Funes Mori: I Lived A Dream... Everton Will Always Have My Heart

In an interview initially for the Official Matchday Programme, we catch up with Ramiro Funes Mori to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly moments of his eventful Everton career — and the Argentine defender explains why he will feel a close connection with the Blues for the rest of his life…

Ramiro Funes Mori’s exuberance is perfectly encapsulated in the false start for this very chat.

After tracking down the 32-year-old Argentine defender, who is now back at boyhood club River Plate, our scheduled call is postponed by the man himself at the 11th hour - after completely losing his voice following a 2-0 derby win over Boca Juniors the previous night.

Apologetic and evidently keen to relive his Everton experience, thankfully, he rearranges for a few days later.

“Thank you for calling, man… Thank you for not forgetting about me,” a still slightly hoarse Funes Mori answers. 

How could we?

On reflection, few former players from recent times conjure up images as vivid as Funes Mori - from the power knee-slide celebrations to barbecues through the harsh English winters, and that infamous walk-off following a dismissal in the Merseyside derby, all of which we will go on to cover.

But first, the beginning of the story. And it becomes apparent very quickly just how fondly Funes Mori, or just ‘Funes’ as he prefers, reflects on his time with the Blues.

“Well, that time - the day I signed for Everton - was the happiest day of my life, really,” he insists. “I always wanted to play in Europe. That is a dream of many South American kids, growing up and watching it from afar. I was, and still am, so thankful to Everton for giving me that possibility and showing their faith in me to play in the Premier League which, for me, is the best league in the world. The standards are so high, as I saw for myself.

“But it wasn’t just about the league, it was also about the Club I was able to join in Everton. You see, I grew up with River Plate. I know every part of the club, the stadium and I even stayed in the dorms there as a kid. Of course, there is a bit of you that is sad to leave but the overwhelming feeling was one of opportunity. It was a big chance for me to grow up, as a player and as a person.

“I came to such a great club in Everton. Finch Farm was a great environment, where you had everything you could need to be at your best and everyone at the Club wanted to help you. These are the kind of things you never forget. I really loved my time.

“Then there was Goodison Park, a stadium with a totally different vibe to any other stadium I played at… The atmosphere, so many passionate people. Every game, in the freezing cold or torrential rain, they turn out for you, the people are behind you every step. It is special.”

It’s a heady opening to the conversation, packed with emotion as the memories come flooding back.

We’re barely a few words into the second question when that excitable kid who resided in River Plate’s on-site dormitory jumps out and takes over again.

“I need to say another thing…” Funes intervenes. “My dream, when I was a kid growing up watching the Premier League, was always to score a goal and slide on my knees, you know?!

“The pitches are very wet, very fast pitches and every time I saw it, I loved it. It was honestly one of my dreams to celebrate like that! In Argentina, a lot of the pitches aren’t like that - not as wet - so it became something I would dream about doing.”

Unknowingly, and ahead of time, he’s jumped into one of the next topics on the agenda.

Funes notched five goals during an impressive maiden season with Everton, after completing his switch from the Buenos Aires giants in the summer of 2015.

The full-blooded knee-slide celebration that followed each of those strikes became something of a trademark.

The first of those goals came eight years ago last week - a powerful header to open the scoring in a 2-2 draw at Bournemouth - which led to Evertonians coining a seasonal, tongue-in-cheek chant of ‘Deck the halls with Funes Mori’, cementing the defender’s cult hero status amongst the travelling Toffees.

“I loved the bond with Evertonians,” he reflects. “I think the supporters of Everton are the best, honestly. You go away and every single time, our stand would be full. They follow their club everywhere and it’s a unique passion they have. Then there is a special atmosphere at Goodison Park where the people can make it impossible for other teams when it gets going.

“I’m so grateful for Evertonians. They showed me a lot of love and all I wanted to do was to give my best for them, to show them how ready and willing I was to defend the royal blue colours.”

Away from the pitch, Funes Mori was grabbing fans’ attention, too. A regular on social media, Evertonians saw how their number 25 continued his love of two Argentine traditions, in particular, while living in Merseyside.

He was barely ever pictured without maté, a popular South American caffeine-rich infused herbal drink, and, more strikingly, the barbecues in his back garden - even in sub-zero temperatures, where, often in his Everton shorts, he would post photographs of himself preparing food for family and close friends, including fellow Argentines in Manchester City’s Sergio Agüero and Martin Demichelis and Manchester United’s Marcos Rojo.

