Few players in Mexico have had as big an influence on one club as Jesus Arellano at Monterrey. The creative midfielder, who honed his skills in Los Rayados’ youth teams, played an instrumental part in the club’s three recent championship wins and is a revered figure among Monterrey fans, having rejected several deals with European clubs to stay at the Estadio Tecnologico. Even when he is not on the pitch, his adoring supporters invariably sing songs dedicated to the man they call Cabrito (Little Goat).
Arellano has also represented his country with distinction, appearing at three FIFA World Cup™ finals, (France 1998, Korea/Japan 2002 and Germany 2006). He earned many admirers in the first of those competitions with his electrifying appearances as a second-half substitute, galvanising his team-mates in the process. The following year he helped El Tri win the FIFA Confederations Cup on home soil and also formed part of the squad that won the 2003 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
One of the few trophies Arellano has yet to win is the CONCACAF Champions League, a record he can start putting straight on Wednesday evening when Monterrey host MLS side Real Salt Lake in the first leg of the 2011 final. At stake is not just the coveted cup but a place at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2011.
Now approaching his 38th birthday, the mercurial midfielder is not the influential force he once was, though he can still turn a game whenever the need arises. He showed that two weeks ago in the 1-1 draw against Santos Laguna, returning to the starting XI after a two-year absence to stamp his authority on proceedings and score his side’s goal.
The veteran has since made another league start and is now setting his sights on a place at the globe’s biggest club competition, which is just two games away for Los Rayados. “I really want to play in the Club World Cup,” he said in his usual measured tone. “It would be very important for me, but first of all we have to beat Salt Lake and then I have to train day after day to stay in the coach’s thoughts.”
His team-mates have no doubts as to Arellano’s continuing importance to the team, among them Luis Ernesto Perez, another Rayado idol and who also featured in Monterrey’s three title wins: “We all know what Chuy can do and you can see how much talent he still has. I still think he has a long time left to keep on showing it.”
Perez, who also made the trip to Germany 2006, is aiming to return to the global stage with his friend and team-mate. “I hope we can both make the trip there [to Japan 2011],” he said. “He’s always been very important for the club and for us too, of course, for his team-mates. It would be a dream come true to play in that tournament with him.”
Convinced that he had shown all he had to show in Mexican football, Arellano actually announced his retirement from the game 18 months ago. His team-mates talked him out of it, and his U-turn has proved out to be wise one. And even though Japan may yet provide him with the best possible swansong, El Cabrito is only thinking about the here and now. “I’ve carried on playing because I like it and I enjoy it,” he explained. “We’re out there every day, training and trying to get better, trying to be ready for the moment when the coach picks his team, no matter what the competition is.”
The only competition Arellano and his colleagues are thinking about at this moment in time is the Champions League, and tonight’s crucial game against Real Salt Lake at the Tecnologico, which kicks off at 21.00 (local time). And whether he’s playing or not, the ageless Arellano is sure to have his praises sung by the Monterrey faithful.