Though Aldo Bobadilla, Paraguay's second-choice goalkeeper at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, is yet to make his debut for new side Corinthians, he already has happy memories of the club’s Estadio Parque Sao Jorge.
These can be traced all the way back to 1997, when he played there with Cerro Porteno in the Copa Sao Paulo de Juniores, a prestigious youth competition which proved a career launch pad for Brazilian stars such as Falcao, Toninho Cerezo and Djalminha. After a defeat and two draws, one of which came against Corinthians, Cerro exited the competition at the first hurdle and were packing their bags for their return to Asuncion when Andres Sanchez, then head of O Timão’s amateur section, invited the Paraguayan party out for dinner at a local restaurant.
Fast-forward 13 years to 2010 and Bobadilla found himself up against Corinthians once more, this time in the colours of Colombian club Independiente in the group stage of the Copa Libertadores. And after the teams’ 1-1 draw in Medellin on 10 March, the veteran sought out Sanchez - now president of O Timão – to thank him personally for his generosity all those years earlier.
Ronaldo was the best in the world. To be lucky enough to share a dressing room with him means a lot to me.
Four months later and Bobadilla had signed on the dotted line for Corinthians but, having been an established fans’ favourite in Medellin, the move to one of Brazil’s biggest clubs is not without risk. “It’s a huge challenge for me,” said the former Boca Juniors, Gimnasia La Plata and Libertad man, who appeared in all three of Paraguay’s games at Germany 2006.
“I’ve played for big clubs before, but this is Corinthians. It’s the club’s centenary year and I want to help us become champions,” added Bobadilla, referring to O Timão's determination to lift the Brasileirao title after falling short in the Campeonato Paulista and exiting the Libertadores in the last 16.
And despite enjoying just one week off since being back-up to Justo Villar in La Albirroja’s historic run to the last eight at South Africa 2010, Bobadilla insists he is ready for action after training hard with Corinthians' fitness coach Mauri Lima. “I’m here to do my bit, but Julio [Cesar] has been playing really well,” he said of the club’s current No1, who has been at the Estadio Parque Sao Jorge for a decade.
“We always want things to go well for whoever is in the team, whether it be Julio or someone else. We’ll be competing for a place, but we’ll be mates off the pitch, just as has happened at every club I’ve played for.”
One of a growing number of foreign keepers in the Brazilian top flight - others include Internacional’s Argentinian Roberto Abbondanzieri and Vitoria’s Julian Viafara of Colombia - how does Bobadilla envisage the challenge ahead? “It’ll be different as the best attackers in the world play here," he said.
I’ve played for big clubs before, but this is Corinthians. It’s the club’s centenary year and I want to help us become champions.
"In my opinion, Brazilian players are technically the best around. It’ll be tough, because I know that whichever team we’re playing will have players capable of something special.”
Fortunately, training alongside the likes of Seleção legends Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos on a daily basis will surely help Bobadilla’s cause. “It’s really great to be able to get to know them," he remarked. "Ronaldo is a class player, he was the best in the world. That’s something I think about a lot, to be lucky enough to share a dressing room with him means a lot to me.”
And though Bobadilla’s adventure with O Todo Poderoso is barely beginning, it is clear he is enjoying every minute so far. “There’s nothing like playing for a massive club like Corinthians,” he said as the interview concluded. “It’s a club with fantastic fans and I’m very grateful to the president and the coaching staff for this opportunity. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got to repay them.”