Last week the Bundesliga Fanatic posted part one of our interview with GolTV man for all seasons Juan Arango, where he discussed his thoughts on the Bundesliga and its fans. This week Juan will discuss one of the best Brazilian players currently playing in the Bundesliga, defender Dante of Gladbach, along with sharing his insights on why Brazilian stars are returning to play their club football at home and his love for the Copa Libertadores club tournament currently being played in South America.
Fanatic: You did an interview earlier this season with Borussia Mönchengladbach defender Dante? He has made our Bundesliga Best XI Team of the Week twice this year, has been an honorable mention three times and was an honorable mention for our best 20 performers of the season’s first half. What makes the Brazilian so successful at Gladbach, and are you surprised by the club’s giant step forward this season?
Juan: I think it is more of the fact that as soon as Dante began to get comfortable at Gladbach, you saw his potential become reality. That in part has to be credited to Lucien Favre. When Gladbach started out last season in terrible form, it seemed like everyone was pushing and trying to do too much. Dante was one of many players to be in that situation. Just like in every relegation-compromised side, the pressure cooker becomes great… at a club like Gladbach, well it has to be worse.
More importantly, Dante has such a great attitude as well as work ethic that he was bound to be successful. When I spoke to agent Leo Scheinkman, he told me how happy-go-lucky he is as a person, and after speaking to Dante himself, he was exactly that. He truly enjoys the game. I don’t think I need to tell you that, you can see it whenever he is playing.
Do not be surprised if he starts to become a regular for Brazil national team Coach Mano Menezes as Lúcio, the national team captain, starts to reach the twilight of his international career. Personally, I would love to see him reach that goal. I always root for the good guys.
As far as Gladbach jumping from one half of the table to the other, you knew they could do it. They ended last season strong and beat Bochum to keep their spot in the top flight. On paper they had the talent. Also think that they settled in certain positions. Logan Bailly was way too spotty, and accordingly he was loaned out in favor of Marc-André Ter Stegen, who will be another young keeper that will challenge Manuel Neuer and Rene Adler for a spot with Die Mannschafft.
More importantly, the leadership and poise of Filip Daems and Roel Brouwers has been key to help the team stay the course even when they suffered unfavorable results so far this season.
Fanatic: Speaking of Brazilians, Werder Bremen’s Naldo and Wesley have been making noises about returning to Brazil to play their club football, while Ronaldinho, Luis Fabiano and most recently Vagner Love have returned to Brazilian clubs. What has changed in Brazilian club football to entice these players to return?
Juan: Economics and Home cooking. As we all know, starting next year Brazil will become the epicenter of the sports universe as the Confederations Cup kicks off. The economy there is doing very well despite all the problems that are floating around the country’s organizational efforts.
Brazil’s economy is currently in an upswing and many clubs have investors looking to bring back players to either retire there as is the case with Deco or even Marcos Assunção as well as the players you mentioned. Hell, I wouldn’t mind heading to Brazil myself.
But this all comes down to good old common sense. If you can earn as much in your backyard as you do abroad, chances are you stay near your backyard. There are salaries that they are paying that entice players to want to be near family. Just seeing what Flamengo are paying Ronaldinho as well as Vagner Love (with the help of Traffic) and how Santos were able to wrap up Neymar with a Pelé-like contract you would understand why. Although, the big question is for how long can this continue and was this economic upswing taken advantage of when looking at the country’s long-term infrastructure? We’ll see come 2014 and beyond.
Fanatic: One of the heroes of your youth, Karl-Heinz Ruminegge, now Chairman at Bayern Munich, stated in December that the German giants will stop signing South American players, concentrating on talent in Germany instead. As someone very familiar with the game in Latin America, what is your reaction to Ruminegge’s statement?
Juan: To be honest, clubs have all the right in the world to establish ground rules for player purchases. Many say that this decision was due to the Breno fiasco. At the same time for every Breno, there is a Giovanni Elber. That being said, Rafinha has been a good addition for Bayern after being signed from Genoa.
There is a great deal of talent in Germany and I think they will be fine. But we’ll see how that policy holds water when push comes to shove.
