The mericurial midfielder has earned the respect of the coach who bested Mexico in the 2002 World Cup.By Andrea Canales
There have been a lot of reasons given for the change in Mexico's World Cup qualifying fortunes. Obviously the team ushered out their former coach, and certain young stars have shown brightly as Mexico climbed back from a poor start in the Hexagonal to the brink of World Cup qualification.
One key factor to El Tri's improvement, however, wasn't a recent arrival or a fresh young face.
Already a legend for Mexico, Cuauhtemoc Blanco showed that even at the age of 36, he can contribute immensely to the effort to get the Mexican team to South Africa.
The revival of Blanco's national team career coincided with the departure of Sven Goran Eriksson, who never seemed to understand or appreciate Blanco's singular style.
Yet another former national team coach has developed a new appreciation for Blanco's talent. Bruce Arena, who guided the USA national team for eight years, was unstinting in his praise of Blanco's ability.
"As we've learned more about this player, he's brilliant, in his own way," Arena stated about Blanco. "He's not orthodox about the way he goes about his business, but he's brilliant. He's a quality player."
The results-minded Arena was always focused on the substance of the players' contributions, yet he didn't mind Blanco's flair, flashy moves and tricks, because, Arena pointed out, Blanco makes them work to the advantage of the team he plays for.
"He makes a difference on the field," Arena said. "We all respect that fact."
The bunny-hop move and the archer celebration aside, Blanco brings the goods again and again to the field.
Arena pointed out that part of Blanco's skillset is the extraordinary ability the midfielder has to be an effective player in the most dramatic way possible.
"There's a genius there that is certainly special," Arena stated. "We marvel at it when we see him play. We all know what he's going to try to do and he does it."
Though Aguirre has yet to name his roster for the World Cup, Blanco is certainly making a strong case for inclusion.
For Arena, the choice about whether to involve Blanco in the 2010 World Cup, if it was his to make, would be easy.
"Definitely," Arena said without hesitation. "He brings a little calmness to their team. He brings confidence to their team on the field. He plays 60, 70 minutes for the team and he makes a difference. He's been very good."
Recent contributions by Blanco especially stood out for Arena.
"I remember the night Chicago played in Houston, a Sunday night. The guy plays like you can't believe - a fabulous effort for the Fire. Then he's on the field for Mexico in Azteca on Wednesday against the US and has another excellent performance."
Blanco assisted on the tying goal in the USA - Mexico game and played well throughout the match.
The midfielder is currently fighting to recover from an injury in time to play in Mexico's home game versus El Salvador on Saturday, but even if he does not recover, Blanco's other displays should keep his name in serious contention for a national team spot.
After all, if a former foe is won over, then Blanco is certainly in impressive form.
"He's special," Arena concluded. "He's the real deal."
Andrea Canales is Chief Editor for Goal.com North America
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