It was back in 2001 that diminutive Colombian winger Andres Chitiva left his hometown side Millonarios to try his luck with then modest Mexican outfit Pachuca. Arriving at the Estadio Hidalgo, the gifted wide man can scarcely have imagined the transformation the club would undergo in the seasons ahead, or indeed the part he would play in it.
Seven years on and Pachuca are currently the top side in Mexican football, while Chitiva has gone from being a player of promise to an integral part of the Tuzos success story.
Now, the club and player are preparing for their maiden voyage to Japan for what could be their biggest challenge yet: the FIFA Club World Cup. With just days to go before the 2007 edition gets underway, the 28-year-old took time out to talk to FIFA.com about the forthcoming event.
A deserved challenge
Competing at the Club World Cup is "a new experience and a reward for everything Pachuca have achieved", says Andres, who has won four Mexican league titles, two CONCACAF Champions Cups, one Copa Sudamericana and one Superliga with the Tuzos.
After coming so far at national and continental level, Chitiva is well aware of the magnitude of the competition he is about to take part in. "The Mexican league is very important to all of us, and the Copa Sudamericana was wonderful for the club, as were the CONCACAF Cups. But the Club World Cup is obviously something bigger and, I imagine, the most important one we'll have taken part in to date."
Asked who he feels are the favourites for the title, the Colombian errs on the side of caution: "All the teams competing are of a very high standard, and we just hope Pachuca can be in the running... There will be a lot of quality teams there, and I expect all of them to have the same objectives. Whoever can perform best on the day and show the most character will take the title."
Proving it over time
Only two other players have been with Pachuca longer than Chitiva: goalkeeper Miguel Calero and midfielder Gabriel Caballero, and few would deny that the trio have been fundamental to the turnaround in fortunes of the Bella Airosa side.
Only ten years ago Pachuca were struggling to maintain their top-flight status, while today there are only four Mexican sides who have won more league titles, and none can boast a CONMEBOL trophy. The talk now in Mexico is whether Pachuca are one of the country's truly great sides. For his part, Andres is in no doubt.
"It's something you have to demonstrate over time. Simply because a team has won a trophy or a title, you can't just start calling them a big club. It's vital to do it over a period of time. To be considered a great team, you need consistency, and I think Pachuca have shown that," says the winger who, in contrast to many of his peers, has no immediate desire to play in Europe. "The truth is that I don't see myself in another side. I'm very happy at Pachuca. Yes, of course, I want to do well and show everyone what I can do, but I'm very contented here and have no desire to move elsewhere."
Though it might seem premature for the Colombian to be considering ending his playing days at the club, Chitiva admits he has already thought about the possibility. "Hopefully I can do that; I'd like to anyway. I've spoken about it with the (club) President, Jesus (Martinez), and he feels it's a good idea. That said, there is still a long way to go before that and many things could still happen."