Mexico is essential and vital to the history of soccer; it was one of the first nations to join FIFA in 1929 following the establishment of the Federación Mexicana de Fútbol Asociación (FMFA). It was one of the first 13 countries to participate in the 1930 World Cup in Uruguay.
It was the first FIFA World Cup and Mexico was one of the pioneers with Uruguay emerging as the champion. Mexico hosted the 1970 and the 1986 World Cups, they have featured in the 1930, 1970, 1974, 1982, 1986, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014, and 2018 editions and they will participate in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
Mexico was the place that gave birth to the identity of Diego Armando Maradona as the playmaker of the Argentinian side, following his solo goal against England, the assist that led to the winning goal of the 1986 World Cup Final for Argentina against Germany team filled with players such as Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller.
It was also the place where the controversial hand of God goal occurred. It is a team that loves to play the offensive style of football: It has produced great soccer talents such as Hugo Sanchez, Jared Borgetti, Cuauhtémoc Blanco, Javier Hernandez, Rafael Marquez, Luis De la Fuente, Carlos Vela, Giovanni Dos Santos and Andres Guardado.
Andres Guardado is one of the most important figures in the Mexican national team, and despite the limited playing time at Betis, we have seen an excellent and hard-working professional who takes the game by stride and imposes his identity on the pitch, remaining the same tenacious playmaker that made his El Tri debut in December 2005.
He has played in four Gold Cups, winning the tournament in 2011, 2015 and 2019, and enjoyed a fruitful 15-year career in Europe that has seen him play in Germany, the Netherlands and Spain, and he will be wearing the captain’s armband in Qatar in what will likely be his fifth and final World Cup. If Guardado plays in either of Mexico’s pre-tournament friendlies against Iraq or Sweden, he will surpass Claudio Suarez and become the most-capped player in the history of the Mexican national team with 178 appearances.
Guardado is popularly known as Principito (The Little Prince). He was born in the inner province of Guadalajara, and began his football career at Atlas at the age of seven, joining the youth ranks of the team. He began his professional career against Pachuca on August 20, 2005 in the Mexican Primera Division also known as Liga MX or the Liga BBVA MX.
He scored his first goal against Tigres UANL and was voted as the best rookie in Liga BBVA MX, excelling at Atlas and being voted as the best fullback of the season, and earning a maiden call-up to the Mexican national team a mere four months after his professional debut.
In 2006, Guardado was linked with Real Madrid, Deportivo La Coruna and various Italian sides, but it was Deportivo who won the race, paying €7 million, with Atlas retaining a 25% sell-on fee, as Guardado became the most expensive Mexican player of all time in July 2007.
Guardado played his final game against the Argentine outfit San Lorenzo de Almagro and was given the Athletic Excellence Award, leaving Atlas with 58 appearances and four goals after finalizing his move to Deportivo, with the Mexican wearing the #18, making his debut on August 26 and scoring his first goal in a 1-0 win against Real Betis on September 16, a karate-style finish, and following that up with 4 goals in 25 appearances as Deportivo finished 9th, qualifying for the UEFA Intertoto Cup.
The following season would see Guardado become a crucial player in midfield under Miguel Angel Lotina, chipping in 3 goals and 10 assists in 38 appearances as Deportivo finished 7th and won the Intertoto Cup, before racking up 4 goals and 6 assists in 2009/10 with Deportivo regressing to 10th, but he was unable to prevent them from being relegated in 2010/11, ending a 20-year spell in the top-flight.
Guardado stayed put and led Deportivo back to the promised land with 11 goals and 10 assists, winning the club’s Player of the Season award before choosing to depart on a free transfer in 2012, signing a four-year contract with Valencia. He would make a total of 44 appearances in all competitions in his debut season in Mestalla, often being used as a wide midfielder on either flank, but he mainly featured as a left back due to an injury to French defender Jeremy Mathieu.
The 2012/13 season was a tumultuous one for Valencia, with Mauricio Pellegrino taking the reins in the previous summer after Unai Emery’s four-year spell at the club, only to be replaced by Ernesto Valverde in December. Nevertheless, Guardado emerged as a crucial player in a campaign that would see Valencia lose to Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League Round of 16 as well as miss out on a Champions League spot by one point to Real Sociedad.
However, the 2013/14 season would see Guardado struggle with injuries and regress in form, with the Mexican joining Bayer Leverkusen on loan with an option to buy in January and making just four Bundesliga appearances before returning to Valencia and being sent out on loan to PSV Eindhoven, the same club that had tried to sign him from Atlas in 2007.
After starting each of Mexico’s four matches at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, Guardado headed to the Netherlands and quickly emerged as a fan favorite, wearing the captain’s armband within his first few months, winning the club’s Player of the Month award in November, and solidified himself as a key figure in Phillip Cocu’s team alongside the likes of Memphis Depay, Georginio Wijnaldum and Luuk de Jong, with PSV winning the 2014/15 Eredivisie title and ending Ajax’s four-year reign.
The following season would see Guardado rack up 1 goal and 11 assists in 25 league matches as PSV claimed a second straight championship, before picking up 2 goals and 9 assists in 2016/17 with Cocu’s side finishing third and missing out on the Eredivisie title to Feyenoord, before a summer exodus that would see Guardado and various other key players like Jurgen Locadia and Davy Propper leave the club.
Despite rumors linking him with a move to MLS clubs Atlanta United and Los Angeles FC, Guardado returned to Real Betis for €2.3 million on a three-year contract, with the Mexican emerging as a starter in midfield and being named co-captain alongside Joaquín Sánchez as Betis finished sixth under new manager Quique Setién, a stark improvement from last season’s 15th-place finish.
