At the age of 27, Paolo Guerrero is enduring something of a bittersweet moment in his career. A well-established performer in the Bundesliga, the championship in which he has plied his trade since 2001, the Peruvian striker's immediate goal is to help Hamburg extricate themselves from last place in the table, the result of an unusually bad start to the season.
However, Guerrero's present situation at club level is in stark contrast to his recent international exploits. The Lima native, indeed, finished top scorer at this summer’s Copa America, a tournament in which Peru surprisingly claimed third place. As he prepares to maintain his form in the upcoming qualifying campaign for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, the player whose career began at Peruvian outfit Alianza Lima spoke to FIFA.com about his desire to remain in German football, an eventual return to his homeland, and Peru’s chances of reaching FIFA’s flagship tournament after a 32-year absence.
FIFA.com: Paolo, Peru surprised a lot of people at the recent Copa America. How important was it to help the team achieve third place after a long series of disappointing performances?
Paolo Guerrero: It was very important, especially if you think about all the problems we’ve been through over the last few years. Nobody expected it; nobody gave us a chance. We had a lot of new faces, young players, and that meant that we basically arrived with no real stars and a very low profile. But we pulled together and set ourselves a goal of playing six matches in the tournament. In the end we achieved it without any need for secret weapons, except hard work and discipline on the pitch.
Is there an even greater feeling of satisfaction at having attained that level so close to the start of the FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign?
Yes, because we’ve allowed the Peruvian people to dream about reaching the World Cup again. I appreciate that fans would prefer us to make it to the big one rather than perform well in the Copa America, but we had to start somewhere.
Many Peruvian readers touched on that in the FIFA.com forums, that they would have preferred the team to have come to life in the upcoming qualifiers, so as to take advantage of the element of surprise.
As I said, the Copa America was a good start. We’ve got a top coach in Sergio Markarian, who’s been doing some great, disciplined work with us, which is now starting to bear fruit. It’s really changing things in Peru, not just on the sporting side of things but from an organisational point of view as well, so serious progress is being made. We have a strong team and a great future ahead of us, because we have several young players who continue to show their ability and worth when they’re with the national team. And people will see that during the qualifying matches.
Are you not a little wary of having raised expectations back home?
Not at all. I’m optimistic, and I believe that the way we’ve been working over the past few months is better than anything we’ve done before. We need to maintain that feeling of togetherness in the squad. With the return of some of our stars, we’ll have more options and should be even stronger than before. I think El Profesor [Markarian] will probably find it quite difficult to pick his starting XI, with so many options available to him now.
And what about within the squad? Could it possibly suffer from over-confidence?
I don’t think so, but as a player, I have to have confidence in myself and my team-mates. We know that we’re a young team and that an extremely tough qualifying campaign is just around the corner, but we’ve got talent, and we’re working on the physical side of our game. If we can put in the same type of effort as we did during the Copa America, and the group of players remains strong, I can see us surprising a few people and grabbing one of those World Cup qualifying places.
Claudio Pizarro has returned to the team. What will he bring to the team?
Goals, experience and standing. We played together a while back and we know each other well, from the national set-up as well as from Bayern Munich. We’re friends, although it’s clear that one of us will have to drop back a bit so that the other can play as the main striker. We’ll see what the coach decides, but I’d have no problem adapting to something different.
Do you think that the way in which other teams regard Peru has changed after the Copa America?
There’s no doubt about that; it would be foolish for it not to have changed.
Paraguay and Chile are the first hurdles that you face. What are your thoughts on these two games?
It’s difficult to say how many points we should be looking for. We have to win our home games – there’s no debate about that. Then we’ve got the game in Chile to deal with, and even if we don’t manage to win that one, we have to accept that a draw wouldn’t be a bad result.
How much of an effect is Brazil’s absence going to have on the competition?
A big one, because the availability of the slot that they normally fill will be a huge motivating force for everyone, from the teams that struggle to qualify to those that haven’t qualified in quite some time.
In recent years, Peru’s internal disciplinary problems have received considerable media coverage. Is that all consigned to the past now?
Acting like professionals at all times is something that the coach has stressed to us, even more so than tactics or mindset. He’s brought it home to us, and we’re all in agreement just how unbelievable it is that Peru, with the teams that we’ve had, have gone so many years without appearing at a World Cup. Lack of discipline is one of the reasons for this, but I think that we’ve started to change our mentality as far as that particular shortcoming is concerned. We haven’t had any trouble for a long time.
Moving from international to domestic football, things are not going smoothly at Hamburg this season. How do you view the present circumstances?
It’s a difficult situation. Top, experienced players left the club, and the young guys that have come in need time to adapt. That’s the way it is; we can’t ask teenagers of 19 to effortlessly become Bundesliga stars overnight. It’ll take time, but I think the team will definitely improve. If we can start winning our home games, our confidence will get a real boost.
What does the future hold for Paolo Guerrero? Would you like to experience other leagues in Europe, or return to Peru, perhaps?
The truth is I haven’t given it much thought for now. Things are going well for me at Hamburg. My contract runs till 2014, and I’m very happy here. As for Peru, it crosses my mind from time to time that I’d like to end up back there at some point. In terms of which club I’d like to play for, it’s got to be Alianza Lima.