SAO PAULO – Veteran Peruvian striker Paolo Guerrero is nearing the end of a more than year-long doping ban and is currently training in preparation for his much-awaited debut with Brazilian-league club Internacional.
The 35-year-old Guerrero, who has been serving a 14-month suspension handed down by the Lausanne, Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and has been out of action for the past six months, resumed training on Tuesday with the enthusiasm of an aspiring, youth-academy hopeful.
The Peruvian star was introduced as Internacional’s new striker last Aug. 15 after he was unable to reach an agreement to renew his contract with Rio de Janeiro club Flamengo, .
But Switzerland’s supreme court, the Swiss Federal Tribunal, dealt him a harsh setback a week later when it ended a freeze on his doping ban.
The reprieve, handed down by the Swiss Federal Tribunal in late May, had allowed Guerrero to compete in the 2018 World Cup in Russia, where Peru won a game in its first World Cup finals appearance in 36 years but failed to reach the tournament’s knockout stage.
But after that same high court lifted the freeze, Guerrero was barred from competing again until serving the remaining eight months of his suspension.
Guerrero, who was the captain of Peru’s national team in Russia, tested positive for a metabolite of cocaine following a World Cup qualifying game in October 2017. FIFA initially banned him from competing for 12 months but subsequently reduced that suspension to six months.
After that ban expired, however, a ruling by CAS last May lengthened his period of ineligibility to 14 months and would have prevented him from playing in the World Cup had the Swiss supreme court not intervened.
Guerrero’s return to practice was in compliance with FIFA rules, which allow a banned player to train at his club’s facilities 60 days prior to the end of a suspension.
Upon arrival at Internacional’s Parque Gigante training ground in Porto Alegre, the former Bayern Munich player began his session on Tuesday with a light jog, underwent some medical tests and joked and chatted with his teammates.
“Are you sure you can’t play right away?” Internacional executive director Rodrigo Caetano asked Guerrero tongue-in-cheek at the close of his first practice session.
Guerrero will undergo a personalized training regimen over the next two months in a bid to be fully fit by April 5, when he will be officially cleared to play.
The striker will start training on his own and then gradually join the other members of the Internacional squad, coached by Brazilian manager Odair Hellmann.
Guerrero is eager to don his new team’s uniform in an official match, according to Caetano, who said the club will help the player temper his impatience during the waiting process.
He could make his debut either in an eventual semifinal match of the 2019 Campeonato Gaucho (Rio Grande do Sul state’s top-flight soccer league) or in the group phase of the Copa Libertadores, South America’s premier club soccer competition.
The fans’ expectations are sky-high after the recently promoted club finished third in last year’s Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A (the highest level of Brazilian soccer) and booked a berth in the 2019 Copa Libertadores.
Guerrero’s role with Internacional in the 2019 season remains unclear though as he will have to beat out several other talented forwards for playing time, including Uruguayans Jonathan Alvez and Nicolas Lopez, both key attacking players for Internacional last season; Colombian Santiago Trellez, on loan from Sao Paulo; and Brazilian Rafael Sobis.
But the Peruvian pledged last August, when he was warmly welcomed by Internacional’s fans, that he would play with “effort, sacrifice and guts” on the field to reward them for their support.
And even though he will be 38 when the next World Cup is played in 2022 in Qatar, he said he was already looking forward to representing Peru once again and being in “optimal shape” for that competition.