Thursday 12 May 2022, 15:00

Guerrero: I make sacrifices because football is my life

  • Paolo Guerrero is currently completing his recovery in the US city of Phoenix

  • The Peru forward has gone seven months without playing a competitive match

  • “What I want most in life is to get back out onto the pitch,” he tells FIFA+

At the age of 38, Paolo Guerrero does not fear the passage of time as it is something he faces up to every day.

In a way, that is what the veteran attacker is doing in the American city of Phoenix, where he has been based since 3 May and where, for close to two weeks, he will focus on the latter stages of his recovery from injury. In search of a calm environment, he has left his entourage behind in Peru so that he has nothing to distract him. Guerrero’s days in the Arizona capital follow a set routine. He wakes up early to a breakfast prepared by Rodrigo Araya, who has been his personal physiotherapist since December and is his sole companion in the USA. At ten o’clock he arrives at Exos, the fitness facility he selected for the final phase of his rehabilitation, where, according to the Peru football icon, “there’s everything you need to work calmly”.

Peru Portraits - Paolo Guerrero

The difficulty level of his sessions, which can last up to two-and-a-half hours, increases day by day, as he executes strength and flexibility exercises and takes part in progressive overload workouts. Lunch follows, and then some rest. Later in the afternoon he undergoes manual therapy and performs core training exercises.

After all this, as if he were rewarding himself for his hard work, he goes for a run on the on-site pitch, accelerating then slowing down then accelerating again, pushing himself to the maximum – sometimes till eight o’clock at night. The resilient 38-year-old has faced a number of recent challenges: a torn cruciate ligament, a failed comeback, recurrent fibrosis, and another surgery. And while he may not be afraid of time, he is very much in a race against it: on 13 June, Peru will compete in the AFC/CONMEBOL intercontinental play-off for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™. “I’ve got the strength to go through this process because football is my passion,” Guerrero told FIFA – while taking part in a contrast therapy session in a freezing cold pool – in his first interview for several months. “It’s my life. When I don’t play football, I feel like I’m not really alive. I feel like I’m not myself. I don’t know how to properly explain what it means. It’s my life, and it’s impossible to give it up. I’ve been through a lot of problems, mostly due to this rotten injury.”

The rotten luck which led to the ‘rotten injury’ came about in August 2020. Then starring for Brazilian powerhouse Internacional, the Peruvian goal machine had started the league season strongly, despite the pandemic that had led to the postponement of the Copa Libertadores. But then he tore his cruciate ligament. A long and bumpy road followed. Guerrero made his return in June 2021 and racked up 523 minutes in 16 matches, even managing a goal for good measure. He looked good, but he was in pain. He played in the Peru-Chile World Cup qualifier on 7 October, and seven months down the line, that remains his last official match. Having parted ways with Internacional, he is currently without a club. “I attempted a comeback but, truth be told, I wasn’t fully recovered,” he admitted. “I came back too soon, and I shouldn’t have done that. All this time I’ve been paying for that mistake, and that’s kept me away from the pitch for even longer. But that’s in the past: now I want to come back stronger than I was before.”

A veritable idol in his homeland, Guerrero is well versed in long recoveries, having had several significant injuries in his career as well as a ban that prevented him from playing for almost a year. At that time, he suffered from depression, but this situation is different. He is eager to return, and talks about it in an excited fashion. He has not been watching much football, although he admits to having viewed both legs of the UEFA Champions League tie between Manchester City and Real Madrid. He has not read any newspapers, listened to the radio or watched television – he has no inclination to read, hear or see anything related to his chances of being called up by Peru coach Ricardo Gareca, and has consequently cut himself off from the world. He does speak with his parents on a daily basis, however. Dona Peta, his mother, always asks him how he is feeling, while his father, Jose, tells him to be patient and concentrate on getting back to his former level. Part of Guerrero’s race against time stems from his desire to make his parents happy. They are one of the reasons he is making sacrifices and putting in the effort while confined in a fitness centre for ten hours, thousands of miles from home. “When I score goals, I’m the happiest guy in the world,” the striker explained excitedly. “My parents are delighted when they see me scoring. It’s a source of satisfaction for them. When I perform like I’m capable of, it’s fun and it makes me happy. But right now I’m just trying to recover completely to come back strongly and effectively, so that I can play at my best again.”

Peru's Paolo Guerrero celebrates after scoring a penalty.

His mother once told him that he would be able to go as far as he wanted to go. Now there is a new goal: 13 June, the last stop-off before Qatar. “And if I get to play on 13 June? I’d kill to represent my national team, you know,” he said, perhaps taking his nickname – ‘predator’ – a little too seriously. “I’d even play for Peru with a limp! I’m available. It’ll obviously depend on me, on how I’m doing.

"I have to be honest with myself: what I want most is to be 100 per cent fit and to be able to play without any problems. I don’t want to rush anything. But if 13 June comes around and I’m in top condition, why not?”

The former Bayern Munich man is nearing the end of his recuperation and will soon return to Lima in Peru for further exercises and some ball work. Reluctant to set dates or entertain talk of a potential new club, he is living in the moment, enjoying the feeling of getting his strength back and musing about playing on for “many more years”. The conversation turns to leadership, and Guerrero points out that, in his opinion, true leaders are those who take it upon themselves to help pick up a team-mate when he has fallen to the ground. “That’s what life is all about,” he explained. “Believe me, there are times when you fall. But you have to get back up. My dad taught me that if you fall down ten times, you have to get back up 11 times. But that will come. This is a big sacrifice, and every sacrifice brings a reward. And even if I had to make a sacrifice for 1,000 years, I know that there would be a reward at the end of it.” And what reward does he expect? “I don’t know. Life is full of surprises. I make sacrifices because this sport is my life. What I want most of all is to play football.”