After Guillermo Ochoa’s exploits at the World Cup in Brazil, perhaps Mexico fans will be disappointed that “San Memo” won’t be featuring at a higher profile club than La Liga’s Malaga next season.
After all, Colombia’s David Ospina moved from Ligue 1’s Nice to Premier League giant Arsenal and CONCACAF’s own Keylor Navas looks to be on the verge of signing for Real Madrid very soon.
Surely the 29-year-old Ochoa - who was a hit all over the globe after his performance in the group game in Brazil at the World Cup - would be in line for something similar, especially considering that the Mexican was available on a free transfer?
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It isn’t to be, at least not yet.
Malaga – owned by Qatari Abdullah Al-Thani - has fallen from grace quickly, from a club that reached the Champions League quarterfinal under Manuel Pellegrini in 2013, to one that was then banned from UEFA competitions and forced to sell players like Santi Cazorla, Isco, Nacho Monreal and Jeremy Toulalan due to financial problems 12 months ago.
An 11th-place finish last season points to a club that has at least managed to stabilize – even if it was only six points above the relegation zone - and the signings this offseason of Luis Alberto, Arthur Boka, Ricardo Horta, Roberto Rosales and now Ochoa point to it being able to maintain its position next season.
But despite the less than glamorous name Malaga has, Ochoa has undoubtedly stepped up.
The ‘keeper is now at a mid-table outfit in arguably the best league in the world, where he will get to prove himself against the likes of the super-teams that are Real Madrid and Barcelona, the reigning champion Atletico Madrid, as well as fellow Mexicans Giovani Dos Santos at Villarreal and Carlos Vela at Real Sociedad.
It promises to be intriguing.
Ochoa’s former club Ajaccio was a legitimate minnow in a league that simply doesn’t have the same weight as Spain’s top division, despite the influx of money into Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco.
Ochoa deserves praise for boldly striking out and testing himself in European waters, taking the risk to move to Corsica in 2011. It’s not easy as a Mexican goalkeeper. They don’t exactly have a long track record in Europe.
Ochoa obviously improved and his reward was the starting spot under Miguel Herrera at the World Cup. That was no guarantee even 10 days ahead of Brazil 2014. El Tri’s coach had been impressed.
Nevertheless, doubts do remain about Ochoa’s quality. The fact he isn’t signing for a bigger club than Malaga seems to logically highlight that.
There is no doubt about his shot-stopping ability, but how good is his decision-making, especially coming off his line?
Some will say that accusation is unfair, and perhaps they are right, but playing week-in, week-out in La Liga is where Ochoa can prove it isn’t just, like Navas did with Levante and Argentine ‘keeper Wily Caballero – who Ochoa will replace at Malaga – has.
Navas is set to begin at Real Madrid and Caballero at Manchester City next season, while Ochoa is a career step behind them.
The real downside of the move is that European soccer in either the Champions League of Europa League – something the ‘keeper has stated previously is a priority – is still a distant dream.
For Ochoa, Malaga has to be viewed as another stepping-stone to greater things.
At 29, he still has time to achieve his career goals and the fact he is becoming the first Mexican goalkeeper in the modern era to play in La Liga is something that should be respected.
Once again, it’s up to Memo to prove those residual doubters wrong. He now has the ideal platform to do it.