Ricardo Osorio could have few complaints about the way his career was developing after a series of classy performances at Germany 2006 earned him a move to Stuttgart. In his first season in the Bundesliga he helped his new team lift the championship, and having established himself as an undisputed first choice for club and country the sky seemed to be the limit for the versatile defender.
Since then Osorio has experienced plenty of downs to go with the ups, having fallen out of favour with Stuttgart coach Markus Babbel and played witness to a nosedive in Mexican fortunes that almost spelt the end of their South Africa 2010 qualification hopes. With El Tri now back on course for the finals, thanks in no small part to his efforts, Osorio spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about his goals at both international and domestic level.
First on the agenda for the 29-year-old defender is Mexico's vital qualifier at home to El Salvador, a match that could see them clinch their place in South Africa. "We are relaxed," he says. "And that's the most important thing [coach] Javier Aguirre has done. He's made us relax. That doesn't mean to say that we're over-confident, though. We know we're nearly there and we just need to take the final step. We can't lose concentration now or we'll undo all the good work we've done."
The Central American teams don't know how to play at the Azteca. It's a lovely pitch that lets you play good football, so there are no excuses.
The Mexicans lie second in the final six-team CONCACAF group, and victories in their final two games could help them top the section for the first time since the qualifiers for France 98. An extra source of motivation perhaps? "What concerns me most is Mexico playing well," he replies. "I don't care if we finish first or second. We just want to show the fans we can play. Everything else follows on from that."
First things first, though, Aguirre's side have to take on Los Cuscatlecos at the Estadio Azteca, a factor that Osorio sees as vital. "The Central American teams don't know how to play at the Azteca. It's a lovely pitch that lets you play good football, so there are no excuses. But when we have to go and play on bad pitches we have no option but to play a long-ball game, which is not our thing."
Another plus point for Mexico is the long-awaited return from injury of Barcelona's Rafael Marquez, a player with whom Osorio has shared a lot of success. "Let me tell you something: Rafa is our captain," says his defensive partner with real conviction in his voice. "He's a great player and he's the motivation we need to keep working at it in Europe. The national team is a lot stronger with him around."
While life is rosy again on the international front, Ricardo is not having an easy time of it at Stuttgart. "Here I'm playing in the centre of defence, my favourite position, but in Germany I'm just not part of the new coach's plans," explains Osorio, who almost made a move to the Spanish league recently.
Despite being sidelined, he is determined not to complain about his lot. "No way. I'm going to keep on working. I'm not resentful and I don't criticise my team-mates. I try to support them and if I'm not getting a game, then all I can do is keep working."
Given his circumstances, Osorio is grateful still to be part of the Mexico set-up and to have the opportunity to show what he can do. "My contract ends with Stuttgart just before the World Cup and I'm going to see it through. That's why I'm so desperate to qualify, to keep on playing and to show what I'm worth. And if there's a move to Spain in the offing in December, I'd love to go."
The exile's grit and determination proved invaluable when Mexico hit their rocky patch. And having played his part in getting the Tricolor bandwagon back on track, few would begrudge Osorio a chance to reap the rewards.