It wasn’t all proverbial sunshine and lollipops, however. His hunger to impress for Everton and passion on the pitch landed him in trouble on occasion, not least when he was shown a straight red card for a foul on Divock Origi in the Merseyside derby in April 2016.

As he left the Anfield pitch that night, with jeers raining down from the home supporters, Funes Mori’s fight instincts took hold, as he grabbed the crest of his Everton shirt and pulled it back and forth in a display of defiance.

“I mean, I was sad,” he remembers. “The derbies are different games, with the passion of both teams and the rivalry between the fans - I was very aware of it and loved it.

“The red card was a tough moment, though. I can’t explain what happened afterwards… I didn’t do it to show off, or to offend anyone but, again, I think it comes back to wanting to defend the badge.

“I remember after the game the Chairman, Bill Kenwright, called me in to see him and I thought he was going to go mad at me, but he was very understanding and understood it was my passion that spilled over and a one-off. He was a great man and a great Chairman. I was very sad when I heard about his passing and I’d like to send my condolences to his family, friends and everyone who knew him.”

After an impressive debut campaign on English shores which saw Funes make 37 appearances in all competitions, as well as 13 for Argentina, injury halted that positive trajectory the following term.

“I adapted quite fast to life in England,” he recalls. “Because I was in love with the Premier League from a very young age and I watched all the games.

“I spoke with Roberto Martinez before joining Everton and he made me feel confident to be an important part of what was already a very good team, with players like Jags [Phil Jagielka] and John Stones playing in my position. There were so many great players throughout the squad, playing at the top level. I’m a person who likes to learn. I like to learn about other countries, cultures and ways of life, so even the rainy and cloudy days in Merseyside were great for me. I really enjoyed it.

“For me, it was really easy to adapt because I’d seen so much of it and sort of knew what to expect, and I also spoke English, so being able to communicate with the coaches, my teammates, the people around the Club, made things a lot easier for me. I really loved it from the moment I arrived. I think the first year I had at Everton was my best then after that I suffered a little bit with injuries and I lost some momentum. The only regret I have is the injuries.”

Ramiro Funes Mori
"I loved the bond with Evertonians. I think the supporters of Everton are the best, honestly. You go away and every single time our stand would be full. They follow their club everywhere and it's a unique passion they have."

A somewhat reluctant move to Villarreal came in the summer of 2018. Then, after three years in Spain, Funes headed to Saudi Arabia and spent a year with soon-to-be-famous Al-Nassr.

He spent last season in Mexico with Cruz Azul before finally returning to his first love in River Plate in July this year on a free transfer.

“I wanted to stay at Everton, of course,” reveals Funes. “I loved the team, the Club, the people at Everton, so it was a tough time when I had to move on. I was coming back from an injury but sometimes you know you have to let go. That was one of those times but it made it no less sad.

“As I say, Everton gave me so much and I fell in love with everything there. They will always be in my heart.

“I have had the chance to play in great leagues around the world since but I think the Premier League is the best, better than La Liga in Spain, which is a slower pace but the players are very technical. Going to Saudi was obviously completely different but it was a great opportunity for me and, like I said, I’m a person that can adapt to anything. Living in Saudi Arabia was a good experience and I made a lot of friends. Now you see it’s a league that is growing because of huge investment and some really good players have gone there. I think it’s going to continue growing.”

In Mexico, Funes had the opportunity of playing against his identical twin brother Rogelio Funes Mori. He continues: “I enjoyed that because I can challenge him… and kick him! We have a good relationship, though, of course. What goes on on the pitch stays there and we’re brothers again afterwards, but we have huge battles. I played with him as well when we were together at River Plate, so it’s been nice to be able to experience both.”

Upon rejoining River Plate, Funes was reunited with another former Blue in Solomon Rondon, the man jointly responsible for his worse-for-wear voice having scored the opener in a 2-0 win in the aforementioned victory over Boca.

“Of course, I spoke with Solomon about Everton and he really liked it,” he explains. “He was only there for one year but, honestly, he really loved the Club and the people around it. We find ourselves speaking about Everton quite a lot and our experiences there and we also watch a lot the Everton games together now, which is good.

“I watch all of Everton’s games, to be honest. Everton has part of my heart, for sure. It’s been tough over the past couple of years but I think the coach has got the Club going in the right direction again. The Premier League is such a tough league, every team is so good, but I think Everton have very good players and they look together so I think they are going to kick on from here.”