Dancing shoes and explosive goals – The varied career of ‘Dinamita!’ Joffre Guerrón.

Dinamita

If asked to suggest the greatest players to emerge from South America this century, very few, if any, would raise a hand to make a case for Joffre Guerrón. Perhaps however such lack of recognition would be inappropriate. Despite often being regarded as merely one of the better, rather than greats, of his era, he was twice lauded as the MVP of the Copa Libertadores, South America’s premier club tournament. Such rare accolades that fall to very few once, let alone twice.It was first awarded to Guerrón in 2008, as his goals and dynamic attacking play took his unheralded club to glory. The second followed after starring in the 2015 tournament, when he was controversially omitted from the team that lost out in the two-legged final against River Plate. A mere few months afterwards, he would leave, angered by the controversial decision to emit him from the team for the showpiece occasions. Those events however, are mere snapshots in the extraordinary career of a player dubbed as ‘Dinamita!’ that would see him play across South and Central America, in Europe and also Asia.

Joffre David Guerrón Méndez, the footballer who would become famous for his prowess on the football field, and his love of Latin Salsa dance music off it, was born in April 1985, in Ambuquí, within the Ecuadorean province of Imbabura. It’s an area of the country with a rich history of producing international footballers. Édison Méndez who holds the record for the second highest number of caps, 111, for his country, hailed from there. As did defender Giovanny Espinoza, who played for Ecuador 91 times and forward Agustín Delgado who scored a record 31 goals on the international stage. Additionally, each also passed through clubs were Guerrón would play his trade. The area had produced a stream of Ecuadorean talent, and Dinamita would earn his place amongst such luminaries.

Guerrón, who would make a career out of his dynamic play, either on the flank or as an attacking midfielder, deployed to support the main strikers, or even further forwards, using pace, powerful shot, aerial ability and cool finishing would begin his career with Quito-based club SD Aucas as a raw 16-year-old in 2004. He would stay with Los Orientales, for two years, netting eight goals in 59 games as his abilities developed.

 

The burgeoning reputation of the teenager attracted the attention of Boca Juniors in Argentina. It was a rare opportunity to join one of the powerhouse clubs in South America. Conversely, the very fame and success of the Azul y Oro that drew footballing talent to the club like a magnet, made plotting a successful passage from the junior ranks, where  Guerrón was inevitably initially placed, to a starting spot featuring for the first team at the famed ‘Chocolate Box’ stadium of La Bombonera was a perilous journey. It’s a task that often confounds even players of vast potential, swallowed up in a flood of talent with similar aspirations. Such was the case with Guerrón. Despite staying in Argentina for almost two years, he never made the breakthrough, and a career that had displayed so much promise and drive with SD Aucas, back in his native Ecuador, appeared stuck in neutral.

Juan Carlos Oblitas was a successful member of that Peruvian side beloved of football hipsters that bedazzled the footballing world in the 1978 World Cup, in those iconic white shirts, with the broad red sash. He would start every game of the country’s campaign in Argentina, when they scuttled to the top of their group overcoming the challenges of The Netherlands, Scotland and Iran, before collapsing in the second phase, culminating in that infamous and controversial six-goal defeat at the hands of hosts, Argentina.

In 2004, by that time a manager of some repute, Oblitas was in charge of Ecuador’s Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito, and had secured the Campeonato Ecuatoriano de Fútbol for Liga in 2005. Reputedly, it was the Peruvian that instigated the move to take Guerrón back to his native country, although by the time he became established in the club’s first team, Oblitas had left, replaced by the somewhat peripatetic Argentine coach Edgardo Bauza. By 2006, Guerrón had broken into the first team, appearing in 20 games across all competitions, but it was his second season with Los Albos, that saw him truly flourish, and launch the club into unprecedented success.

In 2007, Liga secured their ninth league title and, appearing in 39 games, netting seven goals as well as assisting with many others, Guerrón was a key element in that domestic triumph. The success also offered the club a passport into the 2008 Copa Libertadores, and Dinamita a stage to display his explosive talent.

The Copa Libertadores is the South American equivalent of Europe’s Champions League, with affiliated countries sending their most successful clubs to battle for the title of being acclaimed as the best team on the continent. Before 2008, no Ecuadorean club had ever achieved that exalted status. All of that was about to change however, and Joffre Guerrón would figure large as a key element in that.

