Illustration by Federico Manasse
Hailing from a country not popularly renowned for its football culture, Venezuelan Juan Arango has represented his nation well on the international stage in a career where he has dominated in some of the most compelling leagues in the world. The midfielder, who possesses a keen eye for a pass and whose nimble footwork has dazzled in Germany and Spain, is Venezuela’s most popular footballer and the first from the country to make such an immense impact.
Born in Venezuela to Colombian parents, Arango’s career started off with native side Zulia where, for a year, he played 12 times and impressed many across the country, earning a move to the capital, where he played for Caracas – the country’s most successful football club, a move fit for an emerging star like him. The stint lasted a mere six months, but his ability on the ball was excellent, which helped him earn his first foreign move as Mexico came calling.
He became quite the journeyman in Mexico, with four spells at four different clubs building his profile. The first three came in four years, with Monterrey, Pachuca and Puebla all experiencing the wand of a left foot he had. He played over 170 times between 2000 and 2004 for the three sides, scoring 42 times and winning the CONCACAF Champions Cup in 2002 with Pachuca – his first and only major career trophy. It was enough for him to earn a move to Europe, where Mallorca in Spain claimed his services.
Spain has always been a friendly region for Latin American footballers, and Arango took his game to the next level in La Liga. He joined the club in the summer of 2004 and enjoyed a decent first half of the season, before a life-threatening injury against Sevilla, where he broke his cheekbone, swallowed his tongue and went unconscious for several minutes put his long-term future in doubt. Nevertheless, he made a swift recovery and showed reasonable fighting spirit to become their best player the following season, scoring 11 times in all competitions as they achieved a respectable 13th- placed finish.
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His fine form and Mallorca’s rise continued, with his talent central to their hopes. Mallorca were becoming a force in the league, and Arango achieved his best-ever goal tally, scoring 15 times in the 2007/08 season. Now established as one of the more popular South American footballers, he played another season in Spain with a rather average return, before moving to Germany with Borussia Mönchengladbach.
It was in the Bundesliga where Arango’s deadly left-foot truly found the right atmosphere to excel. In five years, Arango became one of the league’s greatest ever South American imports having helped the club claw away from the relegation zone and make them worthy Champions League contenders. He formed crucial partnerships with the likes of Marco Reus and Patrick Herrmann and was a favourite with the fans.
At the peak of his career in Germany, Arango was a joy to watch with his dribbling ability being right up there amongst the best in the country and possessing a magnificent shooting range. His boss, Lucien Favre, went on to claim that he had one of the best left foots in the world – one he was able to back. Following his stint in Germany, he left Europe after 337 games, returning to North America with Tijuana and the New York Cosmos, before coming back to where it all started, Zulia, where he is still going strong as he approaches the end of his career.
Arango’s input to the national team has been huge. He is their record appearance maker having represented them 127 times in a 16-year career and is also their record goalscorer with 23 strikes. Arango was at his finest at the 2011 Copa América where they achieved a stunning fourth-placed finish in Argentina.
Juan Arango is undoubtedly Venezuela’s greatest footballer, and considering the country’s lack of football history, surely has to be touted as a national icon for his contribution towards influencing the sport in the country. A widely celebrated figure across several countries, he was tormentor when at his best, an inspiration for their history-making under-20 side in 2017, and will be a major reason behind their rise in the future.