When you think of mainstays in Mexico’s forward line from recent years, the name of Guillermo Franco invariably springs to mind. The Argentinian-born naturalized Mexican competed at the 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cups™ over the course of a seven-year international career.
Now, a decade after he signed for Monterrey, a move that would be followed by a four-year sojourn in Europe, El Guille is back on Mexican soil. This time it is to defend the colours of Pachuca, who he joined at the turn of the year after a season with Argentinian side Velez Sarsfield.
Though the 35-year-old has enjoyed considerable success down the years, he has had his share of difficult times too, not least in the wake of Mexico’s disappointing campaign at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa, when he was heavily criticised in the Mexican press. The Corrientes native talked about all this and more as he spoke with FIFA.com.
After leaving his homeland and Buenos Aires side San Lorenzo in 2002, Guillermo Franco would not get another taste of Argentinian league football until 2011, when he signed for Velez after a six-month break following South Africa 2010.
As fate would have it though, Franco endured the worst possible start with El Fortín, injuring shoulder ligaments just minutes into his first start for the club. Despite sitting out most the domestic campaign, the former Villarreal and West Ham United man regained his fitness in time for the club’s title-winning run-in.
Recalling his time there, the player said: "It was a beautiful experience, although things didn’t start as well as I’d hoped. Velez are a big club and I was able to experience the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana with them."
International club competitions aside, Franco is certainly well placed to assess the current state of Argentinian football, the quality of which has been questioned by many in recent years. “In terms of footballing standards, it’s declined considerably," said the veteran forward.
"This is a consequence of teams not having the money to hold on to their players. Financially, it’s a difficult time for clubs, so if they produce a young star who’s capable of producing results for them, they’re simply obliged to sell him.”
Mexico, a decade on
El Guille is happy to be back in his adopted home, some ten years after joining a Monterrey side with whom he would win the league in 2003. It was the precursor to his taking up Mexican nationality and being called into the national team by then-coach Ricardo La Volpe. In FIFA World Cup qualifying and finals’ games alone, Franco wore the Tricolor jersey 15 times, scoring three goals.
“It’s been a very significant and positive experience for me,” he said. “Playing at two World Cups is no mean feat. I feel privileged and blessed by God to have been able to compete in these kind of events, which in sporting terms is the ultimate a player can aspire to.”
Unfortunately, El Tri’s campaigns at the finals disappointed many fans, resulting in no little criticism of Franco. “The results there were not what the public or the team were expecting. We had high hopes of achieving something more significant. That said I think the criticism I came in for was unfair,” said the centre forward who, at this distance, can freely talk about those heady days in South Africa.
"After Mexico failed to achieve the desired results and with everything that had happened, the critics needed a scapegoat, so they trained their sights on me. As they say in these parts, someone had to pay for the broken plates.”
Franco also had an additional source of pressure there, as he explained: “Aside from being caught up in that situation, I had to deal with the public wanting to see more of Javier Hernandez and less of me. But that was out of my hands. You have a coach to make those kinds of decisions!”
Thus, despite giving his all at Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010, it was rather ironic that the country which eliminated them on both occasions was none other than Argentina.
More than a year and a half has passed since the last FIFA World Cup, and Franco now finds himself back in Mexico with Pachuca for what could well be the final phase of his playing career. He is keen to point out that facing the Mexican fans again was not the least bit problematic, if anything the contrary.
“I’m very grateful to God for having come to this country and for having got to know Mexico and its wonderful people, regardless of what happened at the last World Cup,” he said, the emotion evident in his voice. “The love and regard I have for Mexico hasn’t changed one iota.”
We wound up our interview by asking this relentless goal-scorer what objectives he would still like to achieve in the twilight of his career. “I’d like the chance to compete in a FIFA Club World Cup. To do that, however, I’d first have to win a major international club competition, so that’s one ambition there. I know I don’t have much room for error now that I’m nearing the end of my playing days, but I’d still love to take part in that competition.”