Even the most loyal of AC Ajaccio fans would have known this season would be tough. Despite their excellent home record in Ligue 2 it took a double from Jean-Francois Riviere against Nimes for the Corsican side to secure promotion back to France’s top flight. The battle had only begun.
Manager Olivier Pantaloni knew the task ahead. How could he keep Ajaccio in Ligue 1 on the smallest budget in the league (€16 million)? Why not sign one of the best keepers outside of Europe? So he did.
Capped 45 times for Mexico and boasting 235,000 followers on twitter, Guillermo Ochoa is a phenomenon across the Atlantic. In the summer Ochoa was courted by clubs in Spain, Turkey, Greece and of course new rich boys Paris Saint-Germain. Disaster struck when five Mexican players, including Ochoa tested positive for an illegal substance.
By the time Ochoa’s name was cleared the damage had already been done. Clubs had lost interest, but not Ajaccio. Their interest remained, short of options and impressed by the islanders continued pursuit for his signature, Ochoa signed.
The player would have the chance to impress in a top European league and Ajaccio could ride the wave of the massive fan base enjoyed by “Memo”. Ajaccio were installed as one of the favourites to go straight back down, and there was no doubt Ochoa would be busy at his new club.
Opening the season at home against Toulouse would be a tough start, but the Mexican was up to the challenge, although he pulled out five saves and was very impressive, he couldn’t stop his side going down 2-0.
After a busy debut in Ligue 1 the pressure wasn’t going to let up any time soon. Ajaccio’s second game saw them take on Remi Garde’s Lyon side. Facing the strike force of Lisandro Lopez and Bafetimbi Gomis the ‘keeper had to be at his very best to keep Les Gones out.
Wave after wave of Lyon attack rushed towards the Ajaccio net and time after time Ochoa was there to deny them. Frederic Sammaritano gave Ajaccio a surprise lead, the pressure from the home side increased, but Ochoa remained defiant.
During the game the keeper pulled out seven saves and watched Lyon hit the woodwork at least four times. The fairytale started to look possible. With only seven minutes left Lyon found a way past the Mexican, Lisandro Lopez back post header was expertly placed and Ochoa was left helpless.
Since that spirited performance against Lyon Ochoa’s teammates have struggled to find their feet in Ligue 1. Four defeats, one draw and a victory over Valenciennes saw them go into this weekend’s game with Marseille in 19th position.
Even with Marseille struggling to find some form l’OM were huge favourites to pick up all three points at home, though Ajaccio made them work for it. In the first 30 minutes Ochoa made eight saves, including Andre Ayew’s 21st minute penalty. The Mexican was playing like a ‘keeper possessed.
Marseille and Ayew did find a way to break down the Mexican wall. The Ghanaian strikers turn and finish quarter of an hour before the break gave the home side the lead and the game eventually finished 2-0, again it was Ayew with a late strike sealing the points.
Throughout the game Ochoa made 13 saves. According to Opta this is the highest recorded amount in any of Europe’s top five leagues, the Champions League and the Europa League. Not bad for a goalkeeper playing for the side with the second most goals conceded in Ligue 1.
The fans in Corsica have had very little to cheer about so far this season. The performances of Frederic Sammaritano, Johan Cavalli and Christian Kinkela have given small sparks of inspiration, but the 54 saves from Guillermo Ochoa so far this season have given the fans a glimmer of hope that their stay in Ligue 1 could go beyond this season.
Regardless of where Ajaccio play their football next season, it seems very unlikely that with a WhoScored.com rating of 6.69, that Guillermo Ochoa will be playing his football in Corsica next season.