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Do the U.S. and Mexico care about the Gold Cup anymore?

Gold Cup
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 By Tom Marshall

Mexico legend Carlos Salcido talks big moments, memories and Carlos Vela

Carlos Salcido's international career came to an end in August, but he's still going strong in Liga MX despite the struggles of his current club Chivas.

GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- Carlos Salcido drew a line underneath one of the outstanding Mexico national team careers when he announced his retirement from El Tri in late August.

The Ocotlan, Jalisco, native won a total of 122 caps, featured in three World Cups -- he was arguably El Tri's best player in 2006 and 2010 --  and became one of the most recognizable figures of his generation for the Mexican national team. He also won an Olympic gold medal in London in 2012.

On top of that, the current Chivas man is one of only a small group of select Mexicans to ever really achieve club success in Europe, mainly in the Eredivisie with PSV.

And all that in spite of a childhood in which becoming a professional soccer player was not even on the agenda until after his 19th birthday. Putting food on the table was the priority, then.

It's been a remarkable story and one that also says a lot about Mexico and Mexican soccer.

In this exclusive interview with ESPNFC, 34-year-old Salcido openly discusses Chivas' present crisis, his difficult childhood, almost making it into the United States as a teenager, his enjoyable career washing cars, finding out who Ronald Koeman was and the rumor that he has an outgoing feud with Carlos Vela that led the latter to ditch El Tri.

ESPNFC: Was a return to Chivas at the tail end of your career part of the Salcido master plan?

Carlos Salcido: As a professional, you never know what is going to happen, you just go along achieving things in your career from team to team. The only thing you want is to be in the best clubs, the best teams, and to try to do the best for your career.

When I came back to Mexico to play for Tigres [in August 2011], there was always the potential opportunity to come to Chivas. There were a couple of attempts since then to come back, but it didn't happen. Now I'm here, I'm going on for my first six months back, and I'm happy because I know this club and this team perfectly.

ESPNFC: What differences did you find between the Chivas you left in 2006, and the one now in serious relegation trouble?

CS: There is a big difference because when I left, the team was going through a good time. Six months after I left, the team became champion and we'd forged a good group. That was manifested with them winning the championship. At that time, Chivas was fine -- there weren't any problems like the ones we are going through now.

A lot of things have changed. Things have been lost, others have been gained. But where we are is very difficult and unthinkable, above all for the footballers that were here before.

ESPNFC: You've alternated regularly throughout your career between left back, center back and defensive-midfield. What is your preferred position?

CS: I don't have a preference. The coaches decide. I've never said no, I just do the work for the team.

One thing fans and teammates can always count on from Salcido is effort.

ESPNFC: Are you left or right-footed?

CS: Right. I swing my left as well, but not with the same force! I've almost always played on the left in my career.

ESPNFC: Different stories have come out about how you arrived at Chivas at the beginning of your career. Can you set the record straight?

CS: At 19 years old, I lost my job and went with some friends [to their game] because they had a team. I went to accompany them, but they were short [of players], so the other team said, "Get the guy on the sidelines in." I had jeans on and normal shoes. I pulled up my jeans to my knees, took off my shirt and played. At the end of the game, a coach approached me and asked if I'd like to play professional football. It was a little crazy, unthinkable. Logically, I said yes and it all began.

ESPNFC: Do you think in a certain way only having your first formal training at age 19 helped you? Or would you have been a better player if you had come through a club's youth system?

CS: When I had the opportunity to play [for Chivas at the start], I didn't do it thinking I'd have the chance to be a professional player. I did it because the coach offered me money to play and I wasn't working at the time. I did it more as a job -- 'I run, kick the ball, follow the ball and they pay me. Perfect! No problem.'

It was when Chivas brought me here [to the Verde Valle training complex] and when I met Jose "El Guero" Luis Real that I began to see all the Chivas structure. That's when I realized that I might have a chance of playing in the first division. That's when mentally the idea of trying my luck at becoming a professional took hold.

After that, they gave me the chance to debut in the first division under Oscar Ruggeri in 2001, and they sent me back quickly to the second division [laughs]. That's when you noticed that I didn't have that footballing education, ideas about playing football. I ran and ran, but I didn't feel or understand tactics. Those things you learn when you come through [a youth system] younger. You know what to do. I was new to all that and it cost me.

ESPNFC: Before even contemplating a career in soccer, you'd already got a lot of work experience under your belt?

SC: At nine years old, my mother passed away. We're seven [siblings] in total, with only one sister. When my mother died, the family separated. Some went to work in the United States, others went to Guadalajara. I'm from a town called Ocotlan, Jalisco.

