Ariel Ortega Profile
Ariel Ortega, River Plate legend.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / El GrÃ¡fico
Nicknamed "El Burrito" (the Little Donkey), Ariel Ortega was anything but. Ortega started his professional career with Daniel Passarella's River Plate in 1991 and during the seasons that followed he'd play alongside other talented youngsters Marcelo Gallardo and HernÃ¡n Crespo, as well as legendary River Plate old boys Enzo Francescoli and RamÃ³n DÃaz.
With his dribbling skills, vision, dynamic style, and a confidence on the ball that bordered on arrogance, it wasn't long before the inevitable comparisons were being made with Diego Maradona, and Ortega was seen as a likely heir to the national team's number 10 throne as he continued to master the enganche role - he even had the fiery temperament to go with it too.
Having won the Copa Libertadores and four Argentina football league winners titles within five years at River Plate, Ortega had become a huge crowd favourite at El Monumental, but his success hadn't gone unnoticed in Europe either, and it wasn't long before Valencia had snapped him up for the 1997-98 season. Things didn't go well at the Mestella though, Ortega struggled to hold down a regular place under coach Claudio Ranieri as the Italian's tactics didn't seem to suit him.
France 1998 saw Ariel Ortega handed Argentina's fabled number 10 shirt - the first time since 1978 that anyone other than Maradona had worn it at a World Cup. Pulling the strings as the side's attacking midfielder, Ortega had a great start to the tournament, playing in every game and scoring a couple of goals as they cruised through the opening group and then beat England in an epic encounter at Saint-Étienne's stadium. However, things turned sour for Ortega and Argentina in the quarter-final clash with the Netherlands when he was sent off for headbutting Edwin van der Sar. A late Denis Bergkamp goal would seal their fate and send them home after a 2:1 defeat.
After the tournament, Ortega moved to Sampdoria to replace World Cup team-mate Juan SebastiÃ¡n VerÃ³n. However, despite scoring a reasonable 8 goals in 27 Serie A appearances, the season turned into a disaster, with Luciano Spalletti being replaced at the helm by David Platt halfway through the season and Platt, for some strange reason, preferring to play on-loan Lee Sharpe instead of Ortega. Samp finished third from bottom and were relegated to Serie B.
Ortega had done enough to persuade high-flying Parma to buy him though, and yet again he replaced VerÃ³n, who, this time, was Lazio-bound. Despite joining up again with former River Plate team-mate HernÃ¡n Crespo, Ortega struggled and only managed three goals and a handful of assists, so it was no surprise when River Plate manager AmÃ©rico Gallego announced in 2000 that they'd struck a deal to bring him back home to Argentina. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of Ariel Ortega's career as he became a man reborn at El Monumental thanks to an array of attacking talent that was the envy of Argentina - Ortega playing alongside upcoming stars Javier Saviola, Pablo Aimar and Juan Pablo Ã