Fanatic: I know you are a big fan of the Copa Libertadores tournament? Could you share with our readers what makes that club tournament so endearing?
Juan: My greatest memory of Copa Libertadores was when Colombian club Atlético Nacional won it in 1989. I was listening in my parents’ room. The scream I let out scared the crap out of them.. but they started to celebrate. The passion exuded by South American fans is second to none. Unfortunately, there are some that use passion as a shield for hooliganism.
La Bombonera is a stadium that has been feared by many teams. The same goes for the Estadio Centenario in Montevideo and even places like the Morumbí. Many in South America say that teams like Barça would tremble if they were to ever play in venues like those because the environment that the fans create there is unique in world football.
It’s a much more wide open tournament compared to the Champions League. Of course, there are certain clubs from Brazil and Argentina that will always be favored to go deep into the tournament. But we’ve seen Uruguayan sides (Peñarol) reach the finals and Ecuadorian sides (LDUQ) win it all. Even Mexican sides have performed very well.
Playing in Copa Libertadores is more demanding than playing Champions League based on logistics and geography. A Mexican team will have to fly 10-11 hours to Buenos Aires and vice versa. A team might have to play in Barranquilla in June where temperatures will reach triple digits and then a few days later will have to travel to Uruguay where they are beginning the Southern Hemisphere winter solstice.
You might play one match near sea level of Lima and then have to play in Cusco (11,200′ above sea level) or La Paz (13,450′). So it could be the unbearable humidity of Asunción or the Calama desert. Pick your poison. I wish MLS teams would one day consider playing in it, although my wish could only come true in a perfect world.
I am not saying the Champions League is inferior. I am just saying that Copa Lib has much more passion as well as competitiveness from beginning to end.
Fanatic: Two of my favorite pieces you’ve written in the last year have to do with a Father’s Day rememberance (when he took you to see Nacional when you were six and your first trip to the Bombenaram where you found love. Would you mind elaborating on those two special days in your life for our readers?
Juan: Well growing up in a Colombian household in the United States exposed me to seeing things from a different perspective. The team I live and die with is Atlético Nacional although I was exposed to Argentine football thanks to my cousins while living briefly in Colombia when I was around six years old. One of the greatest players to have ever played for that club was César Cueto. He was just a master ballhandler and while Nene Cubillas was the man with the Peruvian national team during its glory years, Cueto was the bad boy. He was the rebel. He was the player that gave Peru the style and the moxie.
If there was a player that I would compare Cueto to it would be a left-footed Andrés Iniesta. In my book, Cueto is one of the greatest footballers in history and that day I went to see Cueto in Medellín, I could say I fell in love with the game.
As far as the Bombonera article. I used to live in Buenos Aires. I went to school at the Universidad de Belgrano exactly during the time that economic system “bluescreened” over there. It was an incredible social observation and at the same time it was an experience that forever changed my life. During that time I began to take my first steps in this business as I wrote a couple of blurbs here and there. I regret not going for it more, but oh well. Of course, many of our lives changed after that final part of 2001. While studying I met a girl during Easter vacation when I was in Mendoza.
Well when we returned to Buenos Aires we kept talking and she said she’d accompany me to a football match at la Bombonera. So it was a “date”. I happened to go to the stadium precisely the weekend that Juan Román Riquelme returned to action after his brother had been kidnapped. He scored one of the most amazing goals that I have ever seen. So imagine all of that coming full circle almost a decade later when I got to call the title-clinching match for Boca Juniors against Banfield, and seeing Riquelme come on and getting to see Ray Hudson’s face it just beamed with joy. That face said more than any words he could conjure up to praise Messi and Özil combined.
Oh, by the way, that girl that I went that day to La Bombonera… well I ended up marrying her.
Juan and fellow GolTV commentator George Metellus called Saturday’s HSV-FCB match for GolTV’s English language broadcast in Canada and the U.S. Click here to follow Juan on Twitter, along with other GolTV personalities George Metullus, Phil Schoen, Omar Fuentes and the one of a kind Ray Hudson.