Though still just 24 years of age, Mexican defender Hector Moreno has already savoured some of the biggest highs of the professional game, including two appearances for his country at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. What's more, with several seasons in the European game now under his belt, an excellent first campaign in the colours of La Liga outfit Espanyol has reportedly caught the eye of such heavy hitters as Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain.
Nevertheless, the centre-back, who hails from Culiacan in Mexico’s north-east, has not let his achievements go to his head, as FIFA.com discovered when it caught up with him at Espanyol’s Ciudad Deportiva complex.
First on the agenda was to ask just how Moreno is enjoying life in Barcelona? “I’m very happy,” said Los Periquitos’ No15. “I’ve got a fantastic life here and the city’s incredible. It’s been very easy to adapt and my team-mates have helped me so much. I’m enjoying myself both on and off the pitch, which gives me all the enthusiasm I need to train well and do what I like doing most.”
Now with experience in Mexico, the Netherlands and Spain, with Pumas UNAM, AZ Alkmaar and Espanyol respectively, the left-footer is well-placed to compare the three leagues. “My time in the Netherlands helped me a lot, because it was my first spell abroad,” he explained.
“Culturally the change was very dramatic, but it’s not such a competitive league, so it gives you enough time to adapt to the different style of play. At the end of the day it’s a kind of stepping-stone league, so the most talented players soon move on. In Spain it’s a different matter quality-wise – here you’re among the world’s elite.”
Even so, Moreno has taken this qualitative leap into his stride to such an extent that he is now being regularly linked with a move away from Espanyol. “It’s something to be proud of, as it’s proof that I’m doing well for my club,” he said.
“I don’t get distracted by these rumours, but of course I do dream of playing for one of the world’s biggest clubs, one that’s always competing for the Champions League. That said, I’m happy at Espanyol, I owe this club a lot and I’m certainly in no hurry to move on.”
Despite his relative youth, Moreno can justifiably be considered an established member of the Mexican national-team set-up, having appeared for El Tri at FIFA tournaments at U-17, U-20 and senior level.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to rub shoulders with the likes of Rafael Marquez, Carlos Salcido and [Francisco] Maza Rodriguez,” said Moreno, who assured us he has plenty still to learn in his country’s green jersey.“Those guys were already playing for the national team before I’d even started out in the game, not that I’m saying they’re old! (laughs) They’re an example for me to follow, just training with them is a great experience.”
Armed with the insight gained during his many years rising through the Tricolor ranks, does Moreno feel the current squad is Mexico’s strongest of recent times? “I don’t know if it’s the best, but it is the most together. I’ve worked under a lot of different national coaches in a short space of time, but now a more ordered project has been put in place and the players have been able to repay the faith placed in us.
"A lot of us [younger players] have known each other since we were 17 or 18 and the experienced guys are doing their bit too. We’ve got a good side and we’ve still got loads of room for improvement, because there’s talent to spare.”
The next challenge on the horizon for the Mexicans is Round 3 of North, Central America and Caribbean qualifying for Brazil 2014, where coach Jose Manuel ‘Chepo’ de la Torre’s charges have been drawn in Group B alongside Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guyana. “It’s going to be tough, we’ve all seen how those national teams with less pedigree are narrowing the gap [on the established heavyweights],” said Moreno, sounding a note of caution.
“In terms of the talent and players they have, Mexico ought to reach the Hexagonal [six-team final qualifying] phase and make it to Brazil 2014, but it won’t be easy, particularly our away games. I’ve played away in Honduras and El Salvador before and the people over there are very passionate, and they’re always desperate to beat us. What’s more, they’re getting more and more international experience which has helped them grow.”
Though they are in a separate section in this qualifying stage, come the Round 4 Hexagonal and Mexico will be odds-on to meet neighbours and arch-rivals USA once more. “All the way up from youth national-team level, whenever you take on United States you realise there’s more than footballing pride at stake,” said Moreno.
“But that said, even when we play them away we almost always have more supporters. Being north of the border and seeing a stadium packed with Mexicans is a real buzz. They’ve got good players and the right attitude and resources to be a [world] force, but at this moment in time we’ve got the more talented players,” he added with a smile.
And finally, as the interview drew to a close, the gifted defender let his mind wander all the way forward to a potential campaign on Brazilian soil come June/July 2014. “I can see myself as part of a Mexican team that enjoys themselves, wins all their games and drives the fans wild at a World Cup that’s going to be a real fiesta in the home of football. Besides which, we’ll also play at the Confederations Cup , which will be a great test run [for Brazil 2014]. Although, of course, I ought to wait until we qualify before talking about the World Cup!”