Not many players have the chance to slip on their national team jersey, and fewer still have the honour of captaining their country and becoming an integral part of the side, a status Mexico mainstay Francisco Javier Rodriguez has recently earned.
Back in his home country after a four-year exile in Europe, the centre-half has been handed the responsibility of leading El Tri through the final qualifying phase for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
Nicknamed Maza after his birthplace Mazatlan, Rodriguez spent six years at the heart of the Guadalajara defence before signing for PSV Eindhoven in 2008. After starting his first season with the Dutch club on the bench, the Mexican eventually elbowed his way into the team, staying with PSV for three seasons prior to making a move to Stuttgart. One and a half Bundesliga campaigns later, he made the journey back to his homeland to sign for the mighty America.
“I’m very satisfied with everything I achieved there,” the 31-year-old told FIFA.com in an exclusive interview. “I’m pleased with all the things I learned there on a professional and personal level and I’m happy to have experienced new cultures.”
Born to lead
Discussing his return to Las Águilas in January this year, Rodriguez said: “I’m delighted to be back and it’s great to be with a club of America’s stature.”
Though he has played only a handful of games for his new employers, he has already been handed the captain’s armband on one occasion, for a meeting with Toluca.
“Obviously I was very proud,” he said in reference to that distinction. “I’m here to work, though, and to keep on improving my game. I’m a professional and I’ve always enjoyed learning on a day-to-day basis from my team-mates and the coaches I’ve worked with throughout my career.”
Thanks to his maturity and dependability, Rodriguez has also earned the confidence of Mexico coach Jose Manuel de la Torre. As well as making the centre-back an ever-present in his line-ups, the man they call El Chepo has given him the captaincy too, in recognition of his experience and ability.
“I’ve always enjoyed being a leader, whether I’m wearing the captain’s armband or not,” he explained. “There are 11 of us on the pitch and all of us have a voice. Even so, I’m very content with what I’ve achieved and with the things I’ve done to earn this special role.”
Destination Brazil 2014
Mexico’s opening game in the final six-team group of the CONCACAF qualifiers for Brazil 2014 was an underwhelming goalless draw at home to Jamaica, a slightly inauspicious start that El Maza believes they need to put behind them: “We have to stay calm. We could have played for 500 minutes and still not scored, and we lacked poise when we were on the ball. Jamaica stood up to us and we just couldn’t get the better of them.”
A veteran of Mexico’s Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010 campaigns, the Tri skipper is not taking the task that lies ahead lightly: “The fact is that there are no little teams any more. As the opening match against Jamaica showed, we’ve got a tough road ahead of us.
“We know how our rivals are going to play, and the games we’ve got coming up against Honduras in San Pedro Sula and at home to the USA are going to be just as difficult, if not more so. Standards in world football have improved and the gaps between teams have narrowed.”
For all that, the seasoned stopper is confident that Mexico can make the most of their many attributes and seize top spot in the group: “We’re cut out to be leaders,” he said emphatically. “I’ve never been shy about saying that. What we have to do, though, is go out and show it on the pitch. It’s not enough just to say it.”