Fan protests kept Fredy Guarín at FC Internazionale Milano this summer and the Colombia midfielder is repaying that loyalty as he prepares to face former club AS Saint-Étienne.
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In the summer, FC Internazionale Milano were on the verge of a deal with Juventus that would have taken Fredy Guarín to Turin in exchange for Mirko Vučinić. The players had already cleared their lockers but the Nerazzurri fans protested so much that owner Erick Thohir suddenly decided to block the transfer.
The Colombia midfielder had just scored four goals in 32 Serie A games for a second consecutive season with the Nerazzurri. Yet Guarín had also shown the potential to become a new leader in a team which was waving goodbye to heroes of the 2010 UEFA Champions League triumph like Javier Zanetti, Walter Samuel, Esteban Cambiasso and Diego Milito.
Guarín was happy to stay. "I could really feel the love of the fans," he said after a 7-0 home win against US Sassuolo Calcio in mid-September. "I also like the new role I have in the team, closer to the forwards. It allows me to create more assists and score goals."
Things did not continue to go so well for Inter in Serie A, with the Nerazzurri suffering consecutive defeats by Cagliari Calcio (4-1 at home) and ACF Fiorentina (3-0 away) before Guarín scored in a 2-2 weekend draw against SSC Napoli. However, they are on maximum points after two matchdays in UEFA Europa League Group F as the 28-year-old Guarín prepares to face his former team AS Saint-Étienne on Thursday.
The South American arrived in Europe aged only 20, loaned by Envigado FC to St-Étienne in 2006/07 after a brief spell at CA Boca Juniors. Les Verts made his contract permanent the following year although Guarín failed to leave an impression at the Geoffroy-Guichard, especially after coach Ivan Hašek was replaced by Laurent Roussey.
"What I remember from St-Étienne is that it was cold and there was nothing to do in the city," Guarín said last year. "But I always take the positives. I discovered Europe there and that experience made me stronger mentally."
In 36 Ligue 1 outings, Guarín scored just once and was sold to FC Porto in 2008 for €1m, plus Paulo Machado. A bit-part player for most of his first two years in Portugal, he slowly managed to earn more space in the team and became a key man in André Villas-Boas's treble-winning side, registering five Liga goals and as many in 14 UEFA Europa League outings as Porto saw off compatriots SC Braga in the 2011 final.
He continued to be a first choice with Porto for the first half of the next campaign before joining Inter in January 2012. After two and half seasons at the Giuseppe Meazza, though, he seems still far from fully realising his great potential. "Given the ability he has, I want him to become a top player," said Inter coach Walter Mazzarri. "He just needs to be more consistent but we are working on this. I think he is one of those players with a huge margin for improvement."