Liga would initially face a difficult task to qualify from the group stage. Placed into a section with Fluminense of Brazil, Arsenal of Argentina and Libertad of Chile, it was important for Guerrón and his team-mates to get off to a good start if they entertained realistic hopes of progress. A goalless draw in the opening fixture, at home to Fluminense in front of some 12,000 fans at the Estadio Casa Blanca in Quito on February 20 was barely satisfactory. The dented confidence of the home fans may well have been a factor in only 7,500 attending the second home game a couple of weeks later when Libertad came to visit. With less than 20 minutes to play, the score was still goalless and hopes of progress were dwindling away. On 71 minutes though, midfielder Patricio Urrutia put Liga ahead and, just inside the final ten minutes, it was Guerrón who delivered the coup de grace. Liga – and their young forward –were on their way.

An away victory against Arsenal at the Estadio Julio H. Grondona in Sarandí, in front of a paltry crowd numbering no more than 2,000 franked the recovering form and, when the return leg was played two weeks later, despite the Argentine club going ahead thanks to an early strike by Luciano Leguizamón, the Ecuadoreans hit back with six goals of their own, although Guerrón was not one of five different home players who found the back of the Argentine net with increasingly regularity. The result extinguished Arsenal’s hopes of progress and, despite Liga losing both of their remaining fixtures and the Argentines winning both of theirs, it was Guerrón’s team that qualified for the knockout phase, finishing in second place behind Fluminense.

As a runner-up, Liga would face a group winner from the first phase, and were paired with another Argentine club, Estudiantes from La Plata. In the first leg, back at the Estadio Casa Blanca in late April, it was Guerrón who notched the vital breakthrough goal, putting the home team ahead just past the hour mark. A second goal, scored by Damián Manso, ironically an Argentine playing for the Ecuadorean club, doubled the advantage and gave Liga real hope for the return leg. The following week, a goal by Luis Bolaños stretched out the advantage to three goals, including an away strike, and despite pressure from the home side, they could only manage to score twice, and Liga progressed to the quarter-finals.

As was becoming habitual now, another Argentine club was lined up for them. This time, it was back to the capital to face San Lorenzo for the first leg at the Nuevo Gasómetro. Fortunately for Liga, it was Guerrón’s club who were ‘cooking on gas’ and they went ahead after 36 minutes. La Azulgrana would level things up two minutes later, but a draw, with an away goal to boot, was more than satisfactory for Liga. The Argentine club were not easily cowed though, and they mirrored the result a week later at the Estadio Casa Blanca, before the crowd of 55,000 celebrated a penalty shootout victory for the home club, with Guerrón netting the fourth of five perfect spot kicks. Liga, form Ecuador, a country that had never previously been able to acclaim a club as champions of South America were now in the final four of the Copa Libertadores.

With Boca Juniors and Fluminense, the club that had topped Liga’s initial group, as the other possibilities, the fates were probably kind to Guerrón’s club when they were paired with Mexico’s Club América in the semi-final line-up. Whilst the Brazilians eased past Boca 3-1 on aggregate, the other match-up would be closer and far more tense. The first leg took place at the iconic Estadio Azteca on 27 May, and Guerrón would play a key part in its outcome.

From the start, it was the visitors that dominated, with Guerrón consistently causing problems for the Mexicans down Liga’s right flank. As time progressed though, and Juan Antonio Luna reshuffled his players to try and negate the threat coming from that area, the game settled. The visitors still carried the greater threat though, and a shot from Bolaños struck the post on the stroke of half-time with home goalkeeper Ochoa clutching at fresh air.

You can only cage a talent for so long though, and just past the hour mark, Guerrón broke free of his shackles to create the first goal. Gathering the ball in space on the right-hand side of the area, he feigned twice, three times, intoxicating his marker, Iñigo, before hitting a ball in that Ochoa could only palm at, allowing Bolaños the simple task of heading into an empty net. Ten minutes later, an Esqueda header from a corner would mean the game finished as a draw.

Both teams ended with ten players though, as a clash between Dominguez, of America, and Bolaños, Liga’s goalscorer saw them both dismissed. That away goal though, conjured up by Guerrón’s dancing feet would proved as the teams played out a goalless draw back in Ecuador a week later. It meant that the title of South American champions would be settled in a repeat of the earlier group encounters when Fluminense triumphed by a single goal across both games of the group. If the Ecuadoreans were to claim their first ever continental title, they would need to reverse that form.

On 25 June 2008, more than 55,000 fans crammed into Quito’s Estadio La Casa Blanca to watch the first leg of the final of the Copa Libertadores. That total was more than four times higher than the attendance when Liga faced the same opponents in their opening group game of the tournament four months earlier. Suffice to say that the club’s followers now believed that all things were possible. Those in attendance would be royally entertained.

