Jared Borgetti – Mexico’s other star striker and a lost year in Bolton.

On 25th March Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez scored the opening goal in a 2-0 victory for Mexico over Costa Rica. As well as giving his team an early lead, the goal also brought the Bayer Leverkusen striker’s international tally to 46, equalling the record of Jared Borgetti. Hernandez will be well known to fans of the Premier League for his five years at OId Trafford as Manchester United, under Sir Alex Ferguson dominated the English game, in the first decade of this century. Perhaps less well-known though is that Borgetti also plied his trade in the English north-west for a while, but with much less success.

Before venturing to England, Borgetti had played for four clubs in Mexico. His most successful period being with Santos Laguna, where he scored 189 league goals in just under 400 games during a seven-year spell, winning two national championships for Los Verdiblancos, as well as being the league’s top scorer on three occasions. Perhaps feeling the ‘itch’ to move related to such a period of time, he then left for newly promoted home town club Dorados de Sinaloa. It was a short homecoming though, before joining Pachua, where game time was limited due to World Cup Qualifying matches, although he still managed eight goals in just 15 league matches, helping Los Tuzos qualify for the knockout stages of the Libertadores Cup.

Borgetti had already featured in one World Cup Finals tournament playing in all four of his country’s games in the USA ’94 event, before Mexico were eliminated by the hosts in the Round of Sixteen. Understandably, his exploits at both club and national level had piqued the interests of a number of European clubs, but it was Sam Allardyce’s Bolton Wanderers that took the plunge and secured the striker’s services from Pachua ahead of the 2005-06 season, making Borgetti the first Mexican to join a Premier League club.

Securing the player on a two-year deal seemed like a shrewd investment at the time. Although ‘El Zorro del Desierto’ (The Desert Fox), was unlikely to find much sand in Bolton – unless the pitch was waterlogged. Here was a striker with a long and impressive record of scoring goals. Just ahead of the deal being announced on Pachua’s website, he netted his 35th goal for Mexico in a CONCACAF Gold Cup win over Guatemala.

Unfortunately, he was unable to play in the quarter-final tie due to suspension, and his absence was heavily felt as Mexico lost to Colombia. His three goals in the Confederations Cup in 2005, also marked him down as someone able to find the back of the net against more exalted opposition. He also netted the winner against Brazil in the same competition to underscore his credentials. The reported fee of £1million, for such a proven goalscorer, appeared a steal for Allardyce’s club, but things don’t always work out well.

Less than three weeks after signing for the club, Borgetti made his Bolton debut in a 2-0 league win over Newcastle United, and opened his goal account in a UEFA Cup game against Lokomotiv Plovdiv in September. Trailing to a first-half goal against the Bulgarians, it looked like a dispiriting home defeat was on the cards, when Allardyce sent on the Mexican striker with a little over 20 minutes to play. Within minutes of Borgetti joining the fray, Diouf netted an equaliser and Bolton pressed on for the winner. With time ticking away however, it seemed like a draw was inevitable. Then, in the dying seconds, Nakata flicked on a cross from Fernandes. The ball found its way to Borgetti on the right-hand edge of the area and, doing what he does, the striker controlled before drilling home to  win the game.

He would repeat his European goal-scoring feat in the cauldron of Istanbul away to Besiktas the following month, before leaping the hoardings to, perhaps unwisely, celebrate in front of 500 or so brave Bolton souls who had travelled to support their club, despite warnings of potential hostility from home fans.

Despite such becoming a favourite with the fans for demonstrations of such passion, things began to go awry as first team opportunities became increasingly limited. The manger had a penchant for a single striker, and a preference for Kevin Davies to play the role. Despite limited opportunities to demonstrate his worth, Borgetti still managed to deliver when granted game time. Cup goals against Watford, West Ham United and Leicester City, contributed to a total of five in 13 games in various knockout formats. It contrasted to an end of season total of just a brace in 19 league appearances.

As the season went on and Borgetti’s estrangement from the first team grew, a row developed over an international Friendly fixture against Paraguay on 29th March. At 32 years of age, and hardly featuring for the Trotters, Borgetti was understandably keen to represent his country. Sam Allardyce however refused to sanction the travel and, as the game fell outside of the Fifa international calendar, there was no override available to Mexico. Borgetti was left out.

Fearing for his place in the World Cup squad, understandably, the player was both frustrated and confused. “I do not understand. I am not playing at the moment,” Borgetti told the Mexican newspaper Reforma. “There cannot be any problems with me playing for Mexico. But because the match against Paraguay is not on a Fifa date, my team can refuse. I wanted to play for Mexico. I talked to them about that, but I could not. I hoped to travel.” It was of course perfectly within the manager’s rights to make such a decision, and the potential for injuries and the need for cover had to be a key driver for Allardyce, but the discomfort with the situation felt by Borgetti is redolent in his words.

