OTTAWA, Ontario. February 3 (Canadian Press) – Julian de Guzman arrived on the Canadian national team scene as an afterthought, wearing an ill-fitting hand-me-down shirt.
Fifteen years later, he leaves as captain and Canada’s most-capped men’s player.
On Monday, the 35-year-old Ottawa Fury FC midfielder called an end to a distinguished career that saw him win 89 caps for Canada and play for clubs in France, Germany, Greece and Spain as well as Major League Soccer and the North American Soccer League.
“Football has been the love of my life,” de Guzman said at a tearful news conference in Ottawa. “It has given me a ticket to explore many countries, different cultures.”
The Toronto native will remain in the game as an assistant on manager Paul Dalglish’s coaching staff. The Canadian Soccer Association has already tabbed him as a coaching resource, making him part of a young talent evaluation camp last November.
“My wish and my dream now is for the future of Canada and the talent that we have,” said de Guzman, who lamented the past talent that has “gone wasted.”
He should know.
De Guzman took part in four World Cup qualifying cycles and played under eight Canadian managers: Holger Osieck, Bruce Twamley, Frank Yallop, Stephen Hart, Dale Mitchell, Tony Fonseca, Colin Miller and Benito Floro.
De Guzman captained both Ottawa and his hometown team Toronto FC. But he is best known for his time in Germany and Spain’s La Liga, where he played for Deportivo la Coruna.
CSA president Victor Montagliani called de Guzman a “Canadian soccer trailblazer.”
Dalglish, the son of legendary Scottish forward Kenny Dalglish, also paid tribute to de Guzman’s accomplishments.
“This is the most popular game in the world. This is the most competitive game in the world,” said Dalglish. “What he’s achieved would be like me, as a Scotsman, coming to Ottawa and captaining the Sens. It’s not going to happen.
“But this is a guy who came from a country that nobody gave any credibility to in soccer, that went on to play in two of the five biggest leagues in the world.”
De Guzman played 97 games in Spain and 78 games in Germany’s Bundesliga. He also saw action in 77 MLS games with Toronto FC and Dallas.
In Toronto, he became the first Canadian to sign as a designated player.
Later in his career, he played for more modest teams in Germany and Greece to be near his kids in Germany. He joined Ottawa for the 2015 season.
“It’s a guy who creates the rhythm and is in great position and coaches on the field,” then Ottawa coach Marc Dos Santos said at the time. “He’ll score one (goal) a year but it will be a nice one.”
His Spanish scorecard included a goal against Real Madrid.
A skilled technical player, de Guzman was good on the ball with an eye to linking up with a teammate.
De Guzman’s younger brother Jonathan plays internationally for the Netherlands, having qualified for residency through his years playing there, and is currently playing club football for Italy’s Chievo Verona.
Julian was 15 when he went to the Netherlands to pursue his own soccer dream. It did not pan out but a two-week tryout with Marseille led to an amateur contract. The early years were difficult and The French club eventually cut him loose, telling him to go home because “Canadians are not good enough to make it in Europe.”
Germany’s FC Saarbrucken saw it differently and de Guzman’s soccer adventure was on. At 21, he was playing in the Bundesliga.
He was 20 when he won his first Canadian cap as a late addition to the 2002 Gold Cup squad after Garret Kusch was injured. He recalled his No. 16 jersey was too big and you could see his name over the imprint of Kusch’s.
He made his senior debut off the bench in January 2002 in a somewhat inglorious quarter-final penalty shootout win over lowly Martinique in Miami’s Orange Bowl.
De Guzman, who surpassed Paul Stalteri’s’ national team record of 84 caps in 2015, drew laughs when he said playing for Canada was “better than an orgasm.”
Named captain in 2013, he went on to lead his country 25 times.
His last appearance was last June in a 1-1 friendly tie with Azerbaijan in Austria. While injuries robbed him of playing time later in his career, he remained a vital member of the national team squad under Floro.
Floro, a Spaniard who was let go last year, relied on de Guzman’s experience and language skills to spread his message through the team.
De Guzman played in a Canadian-record six CONCACAF Gold Cups and made the tournament all-star team in 2007, 2009 and 2013. He was tournament MVP in 2007 when Canada reached the semifinals.
In 2008, de Guzman was named player of the year by both Canada and Deportivo La Coruna.
De Guzman had perhaps as many hairstyles as managers, ranging from a full afro to a shaved head. And while Dalglish praised his determination and lack of ego, de Guzman’s flashy wheels were always easy to spot in Toronto FC’s parking lot.
The Fury said de Guzman retires from active play having played 513 games and 38,221 minutes for club and country in a 17-year career.
He made the most of his career, swapping jerseys with the likes of Samuel Eto’o, Ronaldo and Ronaldinho for tangible memories of his soccer dream.
He left with thanks for every club whose sweater he pulled on. “Soccer saved my life,” he said.
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