Some countries have a knack of producing a plethora of quality footballers in a short space of time. In the early 1990s, Balkan countries such as Croatia and Yugoslavia had a so-called ‘golden generation’ of footballers. A decade later, big European clubs scurried to secure the latest Scandinavian talent. But in the past few years, a small Central American country has had some of it’s young stars filter across the Atlantic into the mainstream football world of Europe. That nation is Honduras.
Home to barely eight million people, Honduras has a fraction of the pool of players available to larger countries in it’s region, like Guatemala (13 million) and Mexico (110 million). Yet they have managed to develop a generation of players which have excelled far and beyond the expected level of star players in the past.
Ask the average football fan to name a famous Honduran footballer who played prior to 2005, and they would struggle immensely. Even the most prudent of football followers would struggle with the same question.
They might refer to the moment in the history of the sport that Honduras are famous for. In 1969, a World Cup qualifying match against El Salvador descended into mayhem as fans began to riot. The result was the Salvadorian army launching an offensive against the Honduras, in a conflict which lasted six days and became known as the ‘Football War’.
It is unlikely to become a popular topic of choice on Mastermind any time soon, but there is more 20th century Honduran-related football trivia. The country have qualified for just one World Cup back in 1982, when they managed to frustrate Northern Ireland and the hosts Spain by gaining a point from each game, before a loss to Yugoslavia sent them home at the first hurdle.
Success in the nineties and early noughties has been more hard to come by, but the national team had a successful 2001 Copa America, defeating Brazil en route to the semi-finals.
But the universal recognition of individual players had not existed.
Then came Wigan Athletic and Steve Bruce. In January 2008, the Latics confirmed the signings of Wilson Palacios and Maynor Figueroa. Bruce, who had already worked with Palacios during a loan deal at his previous club Birmingham, had given two young, completely untried players the chance to compete in the Premier League, their only previous experience being at a league in a Central American backwater.
Both Figueroa and Palacios took time to settle but, as the 2008/09 season kicked off, both had found their feet and adjusted to the pace of the English game. Palacios in particular quickly began to establish himself as an energetic and tenacious central midfielder, who was keeping some of the best players in the league under wraps. Heads soon turned- Sir Alex Ferguson one of several parties interested in his services.
Now another international Hendry Thomas has become Roberto Martinez’s first signing at the JJB Stadium. He will certainly look to follow in the footsteps of those that have made their name already.
They aren’t the only Hondurans to spread their wings. David Suazo and Julio Cesar de Leon have both impressed in Italy, the former now plying his trade at Portugese giants Benfica after appearing for Inter Milan in the past couple of seasons.
The experience these players have gained from their European travels is undoubtedly being transferred to the performances of the national team. Honduras currently sit in third place in the qualifying group for the 2010 World Cup, a point above Mexico after beating them 3-1 earlier in the competition. Third place would be enough to head to South Africa next summer.
Maybe then the Hondurans will continue to shock us?