Jonas Gutierrez has had to work hard to get where he is today. A member of the Newcastle United side relegated to English football's second tier at the end of the 2008/09 season, the wing-man dug deep to help the Magpies back to the top flight, earning even greater respect and admiration from national coach Diego Maradona in the process.
“Even if Newcastle go down again I’m going to take you to South Africa,” Maradona had told him before the domestic campaign began, a vote of confidence for a player now showing his versatility and dependability for his country on the biggest stage of all.
“Diego’s support was very important for me,” the man they call El Galgo (The Greyhound) tells FIFA. “The team had just gone down to the second division and they didn’t want to loan me out to anyone.
"I thought I’d have a real job making the squad but when I was called up for the friendly with Russia he told me not to worry, that what mattered was how I was playing and not the league I was playing in. That really helped me.”
Since then, the lion-hearted Gutierrez, who has made his way up in the game from the youth ranks at Velez Sarsfield, has become a permanent fixture on the right flank for La Albiceleste, his coach deploying him in an unfamiliar full-back role in Argentina’s first two games in South Africa.
“The group phase could not have gone better for us,” says Gutierrez. “We won all three of our matches and almost everyone got a game. That makes us all feel wanted and part of the team. But that’s in the past now and we need to start thinking about what’s coming up.”
Argentina’s immediate future involves a Round of 16 meeting with Mexico, the team they beat narrowly at the same stage of the competition four years ago in Germany. “I remember watching that game on TV at a friend’s house,” he recalls.
He told me not to worry, that what mattered was how I was playing and not the league I was playing in.
“Mexico were the better side that day but Maxi [Rodriguez] scored a fantastic goal and Argentina made it to the quarter-finals. But that’s football, isn’t it? The team then outplayed Germany but still went on to lose.”
So what can Argentina expect when the two sides meet again at Soccer City? “A team that has come on a lot in the last few years,” replies the Newcastle United man.
“They gave us a really tough game at the last World Cup although the important thing will be for Argentina to keep on playing the way they have been up to now. When big teams do well in the group phase they usually get even stronger in the knockout rounds. Let’s hope we can pick up the same result we got four years ago.”
Suspended from Argentina’s last group game against the Greeks, the reliable wide player can hardly wait for the business end of the tournament to begin: “I’ve been delighted with how it’s been going so far. It’s just been amazing.
"I hope to keep improving over the next few games and I need to keep improving. That’s what counts; to keep pushing forward. And as long as that’s the case, it can only be good for me.”