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At Man. City, Castillo becomes Mexico's shining light
Posted: Thursday December 20, 2007 11:06AM; Updated: Thursday December 20, 2007 11:59AM
After spending his entire career in relative obscurity, Nery Castillo showed Mexico fans what he could offer El Tri when he turned in a series of stellar performances last summer at the CONCACAF Gold Cup and Copa América.
But shortly after, his enigmatic club career took another strange twist. Already the only Mexican to play professionally in Greece, he left Olympiakos for a club even further away from his Mexican roots: Ukrainian outfit Shakhtar Donetsk.
Eight games and little success later, Castillo will now suit up for another club. After months of speculation, the San Luis Potosí native finally joined English Premier League side Manchester City on Monday on a year-long loan from Shakhtar.
For Mexican fans, the move represents their best chance of seeing the 23-year-old star play regularly on television, as EPL matches are seen across the world more consistently than games involving Ukrainian clubs.
For City, it's a chance to add a talented attacking player to the mix and help keep the club near the top of the table.
But perhaps more importantly, it's a chance for Castillo to continue developing into a world-class player. Although he's played in Europe almost his entire career, he hasn't had the opportunity to compete in an elite league until now. Olympiakos is a Greek superpower, but the league falls well short of the Premiership, and both Castillo and El Tri will benefit from the move.
Already Castillo has given Mexico a glimpse of the type of talent not often seen within the ranks of the national team. Though not a savior by any means -- Mexico doesn't need saving -- Castillo is the prototype for what the future Mexican attacker should be like. His vision is matched only by his touch, and his finishing ability is on par with both. He makes former Tri standout Jared Borgetti only seem more immobile and worthless than he already is.
One of Castillo's tasks in England might be to make people forget about Borgetti there as well. The first Mexican to ever play in the English Premier League, Borgetti flopped in his brief stint with Bolton in 2005. Though he scored some key goals, his tenure was mostly known by his inability to crack Bolton's starting lineup or even see valuable minutes as a substitute.
Castillo should have no such problems. Though City enters the weekend in fourth place in the EPL -- trailing only Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea -- goals aren't exactly flowing freely from the Eastlands. Of the clubs in the top half of the table, only Blackburn (23 goals) has scored fewer goals than City (24).
Instantly, Castillo vaults to the top of a list that includes Georgios Samaras and Rolando Bianchi, transfers who have failed to live up to expectations. Castillo immediately surpasses the Greek and Italian and should force his way into the starting lineup alongside Valeri Bojinov.
The Bulgarian Bojinov, who should also give City a boost upon his own healthy return, might play the role of the club version of Juan Carlos Cacho, Castillo's strike partner on El Tri. Like Bojinov, Cacho uses his strength to his advantage. Cacho and Castillo picked up each other's attributes quickly and impressed during the Copa América, most notably in Mexico's 2-0 group-stage win over Brazil when the duo teamed up for a memorable match-winner.
Castillo should also benefit from playing alongside Elano. The Brazilian standout -- who, like Castillo, joined City from Shakhtar Donetsk -- should combine with him to form a formidable duo, provided City manager Sven-Göran Eriksson finds the right combination. Best of all, Castillo holds Greek citizenship and won't hinder City as counting against the roster as a non-European international.
The move from Ukraine to England is a bold one for Castillo, but it isn't one spurred by failure. Shakhtar officials loaned him out for a reported $7.2 million and have thus far refused to speculate about a possible outright transfer to Manchester City upon conclusion of the deal.
With his value high on the club level, Castillo's value to El Tricolor should remain steady. He was easily the Mexican national team's biggest revelation of '07. Born in Mexico in 1984, Castillo moved to his father's native Uruguay as a toddler before making the move in 2000 to Europe, where he eventually became a standout at Olympiakos.
But he wasn't in the mold of Giovani dos Santos or Carlos Vela, players who have been labeled as can't-miss prospects since the age of 17. Castillo was essentially a free agent entering '07 when he was eligible to play internationally for Mexico, Uruguay or Greece.
In what was Hugo Sánchez's biggest coup, the Mexican national-team coach convinced Castillo to play for his home country, and a star was born.
Whether that star can shine as brightly in sky blue and white as he did in green, red and white remains to be seen, but it's difficult to imagine anything but EPL stardom for Castillo.