“Memo” has reminded Mexico of his star quality
Despite being only 24, Guillermo Ochoa has had to wait quite some time to be an undisputed starter in the national team. Ever since Leo Beenhakker noticed him in a youth-team game and handed the 18-year-old his senior debut for Club America – who are arguably the biggest team in Mexico – the curly-haired keeper has been considered his country’s most important talent in years.
However, winning a starting place with El Tricolor was far more difficult. First, he had to fight the mistrust of four different managers who were not eager to give a teenager a chance in perhaps the only position in which Mexico has never suffered from a lack of options.
When Ochoa shot to fame in 2004, one of the national side’s star turns was Oswaldo Sanchez, an old-school keeper who was tall and strong, with safe hands. During Ricardo Lavolpe’s tenure as Mexico coach, the starting XI was composed of Sanchez plus 10 others, so the youngster had to settle for a place on the bench at the 2006 World Cup.
But not even that was easy. In the years since his debut, Ochoa had become the idol of the Mexican football media. He was young, charismatic, incredibly talented and played in a club owned by Televisa, the largest media outlet in Latin America. His face appeared on all the TV commercials and billboards, and he gained pop-star status when he started dating a famous singer – an affair that filled the pages of the tabloids.
Lavolpe, a well-known enemy of the media, almost didn’t take Ochoa as the team’s third goalkeeper for Germany.
When Hugo Sanchez took over after the World Cup, the former Real Madrid striker decided to make Ochoa share the duties with Sanchez at the 2007 Copa America. And while the youngster shone in a 2-0 victory over Brazil, the veteran made two mistakes in the 3-0 semi-final defeat by Argentina.
It seemed that the debate was settled at last, but Sanchez was fired shortly afterwards and, with the arrival of Sven Goran Eriksson, the bench returned to haunt Ochoa.
Like many managers before him, the Swede felt the keeper was too young for international responsibility and he too turned again to Sanchez. When Eriksson realized his mistake, it was too late. Sanchez, clearly at the twilight of his career, was the villain in the 2-0 defeat against the USA in the opener of the CONCACAF qualifiers and Eriksson’s days were numbered.
After yet another change at the helm of the national team, Javier Aguirre decided to select an even more veteran goalkeeper in Oscar Perez, who was 36 at the time, instead of the 23 year-old boy. But this time it proved to be a temporary measure and the former Atletico Madrid coach wanted to see for himself if Ochoa was up to the task.
What Aguirre saw left him impressed. The America goalkeeper was not only resilient, secure and agile, but he also proved to be a natural leader, who was humble and well-liked by his team-mates. Aguirre decided to trust Ochoa at last, and the keeper repaid him by playing an instrumental role in Mexico’s winning side at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, making impressive saves to ensure their ticket to South Africa.
Now, after having finally secured the national team’s starting spot and being widely considered as one of the top goalkeepers in the continent, Ochoa is ready to impress the rest of the world.
“Memo” has been linked with clubs such as Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain and Real Zaragoza, and in Mexico the general consensus is that he has the talent to be one of the stars of the World Cup.
After that, having run off his contract with America, the odds are that he won’t return to the Mexican league for a long time.