EDMUNDO ZURA considered himself blessed to have a son. In the end, it was his longing to be by the side of his four-year-old miracle Elkin Ronaldhino that led to his emotional exit from the Newcastle Jets.
Zura departed on LAN airlines flight 800 at 10.45am yesterday bound for Auckland and then Santiago, Chile. From there, it would be a short trip to his home in the Ecuadorean capital Quito and a reunion with the family he has not seem in more than three months.
Rene Pichardo was Zura's translator and closest friend in Newcastle. After the Jets' 2-1 loss to Queensland on Sunday, he drove Zura to Sydney, where he stayed overnight with friends from Ecuador before catching his flight home.
"He was really upset and sad," Pichardo said. "He did not want to leave the club, but he could not stand to spend any more time away from his family. He said he had to go. He had to do the right thing. His wife [Johanna] had three miscarriages. For him to have this little boy, he believed he was blessed. Being away from him for nearly four months, he said, 'Mate, I can't cope any more. I have to go back. My boy is asking my wife every day, 'Where is Daddy? Where is Daddy?"'
Zura arrived in Newcastle in August and, with the help of the Jets and Ecuadorean embassy staff, has tried since then to have his family join him.
"He was happy with the club," Pichardo said. "He was starting to learn English. The main issue was his family. That was a big deal for him. He could not focus on playing football. He told me that if his family was here, he could have stayed for two years if the club wanted him."
While the striker believed his wife and child had been cleared to join him in Newcastle by the Australian Embassy in Chile, further complications arose, thwarting their arrival time and time again.
Since joining the Jets on loan from Ecuadorean side Imbabura in August, the striker failed to adjust to life in the Hunter, and despite making nine appearances and showing the occasional flash of brilliance, his stint ended without a goal. His partnership with Joel Griffiths promised plenty but proved frustrating for coach Gary van Egmond, who was forced to admit that the two struggled to play alongside each another.
However, while the coach gave Zura more than enough chances to succeed, it was clear the player wasn't happy off the park, leaving van Egmond ready to move on and find a replacement.
"We'll now go back and have a look for another potential marquee player, and obviously we'd like to get one before the Asian Champions League starts up, as well," he told the Herald yesterday. "But we won't be making any rushed decisions, and we need to make sure the next person we get in our budget is the best player we can possibly get."
Van Egmond said that while the club was keen to replace Zura quickly, he was undaunted by the prospect of travelling to Perth to face the Glory on Sunday with only Griffiths available as a recognised striker. "That depends what you class as strikers. I would say I've got probably 15 or 16, because every single player fancies themselves in front of goals," he said. "We'll have a look to see if there's anything around or anyone to come in, but I'm fairly sure we'll go with what we've got for this week we've got plenty of talent within ourselves, so there's no excuses."
When contacted for comment yesterday, Zura said he was preparing to board his flight and did not want to comment further on his departure. In an interview just a fortnight ago, the Ecuadorean gave the Herald no indication he was looking to head home. "I have a good 12-month contract I have no complaints," he said at the time. "I will give everything I've got to the club. I am really looking forward to getting my family here. I am very confident things will be very good then."