It may also be true that the manager’s preference for selecting Davies ahead of the Mexican fuelled his frustration. In a season punctuated by substitute appearances, and periods out of the first-team altogether, his season return of seven goals in 32 games compares favourably with that of Davies, who scored eight in 47 appearances. It appeared though, that Davies’ claymore-like style was more to the manager’s tastes, than the rapier sharp finishing of the Mexican and that was the deciding factor.

It all meant that Borgetti was compelled to compete in reserve fixtures to maintain fitness. Even that though didn’t persuade Allardyce to allow him to travel for the Paraguay game. Again, speaking to Reforma, Borgetti lamented, “I need to play for me and for my national team. Last Wednesday I played 50 minutes (although for the reserves). It was not much, but it was an official match. Although it did not have a great level of football, I did have more minutes on the pitch.”

There was a late opportunity for Borgetti to prove his worth as Bolton lost four first-team players to the Africa Cup of Nations just after the turn of the year. The manager even remarked that it could open the door for him. “I’ve got nobody I can let go from the squad unless someone pays a lot of money for whatever I’ve got, so there is a good chance for everybody here, including Jared Borgetti, to get into the team and stay there.” If immediately encouraging, such words foundered. On the return of the African players, the natural order of things was restored and Borgetti was shunted back to the side lines.

It became clear to all parties that Borgetti’s English adventure would only comprise a single season and despite it being the least productive – and least happy – period of his career either before or since, there were still a number of big name clubs reportedly seeking his services. At the time, Ronald Koeman was managing Benfica in Portugal and through the season, there had been rumours linking Borgetti with a move to Lisbon. Interviewed by Portuguede newspaper ‘O Jogo’ the player’s agent, Eriberto Lopez said, “Ronald Koeman is interested in signing Borgetti.”

Whether it was with the player’s acquiescence or not, Lopez went on to explain that Borgetti was unsettled by his lack of opportunity and that leaving would be inevitable unless the situation improved. Perhaps already with an eye to preparing the ground, Lopez added, “There is also interest from Germany and Italy. Should the manager decide to count on the player it is possible he will continue. But if it is the opposite he will leave. That is why we have to talk to the Bolton executives and analyse in detail the proposals that are on the table.”

Things didn’t improve for Borgetti and such comments from an agent were hardly likely to curry favour  with someone of the calibre and experience of Sam Allardyce. At the end of the season, inevitably a move was being mooted, “I am hopeful the deal will be concluded this week,” Allardyce confirmed. “It hasn’t worked out for Jared. He needs to find regular football to enhance his prospects.” Bolton accepted an offer, and Borgetti moved on. It wasn’t to Benfica though, and despite the what now looked increasingly like hollow posturing of his agent, neither was it to Germany or Italy. Borgetti’s new home was the Saudi Arabian club, Al Ittihad.

Had Jared Borgetti’s confidence been shattered by his experience in Lancashire. It seemed not. On his debut for the new club, he scored twice; his goals being the difference in a 3-2 victory for Al Ittihad. His stay in the desert was quite short, giving the lie to his nickname, but he still scored ten goals in just fifteen games before returning to his native country with Cruz Azul in December 2006. The following few years saw short stays at five other Mexican clubs, before finally retiring from football after a brief spell with Club León where, even at the age of 37, Borgetti scored seven goals in 16 games.

With ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez now eclipsing the exploits of Jared Borgetti, and surely surpassing them in the many games he still has to play in his career, some may be tempted to assert that he is probably Mexico’s greatest striker. There may be merit in that argument, but a few statistics may argue against such a simple conclusion. In a career that had taken in no less than twelve clubs in sixteen years, Jared Borgetti played 582 games and scored 299 goals at a rate of better than a goal every other game. At the time of writing, Hernandez’s total in 342 games is 135 goals. This will of course inevitably grow over time, but it’s questionable whether he will be able to ‘quicken’ his scoring rate per game, to get anywhere near that of Borgetti.

It’s true that Borgetti had only had one season it what many would term as a ‘top league’ where goals are at a premium, but it also has to be remembered though that he had never played for one of the top European clubs either, where team-mates would also be of a higher calibre. Hernandez had time at Manchester United during their glory years, and then played for Real Madrid before moving on to Germany and Leverkusen. It’s true that Hernandez has achieved his total for Mexico at a much younger age than Borgetti, but the real count should be in the number of games played not just the years. Hernandez’s game against Costa Rica was his 89th for Mexico. It’s precisely the same number of games that it took Borgetti to reach the total.

Jared Borgetti currently works as a commentator and analyst for ESPN covering football in Mexico, where he will probably, in the not-too-distant future be talking of the goal that breaks his record. When that happens, the exploits of Jared Borgetti should not be forgotten. To maintain such a high strike rates a superb achievement, and not even a bleak season at Bolton can diminish that.

(This All Blue Daze article was originally produced for the ‘These Football Times – Mexico’ magazine).

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