Ochoa shining brightly in Corsica
A superstar back in Mexico, Guillermo Ochoa raised more than a few eyebrows by signing for newly promoted AC Ajaccio 18 months ago. The goalkeeper has excelled in Corsica, but could this season be his last?
Back then, there was talk of interest from Paris Saint-Germain - and even Barcelona - but instead the former Club America goalkeeper surprised everyone by jetting in to Corsica, where he's been excelling in goal for tiny Ajaccio.
"People didn't understand why I came to Ajaccio," he explained to beIN Sport. "But now, back home, lots of people are talking about my performances. All the Ajaccio games are shown live in Mexico. It's great that people are watching Ligue 1 on TV every weekend."
In truth Ochoa's choice was restricted: implicated in a doping scandal back in Mexico - for which he was later acquitted - the flamboyant custodian was keen to get away from the intense media scrutiny, preferring to rebuild his reputation in the peace and quiet of Ajaccio.
"After the problems I had I decided I want to play in Europe," admitted Ochoa, who played over 200 games for Club America in the Mexican capital. "I didn't know much about Ajaccio, or about the Island, but I quickly saw just how beautiful it is. We have sun pretty much all year around. When we take the plane, the further north you go the colder it gets. The quality of life here is great for the players."
Ochoa's experience and talent helped Ajaccio avoid relegation on the final day of last season, and the Islanders are looking good to stay up again this term. Ajaccio have lost just once in seven outings under new coach Albert Emon and currently sit 13th. The experienced 27 year old is complimentary about his teammates.
"I think it's been very positive," admits the 50-times capped Ochoa. "We've been making steady progress, the team have brought in some quality players. From the club board to the people in the town, everyone's saying positive things about the team and I think this team will grow in the future."
Ochoa has played a vital part in Ajaccio's renaissance, the presence of a world-renowned star helping the minnows find their feet in the elite, and his humility ensuring he is also a popular figure in the dressing room. Ajaccio defender Arnaud Maire explained: "He's quite a simple person and he's actually quite subdued, strangely enough. I think he's someone who shines through his performances rather than his role off the pitch." ACA's goalkeeping coach Thierry Debès shares that view: "He's well liked because he is extremely humble. He's a superstar in his country, but when he arrived he just kept his head down and worked hard."
Ochoa has been shining brightly of late, helping Ajaccio clinch stunning victories over Lyon and Bordeaux. His penalty save from Bafetimbi Gomis prevented Lyon from equalising in the recent 3-1 triumph, but the subsequent clean sheet against Bordeaux was Ochoa's most remarkable performance yet, especially given the circumstances. Bordeaux fans may be keen to put the date out of mind, but for the Ochoa family, February 9, 2013 will also have special meaning.
"I played the game without having slept. My wife gave birth on the Saturday morning. We'd been at the hospital since Thursday. I spent Thursday night and Friday night at the hospital. It was a special day in my life, a special day for my family, and what's more, we won and I played well. I helped my team to get some important points. It was the biggest day I've had in France."
On the move?
Ajaccio fans should enjoy Ochoa while they can. It seems unlikely the 27-year-old will be around next season, with a host of top European clubs keen to buy him. PSG were close to signing the Mexican in 2011 and will surely have taken note of his superb performances against Carlo Ancelotti's side this season.
Ochoa denied Zlatan Ibrahimovic and friends in another virtuoso display at the Parc des Princes, having already kept a clean sheet at the Stade Francois Coty, producing one of the saves of the season to deny Jérémy Ménez from point-blank range. Ever the professional, Ochoa isn't letting the transfer speculation get to him.
"We'll see, we'll see. For the moment I have to concentrate on keeping Ajaccio in Ligue 1. This summer, we'll see what happens. If there are some interesting offers, of course I'd be keen to take one, because I want to play in the Europa League and in the Champions League. I want to play for a big team."
Ajaccio reportedly turned down a bid of six million euros from Liverpool in January and, with the goalkeeper's stock continuing to rise, a big-money summer move could be the perfect ending to Ochoa's Corsican adventure.