Guardado racked up 42 appearances in all competitions in 2018/19 as Betis regressed to 10th, lost to Valencia in the Copa del Rey semifinals, and lost to Rennes in the Europa League Round of 32. Setién left the Benito Villamarín with Rubi taking charge and lasting until June before getting the sack, with interim coach Alexis Trujillo taking charge in Project Restart and mustering a 15th-place finish despite losing five of their last seven league matches.
After missing the start of the 2020/21 season with a hamstring injury, Guardado made his debut under new manager Manuel Pellegrini and came on as a stoppage-time substitute in a 2-0 win at Valencia on October 3. In doing so, he became the Mexican player with the most seasons in Europe (14), surpassing Hugo Sánchez’s record of 13.
Guardado would miss the next eight weeks with injury before returning and eventually contracting COVID-19 midway through the campaign, but he nevertheless amassed 27 appearances as Betis finished sixth. The following season would see him rack up 36 appearances as the Verdiblancos enjoyed a dream campaign: finishing fifth and beating Zenit before losing to eventual winners Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League Round of 32, with Guardado becoming the Mexican player with the most games in Europe with 496 on January 11, surpassing the record previously held by Hugo Sánchez.
However, their biggest accomplishment would come in the Copa del Rey, rushing past Alicante, Talavera, Real Valladolid, Real Sociedad, and Rayo Vallecano to book their ticket to the final in Seville. Borja Iglesias opened proceedings after 11 minutes only for Hugo Duro to equalize for Valencia after a half-hour, with the score level 1-1 as Pellegrini elected to bring on Guardado for William Carvalho in the 102nd minute.
After neither side managed to find a winner, the contest went to penalties: each of Betis’ five penalty-takers found the back of the net including Guardado, meaning that Yunus Musah’s miss on Valencia’s fourth attempt proved fatal for their title hopes. Betis would go on to lift their first trophy since 2004/05, when Guardado was still plying his trade in Atlas’ academy.
Guardado made a brief appearance against Osasuna before making his first start of the 2022/23 season, playing 71 minutes before being replaced by striker Willian José as Pellegrini unsuccessfully searched for an equalizer following Rodrygo’s goal in a 2-1 loss to Real Madrid.
He would make another short cameo as Betis managed to secure a 1-0 win against Villarreal, before being an unused substitute for the next match and jetting off to international duty, where he would come off the bench in a 1-0 win against Peru and start the following match, a 2-3 loss to Colombia, wearing the captain’s armband and coming off in the 61st minute. In doing so, he tied Claudio Suárez as the all-time leading appearance maker for the Mexican national team with 177.
After two more matches as an unused substitute, Guardado came off the bench in Betis’ next two matches before starting and wearing the captain’s armband, only to be hauled off for Nabil Fekir after 75 minutes with Betis in need of a response after a brace from Antoine Griezmann, ultimately losing 2-1 following an 84th-minute goal from Fekir.
Whilst he is no longer the undisputed starter he once was for his club, Guardado remains an important squad player and leader for Betis, capable of filling in when needed, coming off the bench to organize the defense and add discipline to the team, and starting against top-tier opponents like Real or Atleti. At 36, he is the club’s third-oldest player after Joaquín (41) and Claudio Bravo (39).
Since leading Deportivo to promotion with 11 goals and 10 assists in 36, Guardado has not scored more than twice in one season, but his versatility — one of his biggest assets — has allowed him to remain a valuable component in his various teams. Guardado played as a winger at Atlas and even filled in at left back on occasion, whilst under Miguel Lotina at Deportivo, he was deployed to the position of winger.
At Valencia, he was deployed as a left back following the injury of Jeremy Mathieu, before being deployed as a box-to-box midfielder at PSV, combining his defensive duties along with deep-lying playmaking ability. It was also in this position he operated from at Real Betis, playing as a holding midfielder while Sergio Canales and Fekir opened up the attack, as seen in this example against Valencia.
Andres Guardado has an excellent left foot and knows when to cover up for his fellow midfielders with a strong sense of timing, blending an ability to recover the ball and distribute from midfield with a strong passing ability, a lethal shot and the capability to hold up the ball and take free kicks.
The Mexican is known for his reliability, professional conduct and enthusiasm on the pitch and his strong tackling, combining aggression and an intense drive of the game, positional awareness and a shrewd defensive ability, and a hard-working attitude to give the team the necessary balance, but he works hard to give the required balance to the team, compensating for his decrease in pace with his versatility and ability to dictate the tempo.
One thing that goes hand in hand with his versatility is his ability to fit into various systems, capable of filling in as a holding midfielder whether Pellegrini goes with a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3, tasked with intercepting passes, shielding the defense and providing cover behind Canales and Fekir, whilst he has also operated in midfield and left back in various systems like Phillip Cocu’s 4-3-3 at PSV, Rubi’s 4-5-1 at Betis or Quique Setién’s 3-4-3 at Betis.
Andrés Guardado will enter his fifth and likely final World Cup as the Mexican player with the most appearances in Europe, the most seasons in Europe, and the most appearances for any El Tri player should he play in either of Mexico’s pre-tournament friendlies. Never one for the bright lights or headlines, Guardado will go down as a versatile, tenacious midfielder and above all, a manager and teammate’s dream.
By: Ogunniyi Abayomi / @OGUNNIYIABAYOM1
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Soccrates Images / Getty Images