A veteran who made his international debut in 1999 and has graced the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Copa America, FIFA Confederations Cup and FIFA World Cup™ on several occasions, Gerardo Torrado is a man with few first-time experiences left to savour in the football world.
A holding midfielder as adept at winning the ball as he is at distributing it, El Borrego (The Sheep) - a nickname he gained back when he sported a distinctive mop of unkempt curly hair - has had a storied career at club level too. He made the breakthrough at Pumas in 1997 before departing three years later for Spain, where he enjoyed spells at Tenerife, Polideportivo Ejido, Sevilla and Racing Santander over a five-season period prior to being tempted home by Cruz Azul in 2005.
The club's journey since then has taken the Mexico City-born anchorman into the CONCACAF Champions League and the Copa Libertadores and now the 35-year-old is gearing up for one of the few competitions he has never experienced before: the FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2014. FIFA.com caught up with Torrado to discuss his feelings about the tournament.
Team success before individual glory
"It's a very important tournament and I'm really buzzing about it right now," Torrado said to kick off our conversation, his enthusiasm palpable. "We worked extremely hard to earn our place at this competition and I'm really proud to get to represent Mexico on the international stage again. It's another tournament abroad for me to enjoy, but I'm trying to look at it more in terms of its importance to us as a club and to think about what it means for the group rather than for my own personal career achievements," the midfielder remarked.
This attitude epitomises a trouper who has been around for over 15 years now and is making the most of his role as the Cruz Azul captain to share his wisdom. As he put it, "We know we've got one really important match to start with and that then, if we get a result, it could lead to big things for us." And you cannot get much bigger than a potential semi-final match-up against none other than Real Madrid. "I think that against that sort of team, there is always plenty of motivation; there's no need to say anything to get people fired up. The prospect of playing against historic, world-renowned opponents like Real Madrid is in itself more than enough to stoke up motivation in every single player."
A tough task, but no mission impossible
Through the luck (or bad luck) of the draw, Cruz Azul will have to defeat the Merenguesjust to reach the final of the competition, something no CONCACAF representative has ever done. However, the midfielder was philosophical when confronted with this fact: "We have to be realistic: we're not facing up against just any old team. This tournament features the cream of the crop from all over the world and obviously taking them on isn't easy."
"I think that there's a big difference between each club's budget and ultimately that shows. We're going to try to take a step forward by qualifying for the final and in the process post the best ever performance [in the tournament] by a Mexican side. But we have to keep our feet on the ground; it's a tough task, though you always set out to do your level best on the pitch," he added.
In their bid to break new ground, Cruz Azul will be looking to draw some inspiration from the dugout, where Luis Fernando Tena knows all about beating the odds, having inspired Mexico to victory over Brazil to claim the gold medal at the 2012 Olympics in London. Torrado was full of praise for the 56-year-old: "He's a good coach and on top of that, a great human being. What's more, he has fantastic staff who complement him well. He offers a good mix of training-ground work and man management and above all he's a good leader. He's able to express what he wants us to do on the pitch and that's essential."
Torrado's words are backed up by the experience of 127 appearances in Europe, almost 300 (and counting) for Cruz Azul and some 146 international caps, including a fair few wearing the captain's armband. Impressive figures indeed. And, having been involved in a major milestone for Mexico in the shape of the victorious 1999 Confederations Cup campaign, now the midfielder has his mind set on making history for his club. "I always say that you have to enjoy these matches to the max, give your all on the pitch and do everything in your power to trouble the opposition and get a result." If Cruz Azul abide by this philosophy, who knows how far they might go?