This interview appeared in FYP issue 28 - October 2011
Moving to a new country is always hard and there are lots of things to miss; your family, your friends, your pets. But for young Mexican Antonio Pedroza it was something else. "I love the Mexican food and I miss it a lot. It’s one of the biggest changes," says the 20-year-old. The striker is half English having been born and brought up in Chester before moving to central America aged two and as well as having dual nationality, has fondess for both countries. "I feel part of them both and they’re both important to me. Mexico was where I grew up, where all of my friends are and my family but I was born here and I love it here too."
Fellow South American Julian Speroni also knows of the pains of leaving his homeland - in his case Argentina - at a young age to try and make it as a footballer in Europe. He moved to Scotland to play for Dundee in 2001.
"It was by pure chance really,” he says. “I had an agent working for me who had sent out some videos and the Dundee manager at this time, Ivano Bonetti, watched the video with his goalkeeping coach and decided to ring me and ask if I fancied coming to play in Scotland. For me, it was an amazing opportunity at 20 or 21 years old but people had doubts, was it too early? Usually people play in their own country for a time and a few years later they go to Europe but for me it was very different, very early."
But he took the leap and Palace fans will forever be thankful for that as he moved to Selhurst Park three years later and hasn’t looked back. Well, apart from missing the food also. “Fortunately there is a good Argentine restaurant nearby where I go when I want nice meat,” he says with relief.
Jules was the same age as Pedroza when he made the plunge to move thousands of miles from home, but moving to a team that at the time were full of South Americans helped.
“It was cold, and it rained but I really enjoyed it. In fact, having lots of Argentines playing [at Palace] helped me, especially as it was the first time I’d left my country to play somewhere else. Originally I came solo, after a few months my girlfriend [now wife] came – once I’d sorted a house and stuff."
And after moving to the Eagles in 2004 Speroni had to wait almost three years for a proper run in the team, a chance he has not let slip since and has gone on to win the Player of the Year a record three years in a row. But there were times when he considered his future at Palace.
"It was in the back of my mind, thinking about finding another club where I’d get an opportunity,” he admits. “But I knew that one would come here eventually and that I could play and therefore I decided to stay and wait for my chance. With regards to the Premier League, we didn’t start well as a team and after a couple of mistakes the manager decided to change things. [No.1 choice at the time Gabor] Kiraly is a player with international and continental experience, an excellent player and also an excellent person. I have only the best memories of him."
And that patience is something young Pedroza could take note of. The striker hasn't featured in the first team yet despite joining in the summer after impressing on trial and in some of the pre-season games.
"I think it’s because of the change of country, culture and football,”?Pedroza says. “At the same time, the intensity is such that maybe I need time to adapt to how they play here, and there have been a few little injuries [for me] but I hope I can realise my dream and appear for the first team soon.
"The truth is that it’s been very difficult because of, more than anything, the way the game is played is very different. There is more intensity, the training here is much quicker, everything about the game here is much quicker. The truth is that I didn’t expect it to be so fast but these are things that you just have to adapt to. I’m trying to live with the changes.
"My weakness is I’m tiny! But I don’t consider it a huge weakness to be honest, I’m small but it gives me great mobility, so I’m not bothered. As far as strengths go, it probably is my mobility and movement in the box. As you see with [Manchester United striker and fellow Mexican] Chicharito, he is not so tall or strong but he always finds space in the area."
In fact Pedroza has been compared to the United star but he brushes off such suggestions with an embarrased swipe of the hand.
“Nooo! The truth is I would never compare myself to him. The fact is we’re completely different players, but at the same time I’m honoured because any comparison with Hernandez is good, of course. To have him as a symbol is excellent, he is a player who has played at World Cups and scored lots of goals in England so I would love to be able to do the same!
“I’ve always, always wanted to play like Michael Owen, he was my ultimate reference point. But for me, the best player ever must be Ronaldo,” he says puffing his cheeks and laughing, “the fat one. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player with these technical qualities, truly impressive.”
But before he can begin to try and emulate Big Ronny’s achievments, Pedroza needs some games in the Palace first team, and while they have been hard to come by, he has no grudges towards manager Dougie Freedman. "Yes, he’s very open. The truth is you can talk to him about anything and he will be there for whatever question you have, it’s another reason why I’m very happy here. It’s a wonderful club with a great coach who is very attentive to his players, truthfully my team-mates are fantastic and I’m already very content."
Speroni, meanwhile, has had to adapt the way he talks to Freedman, having been his team-mate at Palace for six years before the Scot was given the manager’s job at SE25.
"It feels a bit strange, calling him ‘gaffer’ or ‘boss’, but you get used to it. No longer is he my team-mate, but my manager and one has to listen to him now,” says Speroni, who believes the Doog was always likely to end up in the dugout.
“Yes, he always had the characteristics to become a manager, he understands the game, he gives orders, he communicates well, I always saw this in him, and the opportunity presented itself to him early!"
And opportunities don't come along often. Speroni is often lauded as the best Argentinian keeper never to have represented his national side but he says he does not regret staying at Palace despite offers to go to bigger teams.
“It’s a dream I’ve always had, to play for Argentina, but I know it will be difficult playing in the Championship, you have to be playing in the Premier League. I’ll always keep dreaming though. I don’t know. I’d love to get a chance, one chance so they could see.”
But there are perks by staying at Palace - besides the cheerleaders. Three POTY awards makes Jules a record breaker, something he still can’t quite comprehend.
"Sincerely, I find it hard to believe,” he adds. “It’s not normal to stay at a club so long these days, generally people change clubs all the time. To have arrived at this point is amazing for me, the people I’ve met, the fans, the people at the club, the owners, it’s amazing and I feel proud of everything I can achieve here. "
And with awards like that comes great responsibility, like the chance to help a fellow young South American.
“The truth is that Julian has helped me loads,” says Pedroza. “Sometimes when I don’t have a way to get anywhere, or I have to go somewhere far away, Julian sorts me out and he helps me with my English too, which is improving little by little.”
While the past for both is similar, the futures for both could not be more polarised; Speroni is eyeing the end of his career while Pedroza is ready to kick on.
"Currently, I have two and a half years left on my contract, my son is starting pre-school but we have family in Argentina… the family is something that we miss a lot," Speroni admits, while Pedroza is buzzing about the future.
"I have other dreams and there’s no time for regrets,” he says. “Now I’m at Crystal Palace and they’re doing very well!"