x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Maynor Figueroa – a Wiganer who goes the distance

The frequent flying Honduran has made himself at home in England’s north-west and a crowd favourite too, writes Richard Jolly.

Maynor Figueroa has become a regular at Wigan after his loan move to the club in 2008. Warren Little / Getty Images
Maynor Figueroa has become a regular at Wigan after his loan move to the club in 2008. Warren Little / Getty Images

One of the consequences of football's status as the global game is that different and distant places can suddenly find themselves linked. And so it is with the Central American country of Honduras and the Lancashire town of Wigan.

"We have beautiful beaches, forests and islands," said Maynor Figueroa of his native land. The same cannot be said for his adopted home, immortalised by the author George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier, as well as rugby league and its trademark dish.

"I've tried a pie because they are popular here," Figueroa said. "I like to try different cultures, but I don't eat so many pies. Wigan is a calm and safe place."

It is also a place that has had a distinct Honduran connection. Wilson Palacios was the trailblazer, arriving in January 2008. He was followed by Figueroa and Hendry Thomas and, while the two midfielders have moved on, there is interest at the DW Stadium in a fourth Honduran, Roger Espinoza.

"The Brazilians don't want to come and play for Wigan," the former manager Steve Bruce once said. "But the Central Americans will."

They do so despite gruelling journeys. "A typical international break for me involves around 15 hours of travelling, depending upon the connections," Figueroa said. "In the last break, I flew from Manchester to Chicago, then on to Miami, then on to Honduras, which I had to repeat coming back, arriving on the Thursday before we went to Old Trafford."

It was perhaps no surprise that Wigan duly lost 4-2. Their Latin American contingent, which includes the Paraguayan Antolin Alcaraz and the Chilean Jean Beausejour, do not have private jets at their disposal.

"It is my job. I am proud to be a Wigan player and would do anything for the club as I would for my country, so I never wish it was something I wasn't doing," Figueroa said.

The road to Wigan Athletic began in Jutiapa, on the Caribbean coast, where Figueroa was born in 1983. He began his career at La Victoria before moving to Olimpia, his country's most successful club.

The Honduran league, like the Argentine and Mexican versions, has two seasons per year, the Apertura and the Clausura, and Figueroa helped Olimpia win five titles in his time there.

He became a full international and club captain, as well as attracting interest from Major League Soccer clubs. But, across the Atlantic, Wigan were alerted, too.

Figueroa joined, initially on loan, in January 2008, with the move then becoming permanent. "I wasn't playing so much in the first six months but we settled OK," he said.

He soon worked his way into the team, becoming such a regular that, in the defeat to Manchester United, he became only the second footballer to play 150 Premier League games for Wigan.

"It was a special landmark to reach," he said. "I'm one of the team's longest-serving players and with that comes a responsibility."

However, like Palacios, sold to Tottenham Hotspur for £12 million (Dh71.3m), Figueroa could have become one of Wigan's many profitable sales. Bruce was interested in taking him to Sunderland, while Figueroa was also scouted by Liverpool. Instead, he has become an adopted Wiganer.

Figueroa, 29, lives in nearby Warrington with his wife, Sandra. Theirs is a sporting marriage and he is not the only international in the family: she has played handball for Honduras. Figueroa's career for his country has encompassed 85 caps, including three games at the 2010 World Cup and four at the London 2012 Olympics.

Figueroa is probably best known in the Premier League for events on December 12, 2009. As a left-back he is an infrequent scorer, but his goals tend to be memorable. And, away at Stoke City three years ago, he took aim from 61 yards, embarrassing the goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen and winning the goal-of-the-season award.

Since then, Figueroa said: "When you get 50-60 yards from goal and fans shout 'shoot' you do consider it but if I did this every week the fans would be catching the ball more than the goalkeeper."

Whether it is shooting from his own half or crossing the Atlantic, long distances have become a theme of Figueroa's career.

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