Martin O’Neill arrived towards the end of my time in England. He was another manager with a different way of running the team who managed the group really well. He was also given a lot of resources to build a more competitive team, but still not to the level of the big teams in the Premier League. The budget was still different to the extent that we couldn’t really compete with those clubs at the top of the table; the squad was still a long way off.
That was always one of the main difficulties about coming from leagues where I was used to winning to a team that – at times – was fighting for survival.
But to be part of what eventually became the best league in the world, a tremendously competitive league, and to be successful in that league, is something that still makes me feel very proud.
And Aston Villa’s return to the Premier League makes me happy. I was deeply saddened by the fact that a team of such stature, such great history and with such great fans was playing in a division where it doesn’t belong.
“I had been a professional footballer for more than 20 years. I was comfortable with the decision I was taking to retire”
After England, I carried on my career in the MLS in the United States. It was almost by accident, because it was not something I planned. When the designated player rule was introduced, I got an invitation from the league, and then from New York Red Bulls, to be a part of it. I felt like I needed a change, so I accepted.
That was 2007. In that first group of players excluded from the salary caps at their respective clubs were David Beckham, Cuauhtémoc Blanco and me. I look back and think I was part of a generation that helped to transform football in the USA to a point where the game has grown exponentially. Both professionally and as a family, too, we enjoyed some spectacular years there.
I completed the circle of my adventure by going back to Colombia – although I hadn’t planned that either. It is easy to say that you will go back to the team where you started, the team you support. But you can never tell what will happen in the future.
This time, however, it happened.
I had already taken the decision to retire from football and settle in the United States.
When I was on holiday in Colombia, though, the offer came for me to go back to Nacional. A new project was being developed, and I would have specific sporting and organisational roles. I made the decision to return.
It was a bit selfish on my part, because it meant moving the whole family when the kids were a bit older, but it ended up being very rewarding. We built a really successful team and to be part of that was incredible for me. To close the cycle that way was extraordinary.
I retired after the final of the Copa Sudamericana (below) – against River Plate, of all teams. It was a very special moment, but also a bit difficult because it was my first time back at El Monumental after such a long time away. I was going to play the final against a team with which I had so much affinity.
In the end, I didn’t play in the game – but the people treated me fantastically. And it was in that precise moment, when we lost the final, that I took the decision to leave football.