A mere two minutes had elapsed when Guerrón made his first significant contribution. Attacking from the usual right flank, he looked up before playing an exquisite low cross into the box, requiring Claudio Bieler merely to guide it into the net past a despairing Fernando Henrique. The goalscorer immediately running over to celebrate with the man who had laid his goal on a plate. The lead would only survive for ten minutes. A free-kick midway in the home team’s half, out on the right flank, was fired in by Darío Conca, and its flight deceived José Francisco Cevallos in the home goal to silence the previously vociferous home crowd.

It was Guerrón who restored hope and the home team’s lead. Just ahead of the half-hour, a scramble in the goalmouth saw the ball drop to Dinamita on the edge of the box and his explosive shot brooked no argument as it flew into the far corner of the net. The Ecuadoreans were now in control and five minutes later, defender Jayro Campos, up in support of the attack for a corner, headed home the third goal, before Patricio Urrutia repeated the dose heading home a corner from the opposite flank on the stroke of half-time. A three-goal advantage would be a huge lead to take into the asway leg, but early in the second period Thiago Neves trimmed that advantage. It still left Liga with a significant lead, but Neves would have more to say back in Brazil before the issue was finally settled.

All seemed to be on course for Liga a week later at in Rio’s Maracanã. The passionate and vociferous crowd of some 80,000 were stunned into silence when Luis Bolaños scored after six minutes to stretch the Ecuadorean club’s lead out again. From then though, it was a one-man show by Thiago Neves. First, he brought the scores on the day level after a dozen minutes and by the time he completed his hat-trick, ten minutes after the break, Liga’s lead had evaporated totally.  With the remainder of the game and the 30 minutes of additional time unable to break the deadlock and away goals not being significant, the final was decided by penalties.

Urrutia slammed home the visitors’ first spot kick. As Conca lined up to reply for Fluminense, Liga’s goalkeeper, Cevallos, crouched in his net, apparently in prayer, facing away from the kicker. The gods may have answered his plea when he comfortably smothered the Argentine’s effort. Next up was Jayro Campos, but this time it was home goalkeeper Henrique’s turn to don the superhero costume as he beat the defender’s shot away. Thiego Neves had hauled his club back into contention with his hat-trick, and now he had the chance to square up the shootout. Tension increased as the kick was again delayed by Cevallos and his prayers once more. Was Neves unnerved? Perhaps so. Cevallos plunged right as the ball flew centrally, but his trailing foot was able to kick the shot away.

Franklin Salas showed no nerves as Henrique was deceived into diving left as the ball rolled into the opposite corner and then the Cevallos routine failed to deliver as Cícero Santos netted in similar fashion. The crucial fourth penalty for Liga had been allocated to Guerrón – who else? Waiting, some 12 yards from the ball, Henrique crossed himself as he stood on his goal line, seeking some of the succour granted to his opposite number. It was to no avail. Despite guessing the right corner to dive into, Guerrón’s strike was simply too accurate and powerful. Fluminense were now in deep trouble. If they missed their next kick, Liga would triumph. Striker Washington committed the capital offence as Cevallos again saved.

The Liga players celebrated and Guerrón danced a salsa as coach Bauza, implacable, and apparently emotionless on the bench throughout the shoutout melted into tears, mobbed by his coaching team. Despite Cevallos undoubtedly being the hero of the hour, FIFA nominated Guerrón as the tournament’s MVP. It had been a personal and club triumph of the highest order, and the paths of the two heroes of Liga would be destined to cross again in a few years. Aged just 23, with his dancing shoes and explosive shot, Joffre Guerrón had the footballing world at his feet and, not for the last time in his career, the culmination of a Copa Libertadores tournament would see Guerrón move on to a new club.

On 6 June 2008, a month or so before that dramatic denouement, a deal was agreed for Joffre Guerrón to move to Spain’s LaLiga, joining Getafe in exchange for €4million. The move to Europe would bring little joy however. Debuting for the club during August 2008 in a game against Sporting de Gijón, reports suggest that he was racially abused by a number of the Asturian club’s fans with monkey noises and similarly offensive gestures and shouts. The abuse was apparently so bad that in a post-game press conference, Fabio Celestini, a team-mate of Guerrón, was moved to state his disgust at the events, offering his support to the Ecuadorean newcomer. It would later be suggested that the player himself was not aware of any abuse being directed at him personally. Whether this was true, or merely part of an understandable plan to move on from the incident, is unclear. The fact that Gijón received what was widely considered as a paltry fine of €3,000 – albeit accompanied by official apologies from the club – may suggest an answer.

