A Hero's Welcome: Ariel Ortega Returns To Rosario

John Tilghman Correspondent ISeptember 16, 2010

River Plate legend Ariel Ortega will take on his former club, Newell's Old Boys, Sunday in Rosario.
River Plate legend Ariel Ortega will take on his former club, Newell's Old Boys, Sunday in Rosario.

In football, especially in Argentina, it is extremely rare that a player achieves the status of hero or idol at two clubs, but 36-year-old playmaker Ariel Ortega is one of the few. 

Although Ortega will forever be linked with River Plate as one of the club's greatest players of all time, the fans of Newell's Old Boys in Rosario hold a very special place in their hearts for the man known as El Burrito

Ortega came up through the ranks of the famed River Plate youth system, helping the club win the Copa Libertadores and four league titles, but after falling out with Turkish club Fenerbache for failing to return to the country after international duty in 2003, Ortega was banned from football, and when he came back to the game, it was not to his beloved River that he returned to, but to Newell's Old Boys of Rosario. 

During his first season with Newell's, Ortega was one of the key men as Los Leprosos claimed the league title by just two points over Vélez Sarsfield. 

The league title endeared him to the Newell's supporters, but it was his passion and dribbling skills that made him unforgettable. 

During his two years at the side, Ortega even scored a few goals against River Plate, to the horror of the supporters of Los Millonarios.

In his first match against River, Ortega scored a penalty at the goal behind, which made the traveling River Plate fans sit as they watched their idol net the equalizing goal.

As he walked away, El Burrito seemed embarrassed to have scored against his old side.  

In 2005, he scored again against River with a brilliant effort. After his free kick was blocked by the wall, he smashed the rebound into the back of the net with an unstoppable volley. 

Scoring against River was all well and good, but he was also able to hit the back of the net against Rosario Central in 2005, the archrival of Newell's, cementing himself in the club's history books. 

After Newell's crashed out in the Round of 16 of the 2006 Copa Libertadores, Ortega packed his bags and returned to Buenos Aires to play for his beloved River where he was welcomed home with open arms. 

Since then, it has been a mix of good and bad for the former Valencia and Sampdoria man, who has suffered from various alcoholic episodes, but also led River to the title in the 2008 Clausura, his fifth league title with Los Millonarios

Now, River is back atop the Argentina standings, and the Buenos Aires giants are set to make the trip to the Santa Fe Province to take on Newell's in what should be a thrilling match, and one of much emotion for Ortega. 

Although River is and always will be the club Ortega is a fan of, Newell's is certainly important for him, and his relationship with the fans is such that he will not celebrate should he get on the scoresheet Sunday. 

Newell's is four points back of River, but ahead of the club in the race to reach next year's Copa Libertadores, and Los Leprosos will have no reservations of helping keep Ortega and his mates out of the South America's most important club competition. 

The fans may great him nicely, but that won't stop them from picking up the intensity and making plenty of noise once the ball begins to roll at the Estadio Marcelo Bielsa, a place where Ortega created so many great memories for Newell's.

Will he shatter the club's dreams this time?

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