The words ‘loyalty’ and ‘perseverance’ are never far from Hector Moreno’s lips, and the two themes have been key to the Mexican international’s success to date. The young centre-back has just completed a solid fourth season with Dutch outfit AZ Alkmaar, and deeply ingrained values of hard work and dedication have played no small part in his consistent form.
“Everyone needs stability,” said Moreno, who turned out 27 times this past season for the 2008/09 Eredivisie champions, in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. “If you want to succeed, you have to be consistent and for that you need a healthy and stable environment. When you’re at a club for a long time, you get to know everyone and how everything works. This helps you to perform at your best”.
Moreno’s career has been on a continuous upward trajectory since his early outings for UNAM Pumas as a 15-year-old. He was part of the young Tricolor side that beat Brazil 3-0 to win the FIFA U-17 World Cup Peru 2005, and this success ultimately helped secure him a move to the Netherlands two years later, aged just 19.
“The title helped me so much,” said Moreno, who already has 18 senior caps for Mexico. “I went on to establish myself in the Pumas first team and I don’t know if I’d have managed that so quickly if it hadn’t been for the World Cup success. It was also in Peru that AZ discovered me, during our 4-0 win over the Netherlands.”
A costly error
It was after two seasons in the Mexican top flight with Pumas that Moreno tasted the first major disappointment of his fledgling career. Mexico were up against Argentina in the quarter-finals of the FIFA U-20 World Cup Canada 2007, and Moreno believes it was his mistake that cost El Tri the match and handed victory to the eventual champions.
“It’s my biggest disappointment so far,” he said. “It was hard to stomach because it felt as if we’d wasted an opportunity. We had an exceptional generation of players and we had what it took to win the tournament. Unfortunately I committed a foul that cost us a place in the semi-final. I struggled to get over it but the whole team supported me.”
Despite the error, Alkmaar remained convinced of the Mexican’s worth and moved to bring him to the Netherlands in December 2007. Moreno won the Eredivisie under Louis van Gaal in his first full season and, even though AZ have not repeated that feat since, he is still very much enjoying life at the club.
“The people here are so nice, which has helped me to settle in much quicker than I’d envisaged,” said the centre-back. “I’ve been lucky enough to work under Van Gaal and Ronald Koeman, and I’ve learned a huge amount from them. The general atmosphere around the club is great.”
Following in Marquez’s footsteps
Moreno realises that he will have to step up to an even tougher league one day if he is to continue his progress. There will be no shortcuts to the top, however, and he is adamant that only hard work will lead him to greater success. “When a big club comes in for me, I’ll be ready,” he said.
The 23-year-old has already experienced the big time with Mexico, having started against France in the duo's first-round match at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. “It was a dream come true,” he said. “I could feel the adrenaline, knowing that 100 million people were watching us and counting on us back home. We could make them happy. But I had to ignore all of that on the pitch and concentrate on my game.”
Moreno also started against Uruguay, but he had to watch from the bench as El Tri crashed out of the competition in the Round of 16. Just as at Germany 2006 and Canada 2007, it was Argentina who shattered Mexico’s dreams. “We did all we could but they were just too strong,” he said, without any hint of lingering bitterness.
“I’ve learned that you have to keep working all the time,” added Moreno, who hopes to become a fixture in the Mexico side for years to come. He also dreams of walking in the footsteps of Tricolor star Rafael Marquez, a player he describes as his “idol” and who embodies the kind of loyalty and consistency that Moreno clearly values so much.