Most Mexico fans first became aware of Guardado when he burst onto the scene as a baby-faced 19-year-old against Argentina at the 2006 World Cup, enrapturing fans with his energy and wavy locks down the left flank in Ricardo La Volpe’s exciting side.
A move from his boyhood club Atlas followed in 2007, with Deportiva La Coruna stealing in for one of Mexico’s brightest young talents.
At the Galician club, Guardado made over 100 first division appearances, helping it back into La Liga after it had been relegated in the 2010-2011 season. He then joined Valencia in the summer of 2012.
Now in the prime of his career, there are plenty of questions about why Guardado would be so open to moving from Valencia to Bayer Leverkusen – two clubs, which, on the face of it, aren’t two far apart in the European pecking order.
One of the main reasons must be the opportunity to play in the Champions League, with Leverkusen facing Paris Saint-Germain in the last 16 and likely to qualify for next season’s competition – Leverkusen is currently in second in the Bundesliga, six points ahead of fifth-placed Schalke 04.
It is good opportunity for Guardado to develop and grow in a league that has made great strides over recent years, most notably through Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund’s exploits in the Champions League.
“The truth is that I was very happy in Valencia,” he told ESPN. “I was getting minutes and I’d won the starting place.”
“However, this opportunity came up and we didn’t think twice, we took advantage and for that I’m very thankful to both teams,” he added.
It seems likely that at Leverkusen Guardado will be used mainly in defense, with the player admitting to Televisa on Thursday that he isn’t quite sure where Bayer coach Sami Hyypia will field him. Guardado featured primarily at left back for Valencia, but is primarily know in Mexico as a winger.
“Leverkusen’s weak point at the moment is at left back,” Goal Germany editor/writer Florian Teichert wrote on Thursday.
Former Liverpool player Hyypia plays a 4-3-2-1 formation and while Sebastian Boenisch, Emre Can and Kosta Stafylidis are Guardado’s competition at left back, the Mexican should be in pole position for the spot, according to Teichert.
Sporting director Rudi Voller highlighted Guardado’s versatility in the club statement announcing the signing and added that Leverkusen had been interested in Guardado for a number of years.
Teichert stressed that Guardado’s new club isn’t one of Germany’s biggest and has been labeled “Neverkusen” or “The Almost Champion” in the English-language press due to it never having won the Bundesliga, but having finished in second place five times.
Patrick Hoehn is one of the hosts of the English-language Neverkusen Podcast on the club and writes that fans “are all very excited” about Guardado’s arrival, with the club not usually associated with signing big names.
“He will add to the long list of Latin Americans that have joined us throughout the years,” he told Goal USA on Thursday. “We have a tradition of receiving them well and giving them the support they need both at club level (i.e. to settle in as quickly as possible, the language barrier) and fan level.”
The forward-thinking club – which has wine bars and wi-fi inside its 30,000-capacity stadium and was among the first to sign players from the East after German reunification – seems a good fit for the amiable Guardado, who is fighting for his national team place in Brazil.
“Being at another World Cup motivates me a lot after the bad year we had,” Guardado told ESPN. “But returning to that level is something that is very important because I want to be in Miguel Herrera’s final list.”
The latest stop in Guardado’s career will provide the challenge of a new type of soccer and outside a Spanish-speaking environment for the first time.
It is a calculated risk.
Naturally, the results will have an important effect on Herrera’s national team, with Guardado one of very few Mexican players at present who is in his prime, has World Cup experience and has succeeded in Europe.
That combination should not be underestimated, but it up to Guardado, as he noted, to prove he is worthy of that national team place.