ALLISTON, Ont. — Veteran Canadian international Julian de Guzman put soccer on hold this summer to focus on family.
The 33-year-old midfielder, who has won 71 caps for Canada, finished out the 2013-14 season with Greece’s Skoda Xanthi. Then he stowed his football boots.
“For the first time in 17 years in my career, I finally put somebody or something before football. That was my kids,” he said. “I haven’t spent a lot of time with them, especially during my career, with all the travel and playing abroad. But I made a promise to them.”
His children – daughter Liya Sade is 9 and son Julian Bobby is 6 – live with their mother in Saarbrucken, Germany.
De Guzman’s career has taken him to Germany (FC Saarbrucken and Hannover 96), Spain (Deportivo la Coruna), Major League Soccer (FC Dallas and Toronto) and most recently Germany (Jahn Regensburg) and Greece.
The farther from Germany, the less he was able to see family. But he did his best to make up for it this summer.
After finishing out the season in Greece, de Guzman flew to Brazil for 2 1/2 weeks, watching younger brother Jonathan play for the Netherlands in the World Cup. Jonathan, Toronto-born like his brother, earned his Dutch citizenship with his time as Feyenoord but now plays for Napoli in Italy.
After the tournament, the two brothers and their kids holidayed with the grandparents in Ibiza, Spain. Then de Guzman brought his kids back to Canada.
“Their dream land is Canada or Toronto,” he said after a Canada practice at the team’s training home north of Toronto. “So I promised them I would bring them there and spent about a month in Toronto. Got to enjoy their time with the family there, as well. Now that they start school, I could put football back as No. 1 priority.
“After that experience with the kids, I definitely feel refreshed, ready to go again. And I had a chance to get some training in as well when I had them in Germany before coming to Canada. I’m very, very excited for this new season ahead of me.”
De Guzman is learning away from the field, as well. His daughter is akin to a teenager, he says, and has been after him to spend more time with them.
“She needs that father figure, so I have to make myself available as much as possible.”
After his stint in MLS, where he rarely saw the kids, de Guzman opted to return to Germany to be closer to them. He spent six months with Regensburg before heading to Greece.
Xanthi wanted him back for another season, at a slightly reduced salary, but de Guzman resisted because the travel time to his family was eight to 10 hours with connections.
As he searches for a new club, he has been looking at German third-division teams. His age is working against him and they are cheaper alternatives, he admits.
“Germany now has gone for the younger generation,” he said.
Austria or Switzerland would also work. “Anything close to Germany,” he said.
De Guzman has it down to available flights. “Direct flights to Frankfurt (150 kilometres from Saarbrucken) would be something.”
He has had offers from Greece, but none so far have ticked those boxes.
In the meantime, de Guzman continues to play a valuable role for Canada.
He plays holding midfielder in a 4-1-4-1 or 4-4-2 formation and, thanks to his experience in Spain and ability to speak Spanish, can help coach Benito Floro get his message across.
Given his experience in Europe, de Guzman is also much appreciated by younger teammates who can use him as a sounding board for their career and travels. Toronto FC’s first designated player, he also knows MLS.
Canada hosts Jamaica in an international friendly Tuesday at BMO Field in Toronto.