Ochoa's move to Standard Liege underlines desire to succeed in Europe
Guillermo Ochoa is officially off to the Jupiler Pro League to join Standard Liege.
His journey continues in European football since arriving in Ligue 1 to play for Ajaccio in 2011, however, in those six years playing in Ligue 1 and La Liga, he has experienced relegation twice. The most recent one happened in Granada last season, and although the hit was hard because he became the goalkeeper that allowed the most goals in a single season in Granada's first-division history, he was able to put that behind him and give a worthwhile performance in this summer's Confederations Cup. It must also be said, though, that he finished as the goalkeeper with the most saves in La Liga, preventing Granada from having an even more disastrous first-division exit.
In Belgium, Ochoa seeks peace of mind ahead of next year's World Cup.
After spending time at Ajaccio, Malaga and Granada, and knowing that he was a free agent this offseason, there was expectation that Ochoa was going to make an eye-catching move. The move to Standard didn't fulfill expectations, and criticism has rained down on Ochoa and his agent Jorge Berlanga.
One of the critics has been Carlos Hermosillo, who in the 1989-90 season became the first Mexican player to play for Standard. In an exclusive interview with ESPN, Hermosillo explained why he didn't understand the 31-year-old goalkeeper's decision.
"It's a setback, and he's going to live what he has been living before," Hermosillo said. "He's been wandering around at clubs that are always in relegation zone, and I think his recent decision is not a good one. It's a cold place, with lots of rain, and the players are very cold; they don't help you with anything."
Last season, Standard finished in ninth place, 22 points off first place Anderlecht. It's a club that hasn't won the league since the 2008-09 season.
Perhaps the main reason Ochoa is still having a hard time hitting the jackpot is because he doesn't have a European passport, which makes it almost impossible for him to win a place at one of the top clubs in European football.
Accepting to play at Standard is similar to what happened with Andres Guardado and Hector Moreno when they joined PSV. In 2014, Guardado swapped La Liga for the Eredivisie, and a year later Moreno did the same. At the time, the moves were questioned because both players were moving from a top league like Spain's to a more formative league in the Netherlands. After being two of PSV's most important leaders, Moreno and Guardado made moves to clubs like AS Roma and Real Betis this summer. Their decision to play at a club like PSV, where the spotlights are not as bright as in Spain, paid off.
With his move to Belgium, Ochoa has followed in his international teammates' footsteps, hoping that after a good World Cup showing and a European passport in hand, he will have the opportunity next summer to move on to a club that will participate in the Europa League or even the Champions League.
European football hasn't been easy for Ochoa. All the experiences he has had to confront are firsts for a Mexican goalkeeper because he's the first one ever to play there. The market for a Mexican keeper in Europe doesn't yet exist because the pool is so small.
Today, 21-year-old Raul Gudino is training with FC Porto's first team, with the hope of getting an opportunity to make his first-division debut with the club. Years ago, Abraham Romero, now 19 and at Pachuca, had tryouts at Porto and Mallorca. Without Ochoa's decision to leave the riches of Club America for Ajaccio in 2011, Gudino and Romero might not have gotten the opportunities they did to showcase their skills in Europe. Ochoa has been the pioneer for Mexican goalkeepers in the Old Continent.
At Standard, Ochoa might not have to worry about the relegation zone as he did at Granada and Ajaccio, the two European clubs where he has had the most playing time. Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio likes the fact that Ochoa continues challenging himself at a personal and professional level. At the Confederations Cup, Ochoa started in four of El Tri's five games, which put to rest the debate as to who should be Mexico's starter.
If Ochoa and Standard are able to compete against Anderlecht, Club Brugge and KAA Gent for the league title, his decision will be viewed as one that has positively impacted his career. Even before he makes his debut with Standard, what keeps shining is Ochoa's impenetrable desire to make a career for himself in Europe. No one said it would be easy.
Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.