That introduction to football in Spain set the scene for what was a disappointing and dispiriting period for both club and player. Whether Guerrón was unable to settle in his new environment on the southern outskirts of the Spanish capital, despite a familiarity of language is unclear, as is his ongoing emotional reaction towards the abusive treatment he received, particularly in away games. Whatever the case, after a mere 16 appearances for Getafe, and with just a single goal to his name, a loan move to Brazilian club Cruzeiro seemed to suit all parties.

A return to South America with the club from Barro Preto, Belo Horizonte, may have felt like an ideal opportunity to recapture the scintillating form he had enjoyed with Liga, but again, it was a less than fulfilling time. The deal required Cruzeiro to pay €1million for the loan period, and a pre-agreed fee of a further €3million should they wish to make the deal permanent at the end of the season. It suggested that the club saw great potential in the deal, but could he deliver?

In his first season at the Mineirão he would play 15 games for the Raposas netting twice, each bringing a victory, against first against Santo Andre, and then Sport Recife. It was a start at least, but he would play a mere four league games in 2010 before leaving the club. In July of that year, a bid of just under €1million was accepted and Guerrón moved south to the city of Curitiba and Atlético Paranaense. Now enjoying more regular football, his time there proved to be successful. In his two years with the club, he became both top scorer and a favourite of the fans, enamoured by his dynamic play and powerful shooting.

In 2012, with the club playing out their obligations in the state league, a number of clubs were linked with a move to sign him, including São Paulo FC and Flamengo of Brazil, Argentine club San Lorenzo and Club América of Mexico – who would retain vivid and painful memories of his exploits against them back in 2008. When the seemingly inevitable transfer arrived though, it wasn’t to another South American club, or even a return to European football. The next stop on the varied travels of Joffe Guerrón would be in Asia, and particularly the Beijing, capital of China, and Beijing Goan FC.

If, for whatever reason, Europe was not the place for Dinamita to display his explosive talents, China certainly appeared to be a more suitable environment. Across the best part of three years with ‘The Imperial Guards’ he would play 63 games registering 23 goals and 10 assists. In Spain, his debut game against Sporting de Gijón had proven to be an ill portent for a sad time in his career. His first game in China was very much the opposite.

Facing a visit to Qingdao Jonoon, he declared his arrival with a spectacular strike from an overhead kick to set up a 0-2 victory. It was the ideal detonation for Dinamita. His initial season would bring three goals from 14 appearances, but the following term would be much more prolific, as was again suggested by his opening game of the season, netting in a 4-1 win over Shanghai EA. By the close of the league season, his tally would reach 11 in just 23 appearances. He would also feature in the Asia Champions League, scoring against Pohang Steelers in April. Such success tends to find its way to any potential suitor of course, and into 2014, with another five goals notched from 14 appearances, in July, Mexican club Tigres UNAL moved to secure his services.

Guerrón’s time in China had seen a little of the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality apply to his appearances for Ecuador, and this, in part, influenced the return to his home continent. Not untypical of his career up to that time, his 18-month tenure in the city of San Nicolás de los Garza, in the Monterrey region of Mexico would deliver another highpoint, an equally important and perhaps deeper low, and yet again, a departure from a club immediately after it had contested the continent’s greatest club honour.

Guerrón’s debut for his new club occurred on 26 July, taking to the field as a substitute just after the hour mark in a 4-2 victory over Club León in the second round of the 2014 Apertura championship. Three days later, he opened his account with Tigres, notching from 12 yards in a 4-0 win over Estudiantes de Altamira. The goal, and vistory, set the trend for a successful season that would see Tigres finish in second place, and qualify for the 2015 Copa Libertadores. Guerrón’s 11 strikes in 37 games contributed greatly to the success. A similar path would follow in the continent’s premier club tournament until, that is, the latter stages.

Tigres were placed in a group alongside Argentina’s River, Plate, Juan Aurich from Peru and the Bolivian club, San José. On 18 February 2015 the first round of matches saw the Peruvians visit the Estadio Universitario and Joffre Guerrón show why he had been so influential in Liga’s successful run to the trophy. Netting the first two goals in a 3-0 victory, he quickly followed up with the lead goal as the Mexicans visited River Plate and the Estadio Antonio Vespucio Liberti in Buenos Aires. Carlos Sanchez would nab a late equaliser for the home team, but Guerrón’s three goals in two games had already stated a strong case for Tigres to progress from the group.

