Mexico has produced more than its fair share of legendary keepers over the years. Antonio Carbajal, Jorge Campos and Oswaldo Sanchez are just a few of the fine No1s who have excelled with the Tricolor on the global stage. Even so, the current incumbent in the Azteca goal is poised to upstage them all.
An undisputed first choice for the national team at the age of only 22 and already an institution at his club, America, Francisco Guillermo Ochoa is widely seen in his native country as one of the best keepers in the world. Idolised by his adoring fans, the young custodian has refused to let the adulation go to his head, however. And when FIFA.com came calling, the down-to-earth and utterly approachable Ochoa was more than happy to talk about his past, present and future.
FIFA.com: Francisco, can we just clear one thing up first
of all? How do you like to be called: Francisco, Guillermo or do
you have a nickname?
Francisco Guillermo Ochoa: Everyone calls me Memo, Memo Ochoa. That's what people called me when I was a kid. My parents only called me Guillermo when they were angry with me (laughs). I don't like any of my other nicknames, though, because they don't have anything to do with my life or me as a person.
Many will know the story of how you were discovered at the
age of 17 by Leo Beenhakker. Tell us what happened?
In actual fact I'd been training with the (America) first team since I was 15. Alfio Basile was the coach then but when Beenhakker came in I stayed with the side for the whole pre-season and he made me second-choice keeper. I think he liked what he saw and it just so happened that Adolfo Rios got injured in training one day. Beenhakker had enough confidence in me to give me my league debut and then my first [Copa] Libertadores start in my second game.
Are you still grateful to the Beenhakker?
Of course I am. You wouldn't have expected him to gamble on a 17-year-old like me, particularly at a club like America, where there's always so much pressure day in, day out, and where you're always in the spotlight. Before I went out on the pitch he asked me what I'd always wanted to do, and I said to play for America in the first division. And he said to me, 'Well, here you are. Now go and enjoy it'.
You have enjoyed a meteoric rise. You made your league
debut at the age of 17, you became a key figure in the team very
quickly and now, just five years later, you are Mexico's
undisputed No1 as well. What is the secret?
(Laughs) I just take things slowly and try to improve with each game. It's something that just comes with being a footballer really; the press, the fans, your team-mates and all that. I've always been the youngest one around and when I was 15 I was playing alongside guys who were twice my age. Little by little you learn the good things, you put the bad stuff to one side and you always have to be hungry for more.
In 2006 you experienced your first FIFA World Cup™ finals
as Mexico's third keeper. What memories do you have of the
It was wonderful. We played Portugal, and then Argentina with all their stars. The atmosphere was fantastic. I was really keen to play of course, but I knew I had to wait, I knew I wasn't the first-choice keeper. But that just spurred me on to try and do things better, to learn more. At the time I said to myself, 'I'll be back in 2010 but on the pitch, not on the bench'.
Within a year you had become Mexico's No1 and a vital
component of the side that went to the Copa America Venezuela 2007.
How did you manage to handle the pressure of your first tournament
as a player?
I tried not to think about it. I'm very aware of the great keepers who've gone before me and that it's my turn now to write my own story. Obviously I get nervous before games but as soon as I step out on the pitch I forget about all that and I concentrate on my work.
Venezuela 2007 was the first major test for Hugo Sanchez.
What do you make of him as the national coach?
He's got the air of winner about him. He always wants more from us out on the pitch and he's always pushing us to be the best in every situation.
The objective for the year ahead is obviously the Olympic
Football Tournament at Beijing 2008.
Yes, but we have to get there first of all and that won't be easy. The people in Mexico are very excited and I can understand that because we've got a lot of quality. And like at Germany 2006, I didn't get a game at Athens 2004 either, so it's going to be very important for me to be out there fighting for a medal.
Several of the Mexican players likely to be in Beijing are
already with European clubs. Why do you think you have not joined
There's been a lot of talk about a transfer recently but nothing has come off as yet. The fact is I'm in no real hurry and I want to go to a big team. I've always followed clubs like Juventus, Milan, Bayern, Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona, and I'd love to join one of them. In any case I'm with America right now. They're a big club themselves and I've still got a lot of objectives to achieve here, like the next Copa Libertadores.
Moving on now, did you have any goalkeeping heroes when you
Peter Schmeichel, without a doubt. He was amazing. He could stop everything that came his way. He was always someone I wanted to emulate. The funny things is, though, I've become a completely different keeper to him.
You are one of the few footballers who is still studying at
university? How important is that to you?
Only about one in ten footballers study (laughs). I'm doing it for myself, not for anyone else. It's for my future. Footballers' careers are very short and you have to be prepared for what lies ahead. You sometimes come across former players who've done nothing since they retired and I don't want to end up like that.
Imagine we come back and do an interview in five years'
time. Where would you like to be?
Playing in Europe for a big team. Hopefully I'll have won a medal at the Olympic Games, played in the Champions League and won it, and of course, won the World Cup at South Africa 2010. My dream would be a final against Brazil, going all the way to penalties and saving the last one. No, even better... we'd be winning 1-0 and I'd save a penalty in the last minute!