Julian de Guzman is calling it a career.
The veteran Canadian midfielder announced his retirement on Monday, bringing to an end an 18-year career that saw him play in Spain’s La Liga, Germany’s Bundesliga and Major League Soccer, and earn a record number of caps for his country.
De Guzman, 35, made the announcement in Ottawa, where he played for the Ottawa Fury in the NASL for the past two years. He will remain with the Fury as an assistant coach.
He retires as the all-time leader in appearances (89) for the Canadian national team, having scored four goals since debuting in 2002.
“I’m very honoured and thankful for such a great career and I’m proud to be Canadian,” de Guzman said in a news release. “I’ve went through a lot, had to sacrifice everything to do what I love, but I don’t regret anything.
“I’ve dedicated my entire career to Canada. This is the love of my life.”
During his international career, de Guzman participated in four cycles of FIFA World Cup qualifying. He was named captain of the Canadian team in 2013.
A native of Toronto, de Guzman was voted Canadian player of the year in 2008, and helped Canada reach the semifinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2002 and 2007. In total, he took part in a Canadian record six Gold Cups, earning tournament MVP honours in 2007. He was also a tournament all-star in 2007, 2009, and 2013.
“Julian de Guzman is a Canadian soccer trailblazer whose impact on the game will be felt well into the future,” Canada Soccer president Victor Montagliani stated.
Indeed, de Guzman left his hometown of Scarborough, Ont., while still a teenager to go to France where he turned out for the reserve side of Olympique Marseille. He went on to play for clubs in Germany before moving on to Spain. It was a bold move by an unproven player from Canada to go to Europe in the first place, but he inspired other young Canadian players to try their luck by playing abroad.
A standout with Deportivo La Coruna in La Liga (he earned team MVP honours for the 2007-08 season), de Guzman is probably best remembered for his tenure with TFC.
He signed a three-year, multi-million dollar contract with Toronto in 2009, becoming the first Canadian designated player in MLS history. De Guzman was only 28 at the time, and his signing went against the grain of previous DPs in MLS—the majority of players inked to DP deals by the league up to that point were aging veterans who were in the twilight of their respective careers and looking for one final payday. De Guzman was still in his prime.
“He’s 28 years old. He’s not 33 or 34, coming home just looking for a paycheque,” former TFC general manager Mo Johnston said at the time.
De Guzman earned regular plaudits and praise from the Spanish press for his poised performances with Deportivo, establishing himself as one of the best holding midfielders in La Liga. Their was genuine belief he could help turn around TFC’s fortunes, and the fact that he entered MLS at the height of his career was a major coup by the league.
“If you look at Julian’s history … he’s been a tremendous player over there for Deportivo la Coruna,” Johnston said.
“You don’t just go over there [to Spain], put on your cleats and start playing. You’re up against the best players in the world, and at the age he’s coming home at, I don’t think many DPs within this league will [be as effective] as Julian.”
It didn’t quite work out that way, though.
De Guzman won three Canadian club championships during his time with Toronto, but he largely underwhelmed with the Reds, and was eventually traded to FC Dallas midway through the 2012 campaign. De Guzman left the team having scored two goals and recording eight assists in 65 league appearances since making his MLS debut on Sept. 19, 2009
Perhaps no other player in Toronto FC history divided opinion more than de Guzman.
He had a legion of staunch critics who felt he was overpaid and did not live up the designated player tag, and failed to duplicate the top form he demonstrated in Spain.
His many supporters were just as unwavering in their belief that the Canadian added a touch of class, quality and skill to a TFC team that often struggled to be competitive on the field.
“Julian loved his time [in Toronto] and loved [TFC’s] fans. His only reason for playing in MLS at that stage of his career was solely to play for his hometown club, so this trade was a bit of a disappointment, but that’s football,” Courtney James, de Guzman’s agent, told Sportsnet hours after the trade with Dallas.
After leaving Dallas, de Guzman went on to play in Germany and Greece, before returning to Canada in 2015 when he signed with Ottawa. De Guzman, who turns 36 in March, missed most of the 2016 NASL season due to a knee injury.