Juan Arango is someone who needs very little introduction. Simply mention that he is the leading exponent of Venezuelan football and those who follow the Vinotinto side will immediately think of 15-year veteran. On the books of Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach since 2009, the midfielder previously made a lasting impression with Spain’s Mallorca, having earlier shone for Mexican sides Monterrey, Pachuca and Puebla.
FIFA.com caught up with the Venezuela captain in Madrid, where Vinotinto coach Cesar Farias organised a recent squad get-together. Venezuela, who are the only South American side never to have graced the FIFA World Cup™, are currently fourth in CONMEBOL qualifying, meaning they occupy the last automatic qualifying berth for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil.
After nearly 15 years as a fixture in the national team, Arango is perfectly qualified to assess the team’s progress and fine recent form, as he demonstrated in this exclusive interview.
FIFA.com: As a veteran of the side and its current captain, what’s your take on the impressive form La Vinotinto have been showing?
Juan Arango: It’s true that Venezuela have developed quite a lot in footballing terms in recent years, and that’s being reflected in results in World Cup qualifying. We know it’s a difficult [qualifying] tournament, but our dream is to reach the finals of a World Cup, and bit by bit we’re heading in the right direction. We have seven games remaining and we’re just striving to get the results we need.
What do you think was it that allowed Venezuelan football to really take off?
The people working with this group of players believed wholeheartedly in their collective potential as well as their individual capabilities. And bit by bit they’ve managed to put together a competitive squad with those attributes.
The fact that many Venezuelan players now ply their trade abroad must also have been a factor...
Yes obviously. Ten or 12 years ago there were very few of us playing abroad, and our league wasn’t strong at all. Today, however, almost all of us in the team are playing overseas, and that’s a big plus for the group. It enhances the quality of the team and makes it more competitive.
You’re very familiar with coach Farias as he gave you your professional debut at the age of 17 in the country’s second division. What has he brought to the national team?
Obviously he’s been contributing a great deal, and right from the moment he took over, but you have to remember the quality of the team has been improving from the [Jose Omar] Pastoriza era. I’d say that from 1999, Venezuelan football has been improving more and more. Pastoriza was a coach who stressed how important it was for the team to be set up right and keep its shape. Richard Paez, who prized good ball control, followed Pastoriza. Farias has combined the best aspects of those two eras… while adding to them, too. Above all, though, he is doing great work in finding and developing talented youngsters.
It has been a long process but one built on solid foundations…
The fact that we’re on the right road has consolidated the process. We’re heading in the right direction as the results show. The younger players are responding when they play and give their utmost, so hopefully we can achieve the objective we all share.
Would you agree that this improvement has been greatly helped by the support of fans who now seem to be more fanatical about the national team?
Yes, in truth the team’s popular support is very notable. For a few years now, the public have been really getting behind us. This is very significant for the players, who sense this support on the pitch and feel even more motivated, if that’s possible.
As a squad veteran, what is it about the whole process that makes you most proud?
Well, I don’t have anything to be proud of just yet. I’ll feel proud if we manage to reach a World Cup. That’d make me the happiest man on earth! For now, though, we need to keep working so we don’t get sidetracked or slip up in pursuit of our dream of reaching Brazil.
Speaking about the road to Brazil, your next two qualifying games are against Argentina and Colombia. How do you see those fixtures?
It’s going to be very difficult as they’re currently two of the best-performing sides in our zone. They’ll be two tough games but if we want to be in Brazil, we need to get good results against whomever we play. Both Argentina and Colombia have shown themselves to be very strong, winning a lot of their recent games. They’re impressive both going forward and at the back. However, we also have our weapons and will be trying to get good results from those games.
On the domestic front, how’s life in Germany?
Things have been going well enough. I’ve been playing quite well for the last couple of seasons, so I have no complaints. My first year here was complicated but I’ve become used to things. I can now understand the language even though I still find it very hard to speak it. The climate can also cause difficulties but we’re coming to terms with that, too.
Lastly, would you like to experience playing in any other leagues?
(Laughs) Footballing journeys can have many twists and turns, so we’ll see what happens…