Nery Castillo doesn't
always try to say the right things, but on Tuesday -- five hours after arriving
in Chicago for the first time since signing with the Fire -- the outspoken
soccer star avoided controversy.
Castillo's goal at this point in his career? To win a title with the Fire, the 26-year-old Mexican playmaker said. His interest in one day returning to England's Premier League? He claimed he's focused on winning a title with the Fire.
His thoughts on English cuisine?
easy to please," said Castillo, who will be introduced during a press
conference on Thursday at Toyota Park, in Spanish. "And my (girlfriend)
cooks what I like."
Castillo joins the Fire, his fourth team in five years, as a designated player on a one-year loan from the Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk. The Fire has the option to buy Castillo should the team like what it sees. Few could have predicted this three years ago when Shakhtar paid Greece's Olympiakos 20 million Euros for the hot young prospect.
In the summer of 2007, Castillo proved to be a nightmare for opponents with his speed and dribbling during Mexico's Gold Cup games at Soldier Field. He scored four goals for El Tricolor in South America's Copa America tournament weeks later, including one against Brazil.
Since then, the forward/midfielder has seen his career cool off.
Castillo found himself in the doghouse early on in his stint with Shakhtar. During a league match, he refused to allow a teammate to take a penalty kick and shot it himself — and missed. By December, he was loaned out to Manchester City (where he was sidelined by a shoulder injury) and then the Ukraine's Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk the next season.
"I'm used to the moving," Castillo said. "And my (girlfriend) understands the life of a soccer player."
Besides the club-hopping, Castillo has been dealing with being left off of Mexico's World Cup roster and also criticism from the Mexican media. The bad blood escalated during a press conference in March 2009 when Castillo told Mexican media: "You know the difference (between you and me)? I'm in Europe and you're in Mexico. And you're always going to be in Mexico."
Castillo admitted one of the reasons he chose to play for the Fire instead of returning to play in his home country was the Mexican media.
"Chicago was very interested in me and appreciated me," he said. "They appreciated my style of play. And in Mexico, honestly, lately the press has criticized me a lot. They've been criticizing me for two years. They say things that aren't true. I try not to let it bother me, but it's frustrating."
The criticism took a toll on Castillo, but it paled in comparison to what he had been dealing with at home.
Both of his parents were battling cancer as he jumped from team to team in Europe. His mother died in January 2009. Eleven months later, his father, a former soccer player himself, died.
Fire coach Carlos de los Cobos, who played against Castillo's father in the Mexican league, believes the change of scenery will help.
"Nery has had his problems," de los Cobos said. "His parents passed away and he's been looking to reignite his career. He hasn't had much continuity lately. I think he was looking for a change and a chance to grow as a player."
Fire technical director and Greece-native Frank Klopas spent much of Tuesday with Castillo after picking him up from the airport. Klopas had done his homework on his newest signing and was confident that Castillo can turn his game — and the fourth place Fire — around.
"I know what he can do," Klopas said. "He's a dangerous player. He'll be great for the league and our fans. As for Nery the person, the people I know, the people I trust, tell me he's a good guy.
"In the last year and a half, he hasn't played. For whatever reason, things didn't happen. You hear stories, but I see a player who is in his prime. We believe in him and his ability, and he's coming in with the right attitude."
Castillo made the trip from Greece to Chicago with his girlfriend, who is pregnant with twins, and his three-year-old daughter. The couple met when Castillo played eight seasons with Olympiakos, for whom he scored 30 goals in 105 appearances, and communicate in Greek.
Yes, Castillo speaks English. No, he won't speak it during interviews.
"I get embarrassed speaking it sometimes," Castillo said. "Interviews are difficult because I'm afraid I'll make an error. I'm sure after talking with teammates and traveling with the team, I'll be OK in a few months."
During a break from his physical on Tuesday, Castillo had a chance to speak with former Fire designated player Cuauhtemoc Blanco on the phone. Like Castillo, many considered it a risk when the Fire signed the temperamental Blanco, then a 34-years-old with knee problems. Blanco would silence many of his critics with 16 goals and 26 assists in 62 regular season games before returning to play in Mexico after last season.
Castillo said he is aware of what Blanco accomplished with the Fire. He hopes to duplicate his fellow countryman's impact on the field and in the Toyota Park stands — with one difference.
"(Blanco) didn't win a championship in Chicago," Castillo said. "I want to win a championship here."