For many people the footballing career of Martin Palermo reads like a film script, his journey to hero status at Boca Juniors taking so many twists and turns that El Loco's story would not look out of place on the silver screen.
Born in La Plata on 7 November 1973, Palermo started out in the youth ranks at local side Estudiantes and made his first division debut in 1992. His first goal did not come until a year after that first appearance, and it was only in the second half of 1995 that he took a decisive step on the road to striking stardom.
Having made little contribution to Estudiantes' return to the top flight that year, Palermo found himself out of favour with Pincharratas boss Miguel Angel Russo - the man who, somewhat ironically, has now made the striker his captain at Boca. The physically imposing front man was on the point of being sold to a second division club, but the deal fell through for financial reasons and the hero of our story stayed put.
When Russo duly moved on to pastures new, Palermo was handed his chance to impress and took it with both hands, plundering 32 goals in two seasons and earning a move to the mighty Boca in 1997. With the wily Carlos Bianchi on the bench, El Loco continued to find the back of the net with incredible regularity, showing off his aerial prowess and the deadly power of his favoured left foot as he embarked on a blitz that prompted his coach to comment, "When it comes to goals, Martin is the eternal optimist."
In 1998 he set an Apertura/Clausura championship record of 20 goals in 19 games, one that still stands, and although he notoriously missed three penalties for his country in a Copa America tie against Colombia in July 1999 and suffered a serious injury later that year, he quickly showed his ability to bounce back. Returning in time to face arch-rivals River Plate in the quarter-finals of the Copa Libertadores in May 2000, Palermo marked his reappearance in typical style, getting on the scoresheet in the second leg as Boca ran out 4-2 aggregate winners. The Xeneizes went on to claim the trophy and with it a place at the Intercontinental Cup that year, where the rampaging forward bagged a brace in a famous 2-1 win over Real Madrid.
After a luckless spell in Spain's La Liga he made a triumphant return to the Bombonera, and has won six trophies with the Buenos Aires giants since 2004, among them the 2007 Copa Libertadores. He is now the highest scoring player still active in the Argentinian league and well on the way to becoming Boca's top marksman of all time. And here to tell us about it all is the man himself, so sit back and enjoy as FIFA.com chats to Boca's bill-topping goalgetter about his forthcoming mission in Japan.
FIFA.com: Martin, what does it mean to you to return to
Japan for the FIFA Club World Cup?
Martin Palermo: It's a very important tournament and a major objective both for me and the team as a whole. It will be a new experience too as we've not played in this competition since the new format was introduced, but I'm sure it'll bring back good memories for the guys that played in the Intercontinental. As for the new boys, they need to be aware that it's important for the club and for them on a personal level.
How many times have you watched your goals against Real
Madrid in the 2000 final?
Lots of times! I've had to watch them over and over again but it's something you don't get tired of at all. It's a wonderful memory, very unique and it's something that doesn't happen every day. Luckily for me, every time I watch the goals keep going in.
That team had many qualities. Which of them will you need
if Boca are to win in Japan this time?
There's no doubt we need to have the same conviction that we had then; that we could beat Real or any other team for that matter. If we can show the same attitude, we'll have a much better chance of becoming champions.
Do you think that is the reason why South American sides
have done so well in previous FIFA Club World Cups?
It's hard to say. Lots of factors come into play in tournaments like this. One thing I am sure about, though, after having played in Japan and in Europe, is that they definitely treat it with the importance it deserves. Nobody likes to lose, and in games like these even less so.
Have any of your younger team-mates asked about your
experiences in the tournament?
Not so far, because we're only thinking about the league right now and we need to pick ourselves up as quickly as possible after losing to River. That hurt a lot I can tell you. We'll have plenty of time to start thinking about Japan. Deep down, though, I'm sure the younger players know how important it is. It's a global competition, after all, and the youngsters should be aware how significant this tournament could be in terms of their future careers.
You will probably be coming up against the likes of Kaka,
Ronaldo, Filippo Inzaghi and Alberto Gilardino. In what areas do
you think you as a player can match them?
They are all international players but I don't feel inferior to any of them. They had the good fortune to end up in a great team like Milan, and I was lucky enough to make it at Boca. I've got complete belief in my abilities and in what I've achieved in my career to date. That's good enough for me.
At what age do you think a player starts dreaming of
As soon as they start playing at youth level really. When you're a kid and you play your first few games you start to dream about all the things you might achieve with a first division team. If at that moment you don't have the belief that you can do something big at your club, then there's obviously something missing. Of course, you constantly face goals in life as well and your dreams and ambitions change. You should always be aiming for glory though.
Do you still have goals left to fulfil with Boca?
You can always set yourself new objectives, like winning the league and then the Club World Cup in Japan. It's almost impossible not to have goals when you've got such important competitions coming up. After all, who wouldn't like to play Milan in the final? That's Boca and here you have to want to keep on winning. As for me personally, I'd love to become the club's all-time top scorer because I've made my name at Boca by scoring goals.
How does it feel to be an idol at a club as big as
I think the whole idol thing only really starts after you've stopped playing. Boca fans are very grateful to me, but I think they'll be even more so after I've gone.
Do you see the world title in Japan as the icing on the
cake for you?
There's no doubt, seven years on from the Real Madrid game, that it would be fantastic to experience all that again, everything that game meant to me at that stage of my career ... I'll be 34 in December but I don't think I'll be setting a date for my retirement just because of what happens over there.
One last question. Do you think your international career
is over for good now?
Not at all. Alfio Basile knows me from his time at Boca, and so I'll continue to keep my hopes up just like any other player. I'm realistic, though, and my priorities right now are Boca, to keep doing my best and, naturally, to win another world title.