At 11 years old -- I left school in sixth grade -- I started to work. I worked in furniture workshops, making things, everything. At 13, I came to Guadalajara to live with an aunt, thinking about getting a better job. But here in the city if you aren't of the correct age you can't work in a business. That's when my aunt gave me a flannel and a bucket and said, "Go and wash cars, there's a bus station near." And, believe me, it's one of the best jobs I've had! I liked it a lot. I always had money in my pocket. I worked in that from 13 to 16.

I left there to work in a blown glass factory, then a hardware store. There's an area in Guadalajara that's called the 5 de febrero. That's where they sell used and new car parts, and it is very famous because they say it is where they sell you back stolen parts and everything. I worked there until I was 19. That's where I lost the job and started my footballing career.

ESPNFC: And during that time you also attempted to reach the United States?

CS: I tried a couple of times. I couldn't get over. I tried because things weren't going well here. It was when I was washing cars. I lasted about five days on the border, witnessing a lot of things. I was about 16 or 17.

ESPNFC: Were you scared?

CS: I had four brothers there, so they'd told me that you had to wait two days at the border and then you go over. I remember on the second day the people they call polleros [smugglers/coyotes] went with one group and we stayed. Ten hours passed or something and the pollero came back scared [saying] that they'd been caught. It was an alarm for me and I began to get scared. I thought, 'What do they do to them? Where do they put them?'

The pollero said to wait another day and we -- a group including Salvadorans and Hondurans that had traveled a long way to get there -- waited.

I got scared, I spoke to my brother and said: "I need money."

"They're going to bring you over?" he replied.

"No, to get me back [to Guadalajara], I'm really scared."

And that's when I returned to Guadalajara and carried on working. Maybe if I'd have crossed without any problem, I wouldn't have become a footballer. I would've stayed there doing something different.

After returning from Europe, Salcido did a short spell with Tigres before returning to Chivas, where he started his career.

ESPNFC: How difficult was it to adapt to life following the big move from Chivas to PSV back in 2006?

CS: I had a big dream. I'm an honest person, I knew nothing of Holland and I didn't know the history or greatness of PSV. There'd been a year in which my name had gone about in the press here about teams in Europe being interested -- in Italy, in Spain, in I don't know where. I was very excited.

A year before was the Confederations Cup in Germany and the national team had done well. That's when my name began to get linked. That's when I got my hopes up. I thought, "How great would it be to play in Europe?" For me, it was a strong emotion.

Before the World Cup in a preparation game, we played in PSV's stadium, and that's where I met Ronald Koeman, the coach of PSV at that time. I remember him saying in Spanish, "We are watching you" when I met him in a corridor. I thought, "Who could that be? Honestly, I don't know who that could be."

But you go through the corridors in PSV and you see photos of the history. I went through and I saw Ronald Koeman's photo and I thought, "Now I know who he is."

After the World Cup, I signed another contract with Chivas for three years and they gave me a vacation. The president here called to say there is a team interested from Europe, from Holland, PSV.

"It's Europe?" I asked. "Well I'm going."

I didn't know much at all. When I arrived it was a complete dream. It's very different with the language, culture, everything. I battled a lot. I was there four years and I didn't learn any Dutch or English. It was very difficult. The coach when I signed was Koeman and he spoke Spanish very well -- he played a long time in Barcelona -- and there was the captain Philip Cocu, who also spoke Spanish. About 11 players spoke Spanish. I did take [Dutch] classes for six months, but I never really practiced it. The problem was outside in the city when you wanted to go somewhere. The family -- wife and kids -- had the most problems with adapting because they are in contact every day with the city and people in shops.

ESPNFC: What was your best moment with the national team?

CS: [pauses] The medal at the Olympic Games would be it. It wasn't with the full national team, it was with the under-23 team, but I was there.

ESPNFC: And the worst?

CS: [without hesitation] The past qualifiers. It was hard work qualifying for the World Cup. We suffered a lot with the national team and it almost put me out of a World Cup. It was very difficult.

ESPNFC: Is there any truth to the rumor that Carlos Vela hasn't shown up to the national team because of some problem between you two, and that because you have retired he is back?

CS: I would like Vela to speak and tell his side. Honestly, it is incredible and difficult to listen to teammates and you journalists that say and invent things like Vela went to the national team because Salcido isn't there and they have a beef.

I think highly of Vela, he's a good friend and teammate. He was always one of the youngsters at that time in the national team, but I'd like him to talk and say what's up and why he didn't go with the national team.

Now he's with the national team, I want to think that it is because the games are outside of Mexico, not for anything else. I know what it is about, but I'd like him to talk and dismiss many of the stupid rumors. I can't talk because it doesn't really matter to me what you [the media] and people think; that's the reality. But I would like that, in time, he realizes and stops the rumors and things that, in the end, are those that sometimes cause most damage.

Tom Marshall covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @MexicoWorldCup.

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