Sometimes the quiet ones are those who make all the difference. It was a Saturday like any other last month when middling Stoke City clawed back from a goal down to rout Aston Villa 4-1. And it’s no coincidence that the entire outlook changed around the 15-minute mark, when Wilson Palacios eased into the match. He looked lost early on, but in an instant, things suddenly clicked for the Honduran grafter. He adjusted to the pace of the game and began to work off instinct. Palacios, stocky and with a hunch in his shoulders, made crucial interventions and killer passes.
The midfielder, though rarely singled out for praise, has enjoyed successes in England’s Premier League since arriving at Birmingham City in 2008, but injury setbacks have hampered his progress in recent years. Finally back to full fitness and eager to keep his place in the team, Palacios, now 29, is heating up for both club and country.
There is a quiet efficiency about his play that seems to flow from his humility and low-key confidence. He is not the biggest or the fastest, but his willingness to do whatever it takes for the team sets him apart. “As a player, you always learn from your peers,” the modest Palacios told FIFA.com in a recent interview. “You must learn to succeed and I think I have learned a lot from very many good players,”
Honduran pride shines through
In his best patches, the midfielder roves the pitch like a hunter stalking his prey, feeding others with short efficient passes. He is a water-carrier and midfield destroyer rolled into one, reminiscent of legendary Frenchman Claude Makelele.
But asked who he admires most, Palacios rattles off no household names – No Peles or Maradonas – no legends of lore. “Flaco Pineda [Jose Luis Pineda],” he said without hesitation. “I watched him while I was growing up and I think I play a lot like him too.” Flaco is little known outside Honduras, but he is a hero in the Central American nation, where he won nine league titles and helped Tegucigalpa-based Olympia reach a FIFA Club World Cup.
For Palacios, it all comes down to Honduras, and respect. “Playing for the national team is the pinnacle of football for me,” admitted the midfielder, who will line up at his second straight FIFA World Cup™ finals in Brazil this June. “I enjoy playing in Europe, but I think that the national team is most important for every [Honduran].”
That [Mexico] game was the stepping stone for us to reach Brazil.
He views himself as a mentor for other Hondurans players, having once been the recipient of that elder respect from the likes of Pineda when the two players’ national-team careers overlapped briefly. When asked about the future of the team Wilson said “We dream to keep qualifying for World Cups. We hope that the players that come after us are always thinking about qualifying, even as the region [CONCACAF] continues to get more difficult.”
One player he tipped to lead the team into the future is striker Jerry Bengtson, who plays his club football in the United States with New England Revolution and scored crucial goals for Honduras in qualifying. “[He] keeps maturing every game he plays. He’s ice cold!” Palacios said, quick to single out others for attention. “The national team needed a player like him, someone who can score clutch goals.”
The topic of the CONCACAF rivals he shares a dressing room with at Stoke City elicits an animated response from Palacios. Coach Mark Hughes inherited a squad deep with USA players, natural and heated rivals for Palacios at international level. But the midfielder revealed that the Americans are “like brothers,” saying, “not only are they good players, but good people. I communicate very well with them. Life at Stoke with Mo [Maurice Edu], Brek [Shea], Juan [Agudelo], and Geoff [Cameron] is great. We’re always talking about our national teams and life back home. We support each other a lot.”
Revival en route to Brazil 2014
Palacios has built a career out of supporting his team-mates on the pitch and creating a positive atmosphere off it. There is a kindness and earnestness about the man, although he did joke that, “when [he and Stoke’s USA brigade] face each other, national team against national team, being brothers is forgotten.”
He is clearly enjoying life after a patchy spell in the spotlight of London with Tottenham Hotspur. “I am doing well at Stoke, I’m training really hard. I’m on the bench now, but I’m as we say in Honduras en puntillas [on my toes], because at any moment the coach could call on me.”
One coach certain to call on Palacios is Honduras boss Luis Fernando Suarez as the Catrachos aim to improve on their group-stage exit four years ago in South Africa. “I’m excited about representing Honduras at a second consecutive World Cup,” Palacios said, clearly looking to keep a lid on expectations back home that hit fever pitch when, last September, Honduras made history by beating Mexico at the fabled Estadio Azteca. “That game was the stepping stone for us to reach Brazil,” he added, shrugging off a suggestion that his hard running and inspired play were crucial to the result.
The way the conversation ended gives an accurate impression of the man. Things wound down, goodbyes were exchanged, and he capped the conversation by saying “A La Orden,” Spanish for “at your service.” There may not be an expression that epitomises Palacios, as a player or a man, more appropriately than that.