Beaming with pride and with a broad grin etched on his face, Mo Johnston strode into the press room at BMO Field like a man who just conquered the world
And when you consider the magnitude of his achievement, that's exactly what Toronto FC's general manager did.
After a lengthy pursuit and countless negotiating sessions, Johnston officially unveiled Julian de Guzman as Toronto FC's first designated player on Friday, having signed the outstanding Canadian midfielder to a contract that ties him to the Major League Soccer club until the end of the 2012 season.
De Guzman, a native of Scarborough, Ont., joins Toronto FC after carving out a successful reputation for himself in Europe, first with German club Hannover and then with Deportivo la Coruna in Spain, here he played the last four years.
A free agent since the end of the 2008-09 Spanish league season, de Guzman had offers from other European clubs, but decided to come home where he will earn a seven-figure salary with Toronto.
Under MLS rules, teams are granted one designated player roster spot that they can use to sign a marquee star, with only $415,000 US of his contract counting against the $2.3 million salary cap.
It's a big gamble to make by Johnston, especially considering how past designated players have flopped in this league. While it would be premature to label the move a success before de Guzman has even kicked a ball for Toronto, there are several compelling reasons to believe he will become the most successful DP in league history.
Not the least of which is his age.
At 28, de Guzman joins MLS at a time when his best years lie ahead, unlike past international stars who have signed designated player contracts, taking advantage of their star power in order to earn one big final payday as they enter the twilight of their careers.
"He's 28 years old. He's not 33 or 34, coming home just looking for a paycheque," Johnston said.
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 what many soccer critics consider the best league in the world.
As one of the few Canadian-born players to make it big in Europe, de Guzman enters MLS at the height of his playing prime.
"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."
De Guzman agrees he's at the top of his game.
"I feel that from what I experienced in Europe ... I feel like I'm at my peak. So to be part of an up-and-coming organization like TFC … It couldn't be any better."
Another thing that de Guzman has going for him is his versatility.
Although used in a holding role as a defensive midfielder for Deportivo, de Guzman has assumed a more attacking and creative role for his country, having scored four goals in 40 appearances since making his debut for the Canadian national team at the 2002 Gold Cup.
"He's a leader the way he plays, he likes to control the game," explained Toronto defender Jim Brennan. "Going forward, he creates an awful lot of chances and he works hard defensively, so I think all around he's a great player and he's one of the best players Canada has ever produced."
Like Brennan, Toronto teammate Dwayne De Rosario has played alongside de Guzman on the Canadian national team and can attest to the former Deportivo star's work ethic.
"He's a hard worker," stated the Toronto forward. "Not only does he have skill and creativity to score goals, but he also works hard off the ball."
And the fact that de Guzman is returning home to make a living — something that would have been impossible to even conceive of when he left Canada as a 16-year-old to pursue a pro soccer career — means there's extra incentive for him to produce in MLS.
"Me being a Torontonian and a Canadian, it's an honour [to play for Toronto FC]" de Guzman said. "Just like it is to represent my national team whenever I get a chance to, and just like it was playing in Europe as a Canadian.
"This is the ultimate goal that I was always working towards."