Paulo Wanchope can’t help but be labeled with the “veteran journeyman” tag, even though the striker is keen to point out he is still only 30 years old.
That puts the much-traveled Costa Rican in the latter stages of his prime, for sure, but not quite ready for the knacker’s yard, and the forward says he has plenty of goals left in him.
Wanchope’s performance at last year’s World Cup lends credence to his claims: He scored twice in the 4-2 loss to host Germany in the opening game at Munich’s Allianz Arena.
A shade over six months later, and his surroundings are a little more austere — the training ground of new club FC Tokyo, the J. League team he signed a one-year contract with late last year.
It is the ninth stop of Wanchope’s colorful career. He began in Costa Rica with Herediano, moved to England with Derby County in 1997 and then on to West Ham United, Manchester City, Spain’s Malaga, Qatar’s Al Garafah, Herediano and, most recently, Argentina’s Rosario Central.
He has been a national team mainstay throughout and is the all-time leading scorer for Costa Rica, with 45 goals in 71 internationals. No surprise he is considered the country’s greatest-ever player.
FC Tokyo got in touch at the tail end of last year while Wanchope was experiencing what he calls “payment problems” at Rosario.
The Gasmen saw experience and goals written all over the rangy striker. Wanchope is aware of what is expected.
“My role now is that I am an experienced player, so I need to help others to develop, and also, they brought me over here to score some goals,” he said after training earlier this week.
“I haven’t really got a target for goals, I’ve never seen the league so I don’t really know the standard of the game and the opponents, but it would be great if the team ended up first.”
First? Didn’t anyone tell him FC Tokyo finished 13th last season? Yes, but Wanchope says there is a buzz among the players that they are in with a shout of winning the J1 title for the first time.
“I was told we have a good chance because we signed Takashi Fukunishi and the others told me he is a good player, was the captain of the other team (Jubilo Iwata) and played in two World Cups, so the team is now stronger,” Wanchope said.
The presence of Wanchope can only add to the team’s strength. But that is if — and it’s a big if — he can keep injury free. His time at Manchester City, in particular, was marred by a long-term knee problem.
The silky-skilled Wanchope has also struggled with a maddening inconsistency over the years. For a player nicknamed “The Cobra” because of his deadliness in front of goal, the 193-cm striker also does a good impression of both a graceful gazelle and a bumbling giraffe.
In a nutshell, Wanchope delights and infuriates fans in equal measure.
But he says he is feeling confident ahead of the new season in another new country: “I’ve been everywhere, all over the world. Getting to know the different types of culture is good. For me, it is always good to have a new challenge, and I still have the desire,” he says.
He is so far unsure of who his main strike partner will be. He knows of Lucas, scorer of 18 goals last season, and the Brazilian is expected to get the nod ahead of Sota Hirayama, who returned to Japan from Holland last season, although either player (183 and 190 cm, respectively) will combine with Wanchope to awkward effect for opposing defenses.
Wanchope should make his league debut on March 3, the first day of the new season. It will be almost 10 years to the day he announced his arrival in English soccer for Derby County in a 3-2 victory over Manchester United, scoring a stunning individual goal still talked about among the Rams’ faithful.
It is one of many good memories Wanchope has of his time in the Premier League and first division and he admits he may yet finish his career back in England.
“To be honest, I miss playing in England. They were great years for me. I played there for seven or eight years and still now when I see games from England I get very nostalgic,” Wanchope says.
“It won’t be easy to go back to Europe, but you never know . . . maybe I’ll end up in England.”
If he does, The Gasmen will be hoping he goes out on a high.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.