EVERY TIME Jose Cantillo goes back to his sleepy hometown of Tres Rios he lets his mates know what his intentions are.
"Even before I get there I tell them I don't want to party or anything. I just want to play football," the 29-year-old Costa Rican says before helping the Bluewater Napier City Rovers kick off their 2012 Central League campaign in Napier at 2pm tomorrow.
Cantillo, who hails from a tiny town in the main coffee-growing area, sitting about 11km east of the capital city of San Jose, is a new signing for the Rovers who play their first game against Petone, of Wellington, at the Bluewater Stadium, Park Island.
Having graduated with a farm-management diploma from Massey University in Palmerston North last November, the versatile player had a stint with the Otago United franchise in the ASB Premiership over summer after a winter campaign with Palmerston North Marist.
Bay United defender Danny Wilson sounded out Cantillo after a premiership game.
Rovers coach Grant Hastings says: "Jose was the most awkward player to mark and Danny really found him to be a handful."
Coming off a fine Central League season last winter, Hastings welcomes Cantillo and English import midfielder Stephen Hoyle to a squad that includes returning former All White striker Jarrod Smith, former professional goalkeeper Jerry Tezar, of the Czech Republic, ex-Port Hill United striker Patrick Pilz and ex-Cru Bar Maycenvale United midfielder Daniel Ball.
The Blues were league runners-up last winter and losing finalists in the Chatham Cup as Wairarapa United claimed the bragging rights to the national knockout cup championship.
The Dion Adams-coached Maycenvale, after staving off relegation in their debut Central League season last winter under Bay United coach Chris Greatholder, will open their account next weekend at home against Western Suburbs.
Cantillo's "intelligence", among other attributes Hastings says, is reflected in his ability to play rightback for Otago and, when injured Beefeaters returned, to ease into the role of a striker.
The Central American arrived in New Zealand in 2010 as a maths and physics undergraduate from the Davis and Elkins College, Virginia, in the United States, after securing a soccer scholarship.
Unlike many forwards who have qualms about adapting to defence, Cantillo actually enjoys the switch.
Having started as defender at the age of 10, he developed a penchant for scoring goals from set pieces and soon graduated to the midfield by the age of 15 in the Costa Rican second division league.
"I don't mind. I enjoy it. I'm tall so I'm always going for corner kick heads, free kicks and crosses," Cantillo says, adding that in his first year at the US college he started as right back before the coach pushed him to strike in the next two years.
"I was excited about making second division and moved up to the first division reserves but then I tore my ACL while going for first division with the first division and that put me out for a whole year when I was 19," he says with a hint of regret, emphasising it was a golden opportunity for a call-up if the first division players picked up injuries.
From a dairy-farming family, Cantillo's three older brothers came to the rescue when their father, Mario, died when the footballer was 17 years old.
He wants to go back home to help expand the farm with his accounting and management skills.
Exactly when that will be, though, is up in the air.
"I don't know because I'm enjoying it here and I'll stay as long as I can in a beautiful country," he says, having picked up the travel bug.
In his semester break last year, Cantillo travelled to Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Bali. Not having a relationship helps but Cantillo says it's in keeping with a family tradition, with none of his older brothers married or having children yet.
"Maybe I'll go to the islands, like Fiji, or go to Australia."
He comes from a conservative family, in which mother Peggy Cantillo and a brother embrace religion.
"Capitalism has a lot to do with it but I'm not religious or anything."
Having worked in hotels in Dunedin over summer, Cantillo secured a contact in a Napier hotel where he had signed a contract yesterday to start working there.
"I want a job in agriculture but this job is good because you always need some money to keep things moving."
He is grateful to have secured a berth in the Rovers squad, enjoying the camaraderie, Hastings' coaching and a team who have high ambitions.
While disappointed in missing out on playing at a higher level in his birth country a decade ago, Cantillo has put all that behind him to embrace the academic and travel opportunities that have sprung up along his choice of career path.
"Everyone at home wants to be a professional player," he says of a proud nation whose national team, nicknamed La Sele, who have made three World Cups since 1990 but didn't qualify in 2010.
Cantillo does get a little homesick and misses his native dish of gallo pinto (a bean and rice meal garnished with capsicum and onions and served with an exotic sauce) although his mother will occasionally send him some.
"I forgot to bring the sauce last time I went home but my mother's coming for my graduation soon so she'll bring me some," says the right-footer.
Petone should give the Rivers a decent workout tomorrow, considering they have several with premiership experience, such as Paul Whitmarsh and Karl Whalen.