Paulo Wanchope is a legend in Costa Rican soccer.
The 31-year-old striker played in two World Cups and scored 45 goals in 76 appearances. Having started his career at CS Herediano, Wanchope made his name in England, playing for DerbyCounty, West Ham United and ManchesterCity.
However, increasingly hampered by knee injuries, for which he has undergone seven surgeries, he moved away from England in 2004, playing for clubs in Spain, Japan, Argentina and the United States before returning to finish his career with CS Herediano last year.
He played his last game for La Sele, the Costa Rican national team, in a friendly against Sweden on Jan. 13, before bowing out completely the following week after playing for his club against Brujas FC.
Wanchope was born and raised in Heredia, north of San José, into a sporting family: His brothers Javier and Carlos both played professional soccer.
He and his wife, Brenda Carballo, whom he married in 2001, have one daughter, 5-year-old Pamela, and the couple is expecting a second child in May.
The retired soccer star recently spoke with The Tico Times in his office in Heredia:
TT: Did you feel emotional on your retirement?
PW: It was really nice, if quite nostalgic, my last game for the national side, with all the people there, the applause, the affection. It left a strong impression and was a great experience. It was really cool, because (my retirement from) the national side came first, with all supporters, then I said goodbye in Heredia as well, with the Heredia fans. Again, that was nostalgic because it was the club where I started out.
You were a promising basketball player. Why did you decide to pursue a career in soccer?
Yes, I got a scholarship to go to high school in the United States, and I had the chance to go to university there. However, I had the opportunity to go to the World Youth Championships in Qatar in 1995, and from then on I decided on a career in soccer.
You moved to England in 1996 when you were only 20 years old. Was that difficult?
Moving to a new place is always tough, but I was really keen to go. When I realized that I had an opportunity to go to England, I was thrilled. I knew that I was going to face a lot of challenges but also that I would have to get through them if I wanted to make progress.
How does the style of play in England compare to Costa Rica ?
There is no comparison (laughs). It is much faster and more difficult. Also, unlike here, there is constant physical contact working hard, tussling for the ball. And I liked that.
And the fans there are really passionate. There is a culture of respect for soccer players. Obviously there are some problems no matter where you go, but in England there is an atmosphere in the stadiums that you just do not find anywhere else in the world.
How did you find playing in the United States ?
The United States came as quite a surprise. There is a good intensity to the game there, and it is growing all the time. The atmosphere is very different from Europe, but it was a good feeling to be a part of a league that is on the up.
You played all around the world. Was it difficult to be constantly on the move?
Well, more than anything else, I am very lucky, as my wife went with me and supported me in everything and soon adapted wherever we were. With Pamela, it was not that hard, as she was still a baby, and she did not really understand what was going on. That made it easier.
What are your fondest memories from your career?
My debut for DerbyCounty against Manchester United (when he beat several players to score a memorable goal) is one. I was playing at Old Trafford, I scored, and we went on to win the game that was brilliant. The World Cups were both great experiences as well.
Was it difficult dealing with the fame that success brought you?
You get used to it When I was 10 or 15 years old, I went out to get autographs and photos. So I understood, and I think people responded to that. Pamela finds it strange because she does not understand. It bothers her sometimes, but now she asks for some paper to sign as well.
Was it a difficult decision to retire?
Yes, that was really tough. I am still young and I still have a lot of energy, but I am conscious that the knees are not up to it. Recovering from games takes longer and it is hard work in the gym to keep the leg strong. If I did not have the problems with my knees, I am sure that I would still be playing in Europe.
So what does the future hold?
Right now, I have a project for a soccer school, and along with that I am looking to get my coaching qualifications. Also they are forming a commission (to oversee the construction of the new national stadium), and I will be part of that, suggesting ideas. I am very excited about that it will really help sport in the country.
Do you have any regrets?
Perhaps. I think leaving England was a key moment in my career. I didn´t have any guarantees that my contract would be renewed so when the opportunity came up, I decided to go to Spain. For various reasons, things did not really work out there, so I think that is one moment where, if I could go back, I would have changed.