Not many footballers get the chance to play in three different countries, win multiple league titles and line up alongside World Cup and Champions League medalists before the age of 25, but Barnet’s Ruben Bover is one of them. The Spanish midfielder has already played in his native country, England and the US, where he won several trophies and was able to call Raul and Thierry Henry his friends and teammates.
Bover was born in the Balearics and came through Real Mallorca’s academy when the club were knocking on the door of the UEFA Cup places in La Liga. Yet even as a teenager he was drawn to the English game and tantalised by the prospect of playing abroad.
“When I was 16, I had the chance to sign with Mallorca,” he recalls. “Not a pro contract but to sign for the last year of the academy, the second team and so on. But then the opportunity to move to England came up and I just wanted to try something different.”
Bover’s first destination was a little unlikely, but joining Kidderminster Harriers meant he was able to go to school while also playing youth football for the club. Although the rough and tumble of the non-league circuit wasn’t suited to Bover, he did enough to earn a contract at Charlton after a season at Halesowen Town.
Bover was on the books of the south London club for nearly two years in what was an important step in his career progression. Chris Powell, his then-manager, liked what he saw in the youngster, describing him as a “typical Spanish player… very clever in that Spanish midfield mould.” Indeed, there were hopes around The Valley that Bover could develop into Charlton’s own Cesc Fabregas.
The Spaniard struck up a good rapport with Addicks striker Bradley Wright-Phillips, who would prove a useful connection in the future. “We came around the same time and I have a special relationship with him”, he says. “I get along with him and we still talk a lot.” Wright-Phillips and Bover later made the same move from Charlton to New York Red Bulls ahead of the 2013 MLS campaign.
“I was just coming back from injury and was more out of the team than in it, so I made a decision,” the midfielder explains. “They offered me a chance to go there for a week, just to see how it goes. I had a fantastic time so we reached an agreement for me to move to Red Bulls.”
Still the only MLS club in the New York City region at the time, Red Bulls were attracting some high-profile names from around the football world, making it an exciting time to be involved. “Thierry [Henry], then Juninho Pernambucano came in as well, Péguy Luyindula came after, Tim Cahill was there already. So many great players”, Bover smiles.
It wasn’t long before he won his first piece of silverware, which was also a significant moment for the Red Bulls. “We won the first trophy in the history of the club. The Supporters’ Shield is like winning the regular league, before the play-offs. That was a fantastic feeling”.
Learning from a host of experienced stars from many different football cultures, Bover is thankful he had the opportunity to train with the likes of Henry and Cahill every day. “You learn a lot from them on and off the pitch,” he says, praising their attitude. “They helped me a lot to develop as a player. That’s why they won everything they won”.
After an enjoyable second season at Red Bulls, in which he scored the goal that qualified them for the play-offs, Bover found himself out of the team under a new coach and in search of a fresh challenge. Across the city in the North American Soccer League (NASL – the second division of US soccer), the New York Cosmos were building an exciting project.
Suddenly he found himself in the same side as Spanish icons Raul and Marcos Senna, as the Cosmos targeted the league title. Having grown up as a Real Madrid supporter, Bover couldn’t believe his luck. “I used to be a really big Real fan and then I had the chance to play with Raul as well, so that was a dream come true”, he says.
He was also reunited with a player he’d known at Mallorca, the Venezuelan midfielder Juan Arango. “I used to watch him play and then a few years after, I played with him”, Bover laughs. “I had a great season playing alongside him. We played really well and combined together – it was probably my best year as a professional.”
Despite being nearly 4,000 miles from his hometown, the Spanish-speaking vibe around the Cosmos helped Bover settle in quickly. “It was a lot of Uruguayan, Colombian players. Even the Americans speak Spanish well. It was a Latino atmosphere in the team, it helped a lot”, he says.
Such an atmosphere was something Venezuelan coach Giovanni Savarese helped to foster. A highly-respected figure in both North and South American football, Savarese guided the Cosmos to three league titles between 2013 and 2016. “He’s probably the best coach I’ve played under”, Bover says. “To have all the players ready to play, even the ones who don’t always start. He had everyone happy and that’s what you see.”
Bover won two leauge championships at the Cosmos but faced a difficult decision amid the club’s financial uncertainty at the end of 2016. In the end he opted to move back to London, accepting an offer from Barnet. While happy to be back in England, he’s still getting used to an old fear which wasn’t an issue in the US: relegation. The Bees are bottom of League Two at the time of writing, but Bover is optimistic they can beat the drop with the help of new manager Graham Westley.
“I think we have a quality team and we shouldn’t be where we are at the moment. We’ve got the players and the spirit in the team that we can get out of here”, he says.
Mixing a natural Spanish technique with a physicality honed in England and the US, a rejuvenated Bover may be the perfect candidate to help their cause. His story so far shows there’s plenty to learn from playing in different countries, and even different leagues within them.