Delgado relishing Monterrey challenge
© AFP

When Cesar Delgado decided to leave Mexican outfit Cruz Azul in 2008, he did so with an impressive tally of 54 goals from 129 matches to his name, and star status at the club.

After five successful seasons in Mexico’s Primera Division, Delgado headed to Europe, where he joined French giants Lyon. The Argentinian made a number of eye-catching performances in his three seasons with Les Gones, but his progress was consistently hampered by niggling injuries. The Rosario native is now back in Mexico, where he recently signed for top-flight outfit Monterrey.

“I know Mexico well and I wanted to go back there,” a relaxed Delgado told FIFA.com. “The directors at Monterrey were very enthusiastic and their project impressed me. My decision was also linked to my family. Lyon is a nice city but it’s hard for South Americans to adapt to everyday life there, even after three years in France.”

An old-fashioned player
On the pitch, Delgado had no such problems adapting to the French way of doing things. Lyon’s sporting director, Bernard Lacombe, described Delgado as “an old-fashioned player”, and between injuries, the Argentinian quickly impressed with a string of good performances. With his confident style, exciting dribbling ability and exemplary conduct, Chelito soon became a fan favourite at the Stade de Gerland.

“Chelito has always been an unselfish player,” said former Lyon manager Claude Puel, who left the club around the same time as his South American protégé. “He is capable of good things. He gets into the box, he can pick a pass and he provides good cover. You have to be careful with him and keep him in good shape, because he often gets injured.”

It’s a wonderful challenge to be able to play for this team. The people of Monterrey love football.
Cesar Delgado

Delgado scored just short of a dozen goals in around 100 outings for Lyon, and his finest hour for Les Gones came in their UEFA Champions League last 16 clash with Real Madrid. He was one of Lyon’s stand-out performers in their 1-0 victory over the Spanish side. “Not only is it my best memory from my time in France, but it also remains the greatest moment of my football career,” said Delgado, reflecting on the match.

“I really enjoyed playing in Europe, especially with Lyon,” he added. “I also learned a lot there. I had to adapt, push myself and change as a player. I didn’t play in my natural position, but it was an enriching experience. Playing in the Champions League makes you feel happy, but it also helps you to progress. I made the most of it by beating Real Madrid and reaching the semi-finals of the competition.”

A return to roots
Given his pedigree, it should come as little surprise that Delgado has signed for another team challenging for continental honours. His new club, Monterrey, recently won the CONCACAF Champions League and will take part in the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2011. “I’m delighted to be here,” said Delgado. “It’s a wonderful challenge to be able to play for this team. The people of Monterrey love football. The excitement and passion surrounding the sport makes matches even more attractive.”

“Tigres and Monterrey are the city’s two main teams, and the rivalry between them is very intense,” added Los Rayados’ new No19. “This naturally helps generate a great atmosphere.” Delgado is clearly delighted with his return to Mexico, and it might not be the only comeback on his mind. Chelito was an Olympic champion with Argentina in 2004, a FIFA Confederations Cup winner in 2005 and scored two goals in 20 appearances for the Albiceleste between 2003 and 2005. So what does he make of his chances of a recall to the national side?

“You always want to play for your country, especially once you’ve experienced the joy of playing for the national team,” he concluded. “But at the moment, my hopes of pulling on the Argentina shirt again are increasingly slim. I’m a long way from a return, mainly because there are some really great players in the side.”