MEXICO CITY -- At the age of 24, after more than four years bouncing around clubs in Europe, Ulises Davila decided to return to Mexico last December to play for Santos Laguna to find stability.
After the 2011 Under-20 World Cup in Colombia, where Mexico finished third by defeating Antoine Griezmann's France in the third-place match, Davila received a call from Chelsea. Davila, who at the time was a Chivas academy player, heard of Chelsea's interest and decided to pack his bags and chase the European dream.
The European dream proved to be a roller-coaster ride for the youngster from Guadalajara. He never appeared for Chelsea's first-team. During his time in Europe, he jumped from club to club on loan-spells. He played in the Netherlands at Vitesse, then had stints with Spain's CE Sabadell, Cordoba and Tenerife before a final European spell with Portugal's Vitoria Setubal.
For some players, change is good. For Davila, it was hurting his career.
"Changes are always difficult," Davila told ESPN FC via phone. "I had already played in five different teams, and I thought that switching teams every year was not healthy for my career.
"The moment Santos set its project in front of me, which included a long-term contract, and its desire to form a young competitive team vying for championships, it got my attention, and I agreed to sign."
Davila is a player who's beyond his 24 years because of what he went through while he battled for playing time in the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal. He recalled his first months in the Netherlands as the toughest ones in his young career.
"I didn't speak English, or even Dutch," he said. "So learning English, adapting to new costumes, of seeing snow and always having to worry about rain were new challenges. As a person and footballer, all of these things make you stronger. Dutch football is faster than the one practiced in Mexico, and I had a tough time understanding it, but it made me a better footballer."
After his loan spell at Vitesse, Davila moved to Spain, where in the country's second division, the Liga Adelante, he enjoyed a rebirth in his football at Sabaell and a year later at Cordoba. When Davila talks about his time in Spain, his tone changes, and it is almost as if he is still there. "In Spain is where I best played. Because of bad luck and decisions I couldn't control, I wasn't able to play with Cordoba in first division. It was in Spain where I felt that my football went on the rise. I played in almost all of the games and had minutes. In the first two seasons, I scored close to eight goals in each of them. In Spain, I felt complete."
His 2013-14 season at Cordoba was also his most memorable to date. Davila finished that season with seven goals and two assists, however, it was his goal in the promotion playoff final against Las Palmas that will live in the memory of thousands of blanquiverde fans. With just seconds left, Davila struck to give Cordoba a 1-1 draw at Las Palmas and ensure a return to La Liga for the first time in 42 years.
"Sometimes football can be unjust; the reality is that there was a lot of bad luck. To Cordoba I always told them that I wanted to play with them, but Chelsea and the agents never came to an agreement. I came out as the affected one because I couldn't stay in Cordoba. It was a turning point in my career to help Cordoba win promotion. The fans liked me; I had been there the whole season. Not being able to complete this process with Cordoba affected my career," he said.
Two years later after scoring that important goal for Cordoba, Davila is back in his home country, playing for one of the most advanced clubs in Liga MX. In the 2016 Clausura, Davila has been handed just two Liga MX starts by Argentinean head coach Luis Zubeldia, but he has made the most of those chances, scoring twice on only three shots on goal. In the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal series against L.A. Galaxy, he also scored one of the four goals that allowed Los Guerreros to reach the semifinals.
Santos is a young team with a young coach in Zubeldia, and this combination has helped Davila to quickly adapt to the team: "It's a young team where we all have the same mentality and have the same objectives. These factors helped me to adapt quicker. We're hungry for more achievements. Also there are a lot of young players who have a lot of experience, and you see that reflected on the pitch."
Davila can be categorized as one of those young players with a lot experience. Because of his time in Europe, he can counsel future Mexican footballers who might be on the brink of making the move to Europe.
Mexico has sent a lot footballers to Europe in the last years, but its numbers can't compare to those of Brazil or Argentina. While coaches in Europe may understand what they are getting in a Brazilian or Argentine footballer, Davila feels like it's not as straightforward when it comes to Mexican footballers.
"[Over there] Mexican footballers have a tough time winning trust; it's difficult to get opportunities. The opportunities are very few, so you have to give your all in every single one of them. Nowadays there are players like Chicharito [Hernandez], [Andres] Guardado, Hector [Herrera], [Carlos] Vela and Jona [Dos Santos], who are putting Mexico on the world map. They're putting the example and showing to Europe that Mexican footballers can also be important," he said.
In 2016 Santos' midfielder hopes to secure a starting role in the club and score a lot of goals. If he manages to do that, a call-up to the senior national team could come his way. Mexico manager, Juan Carlos Osorio, has long talked about the dearth of Mexican footballers who can play as left-winger and are left-footed. Yet Davila is one of the few who fit that bill.
"Yeah I can play there [as left-winger], over here at Santos, I have been playing in the wings. If it's not on the left, it's on the right. My natural position is that of a No. 10, but the reality is that I don't feel uncomfortable playing in the wings," Davila finalized.
With his career now stable, few would bet against the versatile and well-traveled Davila from spreading his wings to the national team.