When Mexico winger Pablo Barrera signed to West Ham in July of 2010, it seemed yet another sign post in the rise of Mexico as an international football power.
Nicknamed "Dynamite" in Mexico, Barrera looked primed to make an impact on England alongside other young Mexicans in the EPL like Carlos Vela, Giovani dos Santos and Manchester United’s soon-to-be new hero Javier Hernandez.
Upon signing a four-year contract with West Ham for a £4m fee, Barrera said, “To perform for West Ham and then move to a bigger team in European football are my goals. I want to show what I’m made of and succeed in Europe for many years.”
Opinion of Barrera is so high in Mexico that appeared on the cover of national magazine Futbol Total in June 2010 alongside Chicharito, Andres Guardado, Cuauhtemoc Blanco and goalkeeper Memo Ochoa in the build up to El Tri’s World Cup campaign.
The issue named “Las Sorpresas de Pablito” (Little Pablo’s Surprises) as one of the 15 reasons El Tricolor could win the World Cup, making special note of the winger’s deft ability to induce disequilibrium in opposition defenses.
Writer Erick Balderas also noted Barrera’s penchant for playing in multiple positions during the course of one game, drifting from central to attacking midfielder, to winger and back again.
Yet the promising play the winger showed in the 2010 World Cup, and the speed, precision, ambidextrous ability on the ball and expert crossing Barrera displayed with Mexico City’s Pumas remained unseen in his first season at Upton Park.
The 24-year-old made just 14 appearances with the Hammers across all competitions, and played in only six league matches. He had a difficult time adjusting to the bitter English weather, and Avram Grant quickly decided to marginalize the young Aztec.
It looked as though Barrera was a bust.
Then came the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup. In the six full matches Barrera played for Mexico he racked up three goals and four assists. Two of his goals came in Mexico’s tremendous second-half comeback against the United States in the final.
During that tournament, and more specifically during the Gold Cup final, Barrera displayed all of the speed, precision, creativity and technical ability he is known for in Mexico.
In the days before Barrera’s bravura performance in the Gold Cup final, reports surfaced that new West Ham manager Sam Allardyce was looking to unload the Mexican international in his restructuring of the team.
According to Mirror Football, La Liga side Real Zaragoza expressed interest in the young winger. Not surprisingly, Zaragoza's current manager is Javier Aguirre, who also headed up Los Aztecas during the 2010 World Cup.
Yet even before Barrera made good on his promise during the CONCACAF tournament, the Upton Park faithful spoke out against the proposed sale of the Mexican starlet.
Writing in the East London Advertiser, Matt Diner explained:
“In his early 20’s, living abroad for the first time, while yet to play 100 games Barrera needed nurturing, patience and an arm round the shoulder.
It’s unlikely that he found any such comforts from the Israeli [Avram Grant], who, as it has been made clear, had little time for one-on-one chats with many of the playing staff and was as tactically poor as they come.
New boss Sam Allardyce is a far more competent tactician and man-manager, someone who is known to get the best out of his players and if he succeeds, the Hammers will have something they have missed since Matthew Etherington left for Stoke, a threat from out wide.
Lack of creativity and supply from wide areas have dogged the Hammers since his departure and it is a roll Barrera could fill.”
Diner went on to note that Barrera simply needs to build his confidence and tolerance of London’s cold climate and he can be exactly the kind of player West Ham needs as it prepares to fight its way through the Championship and back into the top flight.
Of course, while staying in London would benefit West Ham in the long term, Barrera himself might be better off with the rumored move to Spain.
As a former coach of the Mexican National Team, Real Zaragoza manager Aguirre knows how to use Barrera to great effect and would make the best of the young winger. Steady play in a competitive top-flight league will give Pablito the experience he needs to grow and develop.
Spain’s weather would be less of a burden for the Mexican, who likes things warm and toasty, while La Liga’s less aggressive, more movement oriented style of play might be a better fit for Barrera than English football.
Ultimately, Barrera’s fate remains undecided as of this writing. Hopefully, his performances for El Tricolor in the CONCACAF Gold Cup are enough to convince Allardyce that the man is worth having around.
With the guidance of both Allardyce and new team captain Kevin Nolan, and a season of Championship play to build his confidence and accustom him to the English style of play and climate, Barrera will become instrumental to the success of West Ham’s new era.
Regardless of where he ends up at club level, Pablito will continue to remain a threat for El Tricolor in Mexico’s campaign to reach the 2014 World Cup.