by MTHULISI SIBANDA
JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) – ARGENTINA’S Number 10 jersey is one of the most sacred shirts in global football, with Lionel Messi the latest to immortalise it.
Now, if the way Júnior Leandro Mendieta has gotten off the mark in South Africa is anything to go by, local fans are in for a treat from Stellenbosch FC’s new winger wearing the famous jersey at the Western Cape premiership side.
Signed at the end of October, he has hit the ground running at Stellies where he is basking in the glory of scoring his first goal in his first start last Saturday.
The 21st minute goal against Chippa United proved priceless as it set Stellenbosch on their way to a first victory in the DStv Premiership.
His headed goal, the first of Stellenbosch’s two without reply, showed a glimpse of his predatory instincts.
In an exclusive interview with CAJ News Africa, with the help of an interpreter, the 27-year-old disclosed how he is determined to make up for lost time after the global outbreak of the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19) left him out of action for a lengthy period in his homeland.
“I am very happy for the goal,” the man from the northeastern Corrientes region said.
He believes it will lift his confidence after spending time in the sidelined.
“I was unemployed for seven months because of the issue of the pandemic in Argentina and the whole world,” Mendieta said.
“Gradually, I am finding my level again. I think game after game, I will be able to be at 100 percent,” the Spanish-speaking player told CAJ News Africa.
Standing at 1,7 metres height, typical of Argentine maestros, the forward is suited to the left wing but is also adept on the right.
The South American underlined the quality in Argentina’s game but was adapting well to his new surroundings.
He is the second Argentinian, after goalkeeper Nicolas Emilio Gindre, to play in South Africa in the Premiership era.
Mendieta started at Deportivo Morón, later moved to topflight side, Athletico Lanus, before loan spells at Los Andes and Atlético de Rafaela.
“I think Argentine football is very good, many good players, very tactical, dynamic, very intelligent game. I am getting used to it (South African league) day by day, trying to show my game and adapting gradually,” Mendieta said.
At Stellenbosch, he has joined a side that is in its second seasons, and has maintained its ambitions through a number of signings.
“I’m very happy to be at Stellenbosch, a very nice and organised club that wants to grow. I think it is doing well gradually. I’m grateful for the opportunity and the door it opens for me. I’m aiming to make the most of everything,” Mendieta said.
In conclusion, Mendietta disclosed how Messi, was the best player in the world currently but he grew up idolising one other famous countryman who went on to become one of the world’s most celebrated free kick takers.
“Argentina has great idol players and the best player in the world, which is Messi. For me, my idol as a child was always Juan Roman Riquelme,” he said of the Boca Juniors legend that also donned the Number 10.
– CAJ News