The Valencia winger arrives as an important signing for Los Chés but also for the Mexican national team, as the former Deportivo man continues his growth within European soccer.Even for a proven talent evaluator, Mexican national team manager Ricardo La Volpe's selection of Atlas midfielder Andres Guardado to the 23-man squad at Germany 2006 was considered nothing short of a gamble.
La Volpe had called on the 19-year-old to represent the country just four months after his professional debut, one spurred on by a rule change in Mexican soccer that forced teams to field players younger than 20 years old or face penalization. The Argentine manager quietly inserted Guardado into a few pre-World Cup friendlies before shocking press and fans alike with his choice.
After sitting out the group stage, La Volpe called upon his diamond in the rough and informed Guardado personally that he would start against Argentina in the Round of 16. "Make them respect you," was La Volpe's advice to the teenager.
The winger's speedy runs and silky ball control frustrated established Albiceleste stars such as Roberto Ayala, Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Mascherano for 66 minutes, when Guardado exited for Gonzalo Pineda. Mexico eventually fell in extra time to a Maxi Rodriguez golazo.
Despite the Mexican loss, Guardado's debut on the world stage drew interest from some of the biggest clubs in the world. Inter Milan and Real Madrid lined up quick bids after the World Cup, but were turned away by Atlas due to their small offers.
Finally, it was Deportivo La Coruña and $8 million that swayed Atlas and launched Guardado's European career. From the relatively pressure-free surroundings of Riazor, Guardado put in five solid seasons that saw him impact the scoreline more than 60 times via goals or assists.
Injuries had been the Mexican's only caveat to potential buyers, as his season appearance total dwindled from 36 in 2008-09 to just 20 in 2010-11. Meanwhile, Guardado featured for every senior Mexican squad in major competitions ranging from the 2007 Gold Cup to the 2010 FIFA World Cup, where he once again was mostly relegated to the bench, this time somewhat controversially.
Even with Deportivo falling to the Spanish second division after that ill-fated 2010-11 season, Guardado's value grew as he turned in a spectacular season in his final contract year with La Coruña, earning a four-year deal with Valencia that was rumored to have been negotiated back in January under a bit of secrecy.
Should Guardado be a consistent starter for Los Chés, the signing is a huge boon for the Mexican national team, as the winger joins one of the best teams in the world. The last team to be crowned La Liga champ not named Barcelona or Real Madrid, Valencia has finished at least in the top three of Spanish soccer six times since 2002.
Even with Sevilla and Atletico Madrid recently hoisting Europa League trophies (Valencia won it in 2004), Valencia is quite simply the biggest team in the "otra liga", or, the 18 teams outside of juggernauts and perennial winners Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Guardado's move to Valencia should thus be considered on par with high-profile Mexican signings such as Hugo Sanchez joining Real Madrid, Rafael Marquez signing with Barcelona and Javier Hernandez's transfer to Manchester United. At Valencia, Guardado will experience Champions League action for the first time, hoping to push Valencia back into the continental final already for the third time this century.
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Jordi Alba's exit notwithstanding, the Mexican winger will enter a talented squad featuring goalscoring machine Roberto Soldado, fellow pacey winger Pablo Piatti, and talented midfielders Ever Banega and Sergio Canales, among other stars.
At just 25 years of age, Guardado's career seems to have entered a decisive stretch that will position him as one of Mexico's prized veterans called upon to lead the younger golden generation to glory in the upcoming 2013 Confederations Cup and 2014 World Cup.
Just six years after Guardado's anecdotal presentation to the world stage in Germany, and seven years after an oft-criticized rule gave him the opportunity to debut in the Mexican Primera, Guardado has remained below the radar for headlines, good and bad.
Quietly, the Mexican star has positioned himself on Spain's best team that no one cares about, in a league designed for two heavyweights in constant battle to the amusement of millions, while 18 other clubs fight for relevance and outright survival.
In Spanish, "guardado" means "hidden." To those not following him these past few years, Andres' talent will be hidden no more.
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