Absent for the visit to San José, it was striker Amaury Escoto who notched the only goal of the game, but Guerrón would return to the team, and score the opening goal in the return match back in San Nicolás de los Garza. A home draw against River Plate, and then a 4-5 victory in Peru meant that the Mexicans topped their group and headed into the knockout phases as second seeds, behind Boca Juniors.

In the Round of Sixteen, Tigres faced Universitario from Bolivia with a 1-2 victory in Sucre setting them on the way. Guerrón would start the game, but be substituted and in the return, which Tigres saw out with a 1-1 draw, hr began on the bench, although he was called into action later. The Quarter-Final pitted them against Emelec from Ecuador, and despite losing the away leg by a single goal, a 2-0 victory back in Mexico was sufficient for a place in the last four. Guerrón started both games, but was substituted in each. The relationship between player and coach Ricardo Ferretti was beginning to hit unsettled times. It was a situation that would only deteriorate over time.

In the Semi-Finals, River Plate, the club Tigres had bested in the group stages, overcame Guaraní of Paraguay, booking themselves a place in the final. If Tigres were to join them, they would need to eliminate Internacional of Brazil. In the middle of July, the Mexican club travelled to the coastal city of Porto Alegre for the first leg, but the team representing the visitors though would show major changes.

The previous month, young Mexican winger Jürgen Damm had been signed in big money deal from Pachuca, and French striker André-Pierre Gignac joined from Marseille. Both would feature in the final stages of the tournament, meaning there was no place for Joffre Guerrón, who was relegated to the bench. A similar pattern would occur in domestic games, with him largely restricted to substitute appearances when Damm had been withdrawn. To many fans it seemed a harsh move. The Ecuadorian was full of goals and creative ability, whereas it would take Damm until October to notch his first goal for the club.

Despite a 2-1 defeat to the Brazilians, with the Ecuadorian an unused substitute, and many calls for Guerrón to return for the home leg where victory was required, Ferretti chose to retain Gignac and Damm at Guerrón’s expense. A goal inside the first 20 minutes from the French striker seemed to see the decision vindicated and, as the club flowed into a three goal, lead it was confirmed. A late goal for the Brazilians by Lisandro López would have caused a few last-minute worries, but Tigres saw out the win and were through to the final.

While celebrations followed, for Joffre Guerrón the die was seemingly cast, with his time at Tigres surely running out. If any confirmation was required, it was delivered in the that final against River Plate. The first leg was played at the Estadio Universitario and, in a goalless draw with the home team in desperate need of inspiration, Joffre Guerrón wasn’t even in the squad.

The second leg was played on 5 August, with Guerrón back on the substitutes’ bench. He did get on the field eventually, as Ferretti threw caution to the wind with his club two goals down and heading for defeat, but there was little that the now dispirited Guerrón could do reverse the impending loss. River Plate lifted the trophy, and despite his trials, tribulations and exclusions – perhaps to the chagrin, and embarrassment of Ferretti – Guerrón was again awarded the MVP of the tournament by FIFA. Before the year was out, after winning the Liga MX trophy with the club, he left Tigres.

By now, Joffre Guerrón was 30 years old and, for a player whose game was built on power and dynamism, his talents were inevitably thought to be falling into abatement. He joined Mexican club Cruz Azul, staying for a year and scoring eight times in 30 games. A career where he had been adored by fans across the globe ended with a series of games seeing him booed as his diminished powers failed to reignite. The following term saw a move to Pumas. It was a gamble by both club and player. Could the new club spark a revival of form? Sadly, it wasn’t to be and after a dismal time there, he left in 2018.

In August of 2018, Joffre Guerrón returned to his native Ecuador joining Barcelona of Guayaquil. At the time, the President of the club was none other than José Francisco Cevallos, the goalkeeper who had done as much as Guerrón to help Liga to their greatest triumph. Cevallos would later confirm that the signing was “a personal recommendation.” Going on to say that “I’ve asked for it because I know him well, we’ve been partners. He is a winner. It is said that he has not played for eight months, and is more than 30 years old, but I know him well and he is a winner.” It could have been a fairy-tale swansong for the player, but sadly it wasn’t to have a happy ending. In January 2019 the contract was ended by mutual consent.

In a career spanning almost 450 games across four continents, Joffre Guerrón would not only score 107 goals, and assisting in many more, he would also entertain fans with his skill and style dancing feet to the fore both on and off the field. So, perhaps, if you ever get offered a chance to suggest some of the greatest players to emerge from South America during this century, consider promoting the case of Dinamita, his dancing shoes, powerful shot, and his two Copa Libertadores MVP awards.

(This article was originally produced for the ‘Footy Analyst’ website).

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