Hernan Medford is a living legend of Costa Rican football, the man responsible for two of the most important goals in the country’s history. Having retired from the game some years ago, he is now the director of football at Club Limon in his homeland. FIFA.com caught up with El Pelicano (The Pelican) to discuss his playing career, time in charge of his nation and their prospects under new coach Ricardo La Volpe.
Hernan Medford had a big hand in Costa Rica’s sudden emergence on the international scene. The speedy forward scored Los Ticos’ winner in a 2-1 defeat of Sweden in the group phase of the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™, a goal that took the unfancied Central Americans through to the Round of 16 for the maiden time. Understandably, the mere mention of that improbable feat brought a smile to his face.
“The tournament was historic for us from start to finish,” Medford explained. “Nobody expected us to do that much, but we had a good coach in Bora Milutinovic, who prepared us very well, and a good squad too. That competition marked the start of the modern era of Costa Rican football and that goal took us through to the second round, the first (and only) time a Central American team has achieved that.”
Medford’s match-winner against the Swedes also opened doors for him on a personal level and led to a lengthy career overseas. “Before that World Cup it was very difficult for Costa Rican players to earn a move abroad,” he said.
“When it was over though, I went to Dinamo Zagreb, where I played with Davor Suker and Zvonimir Boban. From there I went to Rapid Vienna, who were coached by Hans Krankl at the time, and then I moved to Spain and Rayo Vallecano, where my coach was Jose Antonio Camacho.”
Following his travels around Europe he made the switch to Mexico, where he performed with distinction for the best part of a decade before winding his career up with Costa Rican giants Saprissa. In between times, however, came another goal for the record books: a late winner in a Korea/Japan 2002 qualifier against Mexico in the intimidating surroundings of the Estadio Azteca.
“That was one of the biggest moments of my career without question,” he recalled. “It was very exciting to end Mexico’s unbeaten run, and funnily enough it came almost 11 years to the day after the goal against Sweden.”
A new career
No sooner did Medford hang up his boots than he took up coaching, quickly taking charge at Saprissa and elevating them to unprecedented heights. “We won several league titles and the CONCACAF Cup, and we also came third at the Club World Cup, which was another first,” he said. “In 2005 I also had the good fortune to be named the 18th-best coach in the world, the third-best in the whole of the Americas and the number one in the CONCACAF Zone.”
It was only logical, then, that his next position should be with the national team, although Medford’s Tico tenure did not go as he had planned. “Things went fine as far as the competitive matches were concerned but there were a lot of problems with the media, who exerted a lot of pressure, and the FA decided to bring things to an end,” he reflected. “A lot of changes were made and the logical result of all that was that we missed out on a place in South Africa.”
Another bittersweet experience followed in Mexico with Leon, before Medford turned his back on coaching to take a position upstairs with Club Limon. “There was a lot of pressure with coaching and now I can sleep more easily at night,” he said. “I’m not ruling out a return if the circumstances are right, but for the time being at least I’m very happy.”
Given his extensive experience on both sides of the touchline, Medford is better qualified than most to comment on recent developments with Los Ticos, particularly the appointment of La Volpe. “He’s very capable and he’s going to teach us a lot of things,” said the 42-year-old.
“But I’m a little worried about his character. I’m a very direct person who likes to get to the point, which is something that caused me problems, but he’s three times more direct than I am. As regards the football side of things, I’m very hopeful. I know he can take us a long way, and I just hope they just let him work because we’ve definitely got the talent.”