Guardado Headed to Valencia

The last time Andres Guardado was in Chicago, he scored 2 terrific goals in Mexico's 4-1 Gold Cup romp over Costa Rica. The result set in motion the series of events that would lead to the demise of Costa Rica's coach, Ricardo Lavolpe, who coincidentally had given Guardado his big break by including the then 19-year old on Mexico's 2006 World Cup roster. El Principito was one of Mexico's big stars in last summer's Gold Cup triumph, which was a stark contrast to how Guardado had arrived for national team duty.

His club, Deportivo La Coruña, had just been relegated to the Liga Adelante. Guardado had endured another injury-riddled season in which he missed half the games, and in his absence, Depor floundered. To make matters even worse, the fans turned on Guardado - they fully expected him to abandon the squad after relegation, even accosting him as left the Riazor after the season's last match.

Today he returns to Chicago, reporting for national team duty as Liga Adelante champion, and possessing a freshly signed contract with Valencia, for whom he will play in La Liga and the Champions League next season.

It has been quite a year. And it all started with the news that he didn't make.

He didn't leave Depor. Team President, Augusto César Lendoiro took the road less traveled after a team falls from the top flight. Instead of having a fire sale, Lendoiro opted to keep his most valuable assets, including Guardado. There were plenty of suitors, but the prez did not budge. The trade-off, though, meant that Guardado would become a free agent after this year, and any move wouldn't net Depor anything. Not a sausage.

He didn't get injured. Guardado's time at Depor has been productive, but he endured more than his fair share of injuries. This was the first season in 5 that he was injury free, and not surprisingly, he had his best season since arriving in Galicia. His coach, Jose Luis Oltra, gave Guardado the green light to take more risks, offensively, and be much more than just the service guy he was under Lotina -- provided, of course, that he hustled back defensively. It paid off in a big way for Depor, as he scored 11 goals and set up 12 more. It adds up to having a hand in nearly one third of Depor's 75 goals this season.

It was after the Gold Cup, in which Guardado had played so well, that Valencia's flirtation with Guardado began to surface. And it was at mid-season that strong rumors of a Guardado move to Mestalla was a done deal, with the player heading east in June, were being reported. To his credit, Guardado kept mum on everything -- out of respect to his current club -- until this past weekend after Depor earned their promotion back to La Liga. The worst kept secret in La Coruña was finally made official on Valencia's website

Depor fans knew it was only a matter of time before Guardado moved on. Instead of vilifying him for it, like they were ready to last year, they are very grateful for his excellent season which helped them get back to the top flight. For the most part.

From what I have seen and read, they don't seem to like Valencia very much.