Almost from the start of his professional career, the name of Juan Arango has been synonymous with Venezuelan football. First in Mexico and more recently in Spain, the gifted playmaker has been his country's most highly-rated player, his array of slide-rule passes and spectacular goals wowing fans on both sides of the Atlantic.
It goes without saying then that the Mallorca star has become a symbol and shining example for millions of his compatriots. Thanks in no small part to his achievements, Venezuelans have come to realise that there is more to life than just baseball, their national sport. Now with just over two months to go before the country hosts its first ever Copa America, the 27-year-old spoke to FIFA.com about his goals and passions, and the challenges that lie ahead.
FIFA.com: Senor Arango, in just a few short years Venezuela have gone from being the continent's whipping boys to respected opponents.
Juan Arango: It's true, Venezuelan football has come on in leaps and bounds since 2000. We've started to get good results, and now we hope our performance at the Copa America on home soil will reflect the progress we've made in recent years.
What are your expectations for the Vinotinto at this Copa America?
Our goal is to make it through to the second round. We've never done that before, so it would be a historic achievement. That's what all Venezuelans are hoping for. If we do get that far, then we can start dreaming of bigger things, perhaps even the title, but we have to take it one step at a time. First we need to qualify for the second phase, and only then turn our thoughts to going further.
How would you describe the mood among Venezuelan fans?
I was there in late March, and the public were really into the Copa America and the national team. There's a real sense of hope and also a great deal of expectation. The people have a lot of confidence in the team, and there's a feeling that this Copa America could finally be the one that gives us the impetus to go on and qualify for a World Cup. That would bring so much joy to the people and, for me it would be the ultimate achievement. I can't put into words how much I want to play for my country at a World Cup, and I won't rest until I've achieved it.
The progress of Venezuelan football is now being seen at club level. We recently had Caracas knocking the mighty River Plate out of the Copa Libertadores.
That result, and the overall improvement in Venezuelan football, has come about because players from my country finally believe in themselves as footballers. We've always had talented players, but we lacked that confidence and also the belief that we could achieve things as a team. Now, that mentality is changing, which is the most important thing. We now believe we can match any side, even if we get given the runaround occasionally or suffer a heavy defeat.
Do you feel a lot of pressure being the flag carrier for Venezuelan football?
Yes, there obviously is a good deal of pressure, but I like that and try to deal with it as calmly and humbly as possible. In my position as a European-based player, I try to guide some of my colleagues and give them as much advice as possible.
Do the young players seek you out a lot?
Yes, they ask me about my experiences, and I always try to take the time to answer and help them, because I know they always support me and expect a lot from me. From my perspective, I'm happy to be able to play a part in finally moving Venezuelan football forward.
It must also be difficult having to compete with baseball, the country's most popular sport.
It's been quite difficult convincing people to embrace football but, since we've started getting good results, things have changed a lot. Baseball is still very popular, as it always has been, but we've made up a lot of ground, and the public are now also interested in what's happening in football.
From a personal perspective, how are things going at Mallorca?
I'm very happy here, even though I've had a difficult year, what with not being at my best or performing as well as previous seasons. The team haven't done too badly though, as we're not as close to the relegation zone as we've been in the past few years. To be honest I'm not really sure why things haven't been going so well for me, but I want to finish the season strongly so I can arrive at the Copa America in the best shape possible.
Having played in Spain, Mexico and Venezuela, what can you tell us about those leagues?
There is a very different kind of football in each one. The Spanish league is played at an extraordinary tempo - it's very fast, very dynamic and there's a lot of pressure. For its part, Mexican football is slower, though very physical, and there is also the added difficulty of frequently playing at altitude. The Venezuelan league, by comparison, is still developing. Fortunately, I've managed to do quite well in all three.
You are still only 26 and have a long career ahead of you. How would you like to be remembered when you finally hang up your boots?
As someone who played at a World Cup and made a big name for himself in the game.