there are many more that flame out. From Freddy Adu to Nii Lamptey to Cherno Samba, there are plenty of these players. Talked about endlessly by the soccer media, showing great promise at the youth level, only to find themselves plying their trade away from the bright lights of big time soccer, remembered only as the over-hyped youth that couldn’t cut it.
Occasionally, though, there is a story of redemption – Adu still has plenty of time to make something of his career, for example. Though many overexposed young players have washed out, plenty have gone on to forge respectable tenures in the world of professional soccer. The latest of these reborn players could well be none other than Mexico’s Nery Castillo.
After seven solid seasons and fan-favorite status at Olympiakos – where he made his professional debut at age 16 – a seemingly more mature attitude and a breakout summer in 2007 with the Mexican national team, Castillo looked set to become the country’s next superstar. However, a big money move to Shakhtar Donetsk was marred by attitude problems and selfishness, and loans to Manchester City, Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk and the Chicago Fire were equally fruitless. His mediocre performances and questionable attitude did nothing to justify the enormous price tag following him across the globe.
Just when it seemed Castillo was set to be relegated to the annals of forgotten soccer prodigies, Greek outfit Aris took a chance on him in July 2011, signing him to a two-year contract after doing enough to impress in a six-month loan. Though his initial spell with the three-time Greek champion hasn’t always been easy, it might yet save his career.
A controversial start to the 2011-2012 season indicated that Aris’ faith in the player might have been misguided. He failed to score, and was criticized for poor performances. Additionally, he was disciplined by then-coach Michal Probierz for reacting angrily to a substitution in December 2011, further casting his fledgling Aris career into doubt. However, salvation arrived in the form of new coach Manuel Machado after Probierz was let go with Aris underperforming in the league.
Since arriving at Aris, Machado has put his faith in Castillo, and the Portuguese has been richly rewarded. In four games in all competitions, Castillo has netted six goals, including braces in each of his last two games that have provided a valuable six points in putting the team’s chase for European soccer back on track. After some torrid January form, though, Castillo is already thinking about the next step in reviving his career.
“I would like to be called up again. Every player wants to play for his country's national team,” Castillo told the Greek press. “More than that, I need to keep myself centered on Aris; if I do good things here and they call me to the national team, it will confirm that I was correct and that I have the right to remain on the national team.”
Castillo further went on to credit Machado with his reversal in form and attitude, simply explaining to Greek reporters that his dramatic change of course is “because of the coach.”
It’s not a fairytale, though – he still retains some of the hot-headedness that hampered his earlier career. In a Jan. 12 cup tie in which he had opened the scoring, he had to be restrained by teammates after reacting explosively following his ejection for a second caution, though admittedly replays showed Castillo had made no contact with the opposition player on the call that led to the card.
Despite this incident, and his history of attitude problems, it would still be wise for Mexico manager Jose de la Torre to keep a watchful eye on Castillo. The 27-year-old still has plenty of time left in his career to be an impact player for club and possibly country. Furthermore, just as De la Torre has brought a sense of discipline to El Tri, it is entirely reasonable to think he could do the same with Castillo should he rejoin the team.
Sure, he could flame out in February or somehow find himself once more on a coach’s bad side. However, while Castillo has essentially endured a four-year spell in soccer wilderness, what has become clear with Aris is that he still possesses the talent that was on display in that memorable summer of 2007.
His goals have shown an impressive combination of technique and predatory instinct, and he could provide a versatile option along Mexico’s forward line, especially with many of the established players there facing limited playing time at their respective clubs. If he keeps it up, the only question we should ask is, ‘Why not?’
It’s been a rough four years for Castillo. Whether through his own machinations or those of the clubs he attached himself to, he was unable to find the right environment until Machado came along at Aris.
If he has well and truly found his feet and the environment where he can redeem some of his once great promise, there is no reason he shouldn’t once more be considered for Mexico’s national team. While the promise of superstardom is long gone, the story of Castillo’s career can still have a heartening ending.