COMMENT: The 28-year-old goalkeeper has come through adversity but is finally reaping the rewards for his loyalty and skill
On Tuesday evening, Guillermo Ochoa enjoyed the most memorable evening of his career to date as he produced a string of excellent stops to shut out Brazil and edge Mexico towards the knockout stages of the World Cup.
But the custodian’s career has been one of staggering ups and downs, most notably when he was embroiled in a drugs issue that threatened his career only three short years ago.
In the interim, the goalkeeper has played for the relatively obscure Ajaccio in France’s top flight – a strange location for a player of such quality to have spent such a lengthy portion of his career.
Yet Ochoa moved to the Corsican side out of a sense of loyalty, as they were the one side who stuck by him when the drugs issue tarnished his reputation.
Ajaccio were correct to. The unusually high quantities of clenbuterol found in his blood during a routine doping test, along with five team-mates, were found to be caused by contaminated meat. As a result, the 28-year-old was allowed off on the charge.
Ochoa could easily have manufactured a move away from Stade Francois-Coty after only one year of his deal, but such was his feeling of gratefulness towards the island minnows, he would remain until they were finally relegated to France’s second tier at the end of this season. It was a sad way to end an affair of such mutual appreciation.
At times it had seemed that the Mexico No.1 was single-handedly keeping an otherwise unremarkable side up. Perhaps his most memorable performance for the Corsican side came at Parc des Princes last August, where he produced a breath taking array of stops before conceding late in a match that finished 1-1. Ochoa made 16 saves that day – his side only mustered one shot.
It is remarkable, then, that is has taken him so long to see action in a World Cup, let alone to have drawn such widespread recognition for performances that have already put him in poll position to be the competition’s top shot-stopper.
Ochoa first appeared in the Mexico squad in 2005 at the age of 20, but though he went to both World Cups in Germany 2006 and the next one in South Africa, he would be frustrated at being limited to a role on the bench – a particularly controversial call given he had played many of the qualifying matches for the 2010 tournament.
Having debuted for America as a teenager, he had built a strong reputation in Mexico and was set for a move to Europe when his life was shaken by revelations he had failed a drugs test during the 2011 Gold Cup in Charlotte.
The ramifications were great, and though Ochoa and his cohorts were eventually excused a ban as it was ruled they had involuntarily ingested the substance via contaminated meat, the Mexico side will not eat beef during this World Cup for fear of a repeat incident.
"Given what happened, we have decided we will not eat red meat," coach Miguel Herrera confirmed in March. "We’ve also been telling the players for the last month and a half not to eat beef and they’ve paid heed."
After this blow, Ochoa has responded in a formidable fashion, showcasing his superhuman reflexes and magnificent athleticism to spectacular ability as he thwarted a Neymar header in particularly formidable style on Tuesday.
Indeed, he now boasts clean sheets in his two World Cup matches, having greatly enhanced his reputation in the process and going a great distance to eradicate the black mark that previously dogged his career.