look at him and say he’s a good athlete. But he’s an intelligent guy who is always looking to get better. I think he has a long career ahead of him.”
A few weeks ago, Reynolds was shooting pool with a friend who didn’t know anything about soccer. The sport somehow came up in their conversation, and Reynolds asked the friend if he could even name a single professional soccer player.
The friend could name one, though it wasn’t Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo or even David Beckham.
That player Reynolds’ pal identified was Jalil Anibaba — the ultimate Davis soccer success story.