We sat down with Jack Imperato, a 17-year-old American player in the youth set-up at Villarreal.
Please introduce yourself and your background.
I was born in Dallas, Texas but I moved to San Jose, California when I was 12 for my dad’s job, and I consider California more of my home just because that’s where I felt I really grew up, and I’m 17 years old, and I’ve been here in Spain for two years now and I love it.
Can you remember what it was that got you into soccer? Was there a particular moment?
It was like an American parent type thing where they put you in every sport. I was in basketball, baseball, and I kind of just stuck with soccer. Until I was ten years old, I was playing both basketball and soccer.
What have been your greatest achievements so far in soccer?
Playing with the US National Team for sure, I’ve played for the U14s, U15s and U17s. Playing here for Villarreal was probably my biggest achievement though.
Would you say soccer is growing back in California, and is it expected to grow in terms of fan base and playing from a young age do you reckon?
When I was in Texas, it was largely American football and baseball, and then when I moved to California you could see that they were trying to incorporate soccer more and you see more of the kids playing and there’s a lot of influential people over there, really starting to bring soccer into California so I think it’s definitely growing every year for sure.
How did you end up here at Villarreal?
I was playing in a tournament and the ex-director of La Masia was at the tournament for some reason: He was the ex-director of La Masia and he wanted to come to the US to try to do the whole “make soccer a bigger sport” and especially in California, and he just came to my game. After the first half of the game he pulled me over and he was like: “congratulations, you’re a really good player”. So after that he liked me a lot and he started sending me to different academies over here and he sent me to Villarreal for a week-long trial, then after that they called me.
You were quite young when you made the move from the US to Europe. How do you find the set-up and player accommodation, and being surrounded by young Spaniards?
It was tough at first just because of the language barrier, and my life in California and here is a lot different just because in California you go to school, you hang out with your friends, and then you go to soccer practice, and then you do extra training. Here it’s almost just like all soccer, and then you have school, so it’s a totally different life. Once I got the language settled and I was able to start understanding I made some really good friends here, but it’s definitely a different lifestyle, more intense and more focused but I prefer it.
And how did you find the language barrier?
It took me three months before I could start trying to communicate and try to make friends, but it took me a year to fully understand.
Does that help with you now when you’re on the pitch?
For sure. I can communicate. Before it was like when you move in and you’re the little kid and sometimes others look at you like that, and you don’t understand what they’re saying sometimes and so on the field they kind of bossed me around and in the locker rooms, but then once you’re able to hold your ground and speak Spanish it isn’t so bad and you can help yourself out.
Have you been inspired by the likes of Christian Pulisic? He’s a bit like you in terms of a young American who’s come over to Europe and he played in Germany and is now doing well in the Premier League.
For sure. I’m really inspired by Pulisic. I’ve watched him since he was 17 years old and he went to the same tournament that I went to last month, and so it’s kind of cool. I would love to take the same route that he did for sure.
Who is your favourite soccer player of all time?
I would say, right now I like Eden Hazard a lot. Of all time I would say the Brazilian Ronaldo, and Lionel Messi of course.
Is there a Villarreal player that you look up to?
I like Samu Chukwueze, and I like how he cuts in, that’s one of the styles I like to play sometimes where if we play a 4–3–3 I’ll play on the right and I’ll cut in to my left like Chukwueze. Sometimes the coaches will send me videos of him and be like “watch this, watch this”, and then after training they’ll be like “Samu does this”, so he’s definitely someone I look up to.
What’s your preferred position? Would you consider yourself as quite versatile?
Yeah, I would say I like to score and assist goals and create chances and so anywhere on the field where I’m close to goal I think I’m fine.
Do you ever see any of the Villarreal players, or get involved with the first team?
Yeah, I mean we have to go to all the games and sometimes I’ll walk into lunch and I’ll see all of them sitting there so it’s really cool.
Do you have any routine or superstition before games?
Before games, honestly, there’s a team routine that you eat at this time two hours before the game, then you have a meeting an hour before, and then you get in the locker room an hour and thirty minutes before, and you warm up and everything’s super precise so it almost seems really structured and it gives you that confidence like “I did this in the past so it’s going to be fine”, but nothing specific.
Don’t have to put a certain boot on first or anything?
There is some stupid stuff like if I put on a sock before, or I take off my cross at a certain time before the game. It’s a lot of stuff but I don’t have a set routine, it’s more just if I’m like “Jack you’re not going to play good if you put on this shoe first”.
Is there a coach or someone you owe your success to?
Yeah for sure, Albert Puig, the guy who brought me over here from La Masia, that’s who I would have to shoutout to 100%, because I 100% wouldn’t be over here without him. Also, I had trainers in Texas that were amazing. Eryick Avila who since I was four years old I went there and we did individual training and that’s where I got my skills from. And also David Dinh, also another individual trainer, so they really helped me with my technical game. It was what separated me from the kids in America. But overall I think I owe all my success to my family and especially my dad who’s pushed me since I was a young kid and has always been my biggest supporter. I could not be where I am now without him.
What is your future aspiration? Where do you think you see yourself over the next five years?
First team obviously, playing professional soccer for sure. I don’t know where, I mean Villarreal would be the goal 100% but wherever I can play professionally.
Do you have any interests off the pitch?
I’m a big movie fan. I love watching movies and I like to go with my friends all the time, and I also like music a lot.
What music do you like?
I love a variety, because now I like reggaetón and now I’m listening to Spanish music. At first you’re like “no I’m going to stick with the US music and the rap” but now it’s like I’ll listen to slow romantic music but then I’ll also go to like hard rap, and then also Spanish super upbeat music, so I’m all over the place.
If you could have any superpower what would it be?
Super speed for sure.
What’s your favorite food?
Italian, pasta, and my mum’s homemade bread.
If there was something that your teammates didn’t know about you, what would that be?
Honestly most people don’t know that my real name is John, because Jack is just a nickname and Jack isn’t even my middle name. My parents were just like “he looks more like a Jack so”.