Few players can compare with the achievements of Martín Palermo. The Boca Juniors striker is 35, yet he continues to be one of the most prolific strikers in all of South America. With 201 goals to his name, Palermo holds the record for the most career goals of Boca's professional era.
But "The Titan" isn't sitting back and coasting on that distinction. He's always looking to surpass himself, even if he already has lifted every possible local and international trophy in existence at the club level. Palermo has been in incredible form since returning from an injury layoff in February, and will be hoping to steer Boca Juniors closer towards what would be a record seventh Copa Libertadores title.
Palermo's steadiness has paid off in another way, earning him his first national-team call-up in 10 years thanks to an appreciative Diego Maradona (though Palermo won't play in Wednesday's friendly against Panama due to Boca's Libertadores quarterfinal second leg with Defensor Sporting of Uruguay). If Palermo continues to impress at Maradona's favorite club, it certainly could boost his chances of making the Argentina squad for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
A classic target man whose best skills don't appear to be fading, Palermo hopes to end a glorious career at Boca Juniors. But he hasn't ruled out a long-rumored move to Major League Soccer, where he could team up with former Boca teammate Guillermo Barros Schelotto with the Columbus Crew.
SI.com recently caught up with Palermo to discuss the records he continues to break at Boca, his revitalized national-team aspirations and whether he'd be interested in an American adventure.
SI.com: With more than 200 goals, how does it feel to be Boca's leading scorer?
Palermo: It is a great honor. I always set myself goals, and this was one of them as soon as I arrived at Boca.
SI.com: What has been your greatest achievement as a player?
Palermo: There have been lots of them, and I can't single one out. But in this day and age, to stay in the history of such a huge club by being the maximum goal-scorer is one of them.
SI.com: You have won everything with Boca, including the Libertadores, the Intercontinental Cup, the Copa Sudamericana and several Argentine championships. After so much success. how do you continue to be motivated to keep on winning titles?
Palermo: I always think about surpassing what I have already achieved. And this club taught me that you have to think about winning things all of the time. There are always competitions to play, and that implies the possibility to win a new title each time. At Boca, you can never afford to relax.
SI.com: You always score goals in the important matches, like in the recent Superclásico against River Plate and in the Libertadores against Defensor Sporting last week. Do these kinds of matches give you more motivation to score?
Palermo: For me, all of the matches are important, and that is why I want to play all of the matches that I possibly can until the day of my retirement. And if I can score goals in each one of them, even better.
SI.com: Boca is struggling in the Argentine Clausura Championship, but is only a step away from securing passage into the quarterfinals of the Copa Libertadores. Does the team have what it takes to be South American champions again this year?
Palermo: Yes, we are focused on achieving this, even if we aren't at our best level. But in the final instances, the best Boca always appears.
SI.com: Of all of the youngsters Boca has, who do you see as future prospects for the Argentine national team?
Palermo: There are plenty of players in all of the positions. Pochi Chávez, Juan Forlín, Nicolás Gaitán, Pablo Mouche, Lucas Viatri. And on loan in Norway, there is Lucas Pratto, who I think has a great future.
SI.com: You only spent three seasons away from Argentina, in Spain with Villarreal, Real Betis and Deportivo Alavés from 2001 to '04. Would you have liked to have spent more time in Europe?
Palermo: Usually I don't regret the decisions I make. And particularly, returning to Boca was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Boca is my home, and luckily together we have been able to achieve important things.
SI.com: Your Boca contract expires on June 30. Is there a possibility you'd move abroad?
Palermo: Today my head is only at Boca and hopefully I can end my career here. Everything depends on the directors.
SI.com: At 35, did you think your days with the national team over, or did you have a glimmer of hope that one day you would return?
Palermo: I always had hope, but obviously each time I thought it was more difficult. But I never lost any hope. [Former Argentina coach] Alfio Basile had thought about calling me, but I got injured, and now the call-up from Maradona fills me with pride.
SI.com: It's still early, but is your objective to earn a place in the World Cup in South Africa next year?
Palermo: Hopefully, yes. Perhaps many thought that I wouldn't have any more opportunities to wear the shirt of the national team, but here I am. And who is to say that I won't earn myself a place in the World Cup?
SI.com: Many remember you for missing three penalties in one match against Colombia in the '99 Copa América. Do you think that might have played into your not receiving another call-up up until now?
Palermo: I don't know, and it doesn't worry me much. On that occasion, I took the decision and there was a huge risk. But thankfully Diego gave me another opportunity, and I will try to take full advantage of it.
SI.com: After Argentina was thrashed 6-1 by Bolivia in its last World Cup qualifier last month, what can be expected from Maradona with the national team?
Palermo: From the hard knocks, you always learn things. And Diego is very smart and capable. I think he will achieve great things with the national team, which he already did during his time as a player.
SI.com: What do you know about MLS? Have you seen any games?
Palermo: I've seen more matches since the arrival of Guille. I follow him, and from doing that, I have been able to watch several matches -- those that are televised in Argentina, of course.
SI.com: If you don't come to an agreement to renew your contract with Boca, would a possible move to MLS tempt you?
Palermo: It is something I always speak about with my agent [Gustavo Goñi, the same person who negotiated Schelotto's move to Columbus] because there are always rumors. But right now I'm only thinking about what will happen at Boca.
SI.com: Has Guillermo told you anything about MLS?
Palermo: He is very happy and well adapted. Most of all because last year he demonstrated his quality and helped his team win the title.
SI.com: A couple of years ago, it was reported that Guille tried to convince you to join him in Columbus. What happened?
Palermo: There were some talks but nothing came from it.
SI.com: MLS has signed lots of Argentines in the last few years, players of tremendous quality and some with national-team experience. The league also has been linked to others like Juan Sebastian Verón, Ariel Ortega and you. Why do you think Argentine players are so popular?
Palermo: Because the Argentine player generally makes a difference. And Guillermo provided evidence of that with Columbus last year.