In Arabic, the proper name Faryd means “unique, unmatched”. You'd be hard pressed to find a better way to describe Faryd Mondragón's long career. The Colombian netminder was already tagged with a flair for the worldly from the very beginning, as his parents have Lebanese ancestry.
As a professional footballer, Mondragón has popped up in several latitudes, starting out in his native Colombia and touring Paraguay and Argentina before moving to Europe. Spain, France, Turkey and Germany would all be witnesses to Faryd's talent during the last decade.
Now past his 39th birthday, the unique and unmatched Faryd Mondragón has more miles on his frequent flyer card than most Fortune 500 CEOs. His last trip? Joining the MLS and Philadelphia Union this past transfer window.
Goal.com interviewed the South American goalkeeper, who chatted with us about several topics related to his anything and everything fútbol related.
Goal.com: What attracted you to join MLS?
Faryd Mondragón: This league has been taking giant steps the past six or eight years and brought in players like David Beckham, Juan Pablo Angel, Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez. That makes the league very attractive and I believe that not only on an administrative level, but also the level on the pitch has grown significantly in the recent past.
Goal.com: Were there other teams that vied for your services, or just Philadelphia?
FM: No, Philadelphia contacted me directly in order to complete the move to MLS.
Goal.com: There are certain rarities associated with Copa America nowadays, a competition you've been a part of: invitee countries, big national teams that don't always bring their “A” squad, a group stage where it's easier to go through than stay out – do you believe the Cup has lost some of its luster?
FM: No, it's a tournament that's always going to bring the best together. Of the invitees, I don't think they're saying that South America's teams aren't enough. It's a competition that is very important to us and always helps right before you start the World Cup qualifiers.
Goal.com: What's been your best moment on the pitch over your career?
FM: Obviously, representing my country in a World Cup, like I was a part of in '94 and '98, having played in the second one; winning any type of silverware is also a moment that you always cherish.
Goal.com: You've played in several countries as a pro, what have you enjoyed in terms of culture from the different places you've been in?
FM: I have memories for all of those countries. You take on a different experience every time. In Argentina, I was fortunate enough to live in the country when it was going through a good economic moment, the quality of life was very solid. In France it was more of an issue with the peacefulness that I enjoyed. You live a very “European” style life. In Turkey... Istanbul, a great city, cosmopolitan, there's a huge population that loves football – several cultures coexist. In Germany, it's a very organized country that enjoys football in a very passionate but respectful way. Now, in the United States, we're enjoying the family aspect of it all. My kids are starting to grow up, they're four-and-a-half and three-and-a-half, this is really a country that offers you a lot of opportunities to live your life.
Goal.com: Because of your time in France, do you believe your performance there has opened the doors for some of your countrymen, like David Ospina in Nice for example?
FM: You always try to arrive somewhere and do your best, not only for yourself but because you're representing a country and yes, open doors for your countrymen that may follow you. It didn't occur to me in 1993 when I arrived in Argentina that after that, a lot of Colombians started to play in that league. My time in France, Turkey, Germany... it coincided with the fact that all of these places have kept a strong, positive memory of what I did there. Hopefully, that helps other Colombians play in countries they might normally not have access to.
Goal.com: Your time in Germany ended in a lot of turmoil after a period of calm. How would you describe the time you spent in Cologne?
FM: It was good. I arrived when the team was in the 2.Bundesliga, we promoted it – we had three-plus seasons in the Bundesliga, I have a great memory of the fans. They treated me very well. Great teammates, it's (the Bundesliga) a wonderful tournament to partake in, the stadiums are all new – they fill up rather easily. I enjoyed my time there,greatly.
Goal.com: In Turkey they always do their best to group Latino players together so they don't feel isolated – there's always more than one. When you were at Galatasaray, you played with guys like Sergio Almaguer...
FM: Great friend, great guy. In Turkey, I spent six wonderful years. People still remember me, they write to me all the time. I played in one of the – maybe the biggest club in the country and one of the biggest in Europe. They have such great fans, I played in the Champions League every season. It was a great moment in my career.
Goal.com: Were you ever close to signing for rival Besiktas?
FM: It was my first year, we won the championship and I was on loan. Mircea Lucescu, who is Shakhtar Donetsk's current manager, signed with Besiktas after being with me at Galatasaray. He wanted to bring me along and I thought about it – the pay was great, but I felt at home at Galatasaray and staying was ultimately a good decision.
Goal.com: Would you rather retire in Colombia or the United States?
FM: I don't know. For now I want to enjoy my time here, I have two years left on my contract. I'm very happy to be here and I'm looking ahead without rushing anything, without thinking about retiring, I just want to enjoy my moment and take things calmly.
Goal.com: What do you predict will be the Union's reach this season? What about Colombia at the Copa America?
FM: I think the MLS has to realize we're not just an expansion team anymore. We're a team that has a big chance of making the playoffs. Everyone has to be conscious of that. As for Colombia, we're in great hands – we couldn't ask for a better manager. Bolillo Gomez knows Colombian soccer better than anyone, he knows the players, what it's like to manage at a World Cup, that's very important – we have a great opportunity to make it to the knockout rounds.
Goal.com: What is your opinion of Juan Agudelo?
FM: Excellent player, excellent person. I met him last weekend (April 9-10) and I was surprised about how humble he is. I hope he continues that way, it'll serve him well.
Goal.com: As a Colombian, do you believe the soccer federation for that country should have come in contact with Juan earlier than they did?
FM: I don't think it was a matter of contacting him or not. I think that despite the fact he's Colombian he was raised in the United States, raised in that atmosphere and he wanted to play for the US Men's National Team no matter what.
With that potentially saucy question that might have provoked a more nationalistic response from others, the tall, powerful goalkeeper disarms us and analyzes our query from a logical, more human standpoint. A simple “Thank you, warm regards” ends our interview with the former Argentine and Turkish league champion with a love so deep for the sport, he's not even contemplating retiring even after a career that spans three decades.
A player. A globetrotter. A legend and ambassador of Colombian football. That is the unique, unmatched Faryd Mondragón.
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