Pachuca's Gabriel Caballero is finally ready to bow out of top-flight football. After a glittering career that has seen him win five Mexican league titles, two CONCACAF Champions Cups and one North American Superliga with his current employers, the Tuzo captain has put a date on his imminent retirement.
The veteran midfielder, who told FIFA.com of his plan to finally hang up his boots after the Mexican Clausura championship in mid-2009, knows only too well that a fine showing here at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan would crown an illustrious and highly successful career.
Passing the baton
"When we finish our next league campaign, sometime between April and June, I'm going to call it a day. That means this will be my last Club World Cup," Caballero told FIFA.com.
The question of retirement had also been raised a year ago, but on that occasion the Argentina-born player was vague about an actual departure date. Playing on proved an inspired decision as his desire to compete seems only to have increased over time. "It's not age that matters, but rather how you feel and whether you can be of service to your club, your team-mates and your coach. Energy and desire are two things I'll always have," he insists.
"I believe football is about your qualities and fitness, and while I still have both I was always going to continue playing. Next year, however, I think there'll be a group of very eager youngsters coming through who will want their chance, and the time will be right to give them that," says this naturalised Mexican.
"Hopefully things go well for us and I can retire knowing that I did my utmost, because if I had quit after last year's Club World Cup, it would have always been a thorn in my side. I hope the outcome is different this time," he says.
Opportunity not revenge
Unlike many of his Tuzo team-mates, the captain is not looking at the club's second consecutive appearance in Japan as a revenge mission.
"It's another chance to showcase our game, show people what the club represents and fly the flag for Pachuca and Mexico," says the 37-year-old. "That will be our approach, and hopefully we can do a lot better than last year."
No one would deny that the Mexican side were the big disappointment of the 2007 edition. Having won two national and three international titles in the preceding 18 months, the club then fell at the first hurdle after losing to Tunisia's Etoile du Sahel. "We had been playing very well then our form dropped off before the Club World Cup," admits Caballero. "This time, though, it's the other way round. Our game is on the up again after an earlier dip. We're going to arrive with the team in very good form and I'm confident this year will be a lot better."
After their early elimination last time out, Pachuca were left rueing the lost opportunity to face Boca Juniors or even AC Milan. This time, the ultimate prize would be a showdown with pre-tournament favourites Manchester United, though to achieve that they would first have to get past Egypt's Al Ahly and Ecuador's Liga de Quito. "We see just how hard it's going to be. Last year, if we had won our opener against Etoile, in which we were far superior, I think we would've gone on and beaten Boca Juniors. I'm convinced we would've reached the final, but obviously we'll never know as we got knocked out in the first round," he laments.
"This time, a lot depends on what shape the teams arrive in. I don't know if we'll be the side [to threaten Manchester United], but I believe it's possible. We have the necessary quality to win our first game, which is always the hardest," says Caballero, who also feels how teams play against them could be a factor.
"Some of the sides there might be more defensive than we are, which can make things tough. We prefer going up against teams who like to play football." Like the Red Devils, who the Pachuca stalwart would no doubt dearly love to face in his final game on the global scene.