Lucas Zelarayán above all else is Cordobés. He bleeds all things Córdoba. He loves his city. But football has taken him away from his hometown and his beloved Belgrano. I spoke with El Chino via Instagram Live and talked about his time with Belgrano, how he continues to live his passion, his time with Tigres in Mexico, and his new challenge of being a franchise player for the Columbus Crew.
When you think back to your time with Belgrano, what is the first memory that comes to your mind?
My last match I think is something I’ll never forget. It was a tough week; I was very nervous and very anxious knowing it was going to be my last match wearing the Belgrano shirt. The Kempes was filled to the brim and as the match was winding down we scored the goal to win.
Then the entire stadium, 60,000 people, from the club that I’ve always loved, that I was always a fan of, are singing my name, “Chino, Chino.” It was crazy, an enormous emotion. It’s something that will forever stay with me. It was a dream completed.
You grew up in Córdoba playing football and I’m sure you would imagine that you were a Belgrano player. And now there are kids in your neighborhood and throughout Córdoba that when they play football, they pretend to be you. You were just a fan, but you left Belgrano as an idol.
It’s crazy. It honestly doesn’t seem real. When I was a kid, I would play football and I had my idols and when I would play I would pretend to be one of the Belgrano players. So now to suddenly be a player that a lot of kids love, to be an example to a lot of kids, it’s hard to believe.
I think I first realized it when I would get to the stadium, the part outside of the stadium where they sell jerseys, to see shirts with my name on it was insane. It’s hard to believe, but I am trying to enjoy it. I’m trying to just be an example; be the same person I’ve always been since I was that kid dreaming of being a Belgrano player.
Now that you are far away from Córdoba and you can’t go to Belgrano’s matches, how do you live your passion for Belgrano from a distance?
When I was a kid I would wake up and immediately put on my Belgrano shirt. I knew that all my friends would be outside, each wearing their Belgrano shirts and getting ready to go to the stadium. But now that I am far away, I try to do the exact same – I wake up early, I put on a Belgrano shirt, and if I can, I’ll sometimes try and do an asado. I wait and watch the match with my family. I’ve already bought my son (Bauti, 20 months old) several Belgrano shirts.
The nerves that I had before the match when I played are the same nerves that I have now before the match starts when I watch it as fan. But then when I would step onto the pitch I could forget about my nerves. But now those nerves don’t go away when I’m watching on TV.
When you go back now to Córdoba, when you are in your neighborhood, when you see the park where you learned to play football, when you see your home where you grew up, and then right there is a mural with your image on it, when you see all that, what goes through your mind?
Lot’s of things go through my mind. I miss Córdoba and my family. Whenever I see that mural I know that it was made by the people I grew up with in my neighborhood. They had to do raffles to save up enough money to do it. It’s a beautiful thing and I’ll forever be grateful. I try to enjoy it. It’s something special to see myself painted on that wall where I grew up playing football.
Now that you’re a dad, your son is going to grow up very differently than you did. What are some of the things that you learned from your parents in your childhood that you want to make sure your son learns too?
It’s impossible that my son has the same childhood that I did. It is my responsibility to try and teach him some of the same things that my parents taught me. Most importantly I need to try and teach him to be a good person, respectful to everyone, humble, a good friend. There are lots of things that I want to try and teach him. I also want him to know that life can be hard, and he needs to appreciate the things that he has been given.
You spent 4 years in Mexico. Now that you are in Columbus, what do you miss the most about being in Mexico?
I truly loved the years I spent in Monterrey. The people there always treated me well. I will always love Mexico. That is where my son was born. I also miss the city and the friends I made there.
Is there anything from your time in Mexico that you want to now incorporate into your life?
The food. The tacos. We don’t have good tacos in Argentina and I haven’t found any here in Columbus. If you’ve never eaten tacos in Mexico, you don’t know what tacos really are. They are so delicious.
I also got used to eating spicy food. At first it was really hard for me to eat spicy food. But as the years passed, especially that last year, I started to eat a lot of spicy food. Now whenever I see a spicy salsa, I want to add it to my food.
When you were with Tigres you played in the Concacaf Champions League and you played against teams from MLS. You got to see from a distance MLS – how did you see the league and what made you want to play here?
I was initially surprised about the league and the high level of play because I didn’t know about it much at first. Whenever we played a team from MLS, Tigres had a great team, but it was always challenging to play against MLS teams.
So, I started to investigate a little bit more about the league and I learned that it was growing a lot and lots of great players were starting to play there. When I got to visit at the end of 2019, even though it was a hard decision to leave Tigres, I really liked the league and I felt like it was a nice challenge for me to come and play here.
In your first match with Columbus, you scored the only goal, the goal that brought the Crew the three points. In the celebration, your made the sign of the Pirata. Was that something you had planned or something that just occurred in the moment?
It was something I had in mind since the day I left Belgrano. I always spoke with my friends and I promised them that wherever I went to play that I would celebrate my goals with the Pirate sign. I did that in my first match with Tigres.
The day before my first match with Columbus, Belgrano had played and won. Then on Sunday I played and when I scored the goal all of those emotions came over me and the first thing I did was the celebration Pirata.
And now the fans there in Columbus have given you the nickname “El Pirata”, what do you think of that?
I love it. In Mexico sometimes they called me that, but mostly just called me Chino. I saw the flag the fans made the other day and I’m there with a pirate hat and eye patch. It was nice. When the fans call me Pirate, it makes me feel good, brings me back to my days with Belgrano.
Rapid Fire Questions with “El Pirata”
Who was your idol when you were a kid?
A favorite movie or show?
The one about Pablo Escobar.
My dad’s asado and my mom’s potato salad.
Beer, wine or Fernet?
Fernet, no questions.
Correct percentage of Fernet and Coke?
Depends on the time of day, but 70 / 30.
Favorite brand of yerba?
I don’t have one, maybe Las Canarias or CBSe.
The place you’ve visited that you liked the most?
The beaches in Mexico.
A place you want to visit?
I don’t really have one. Maybe some place in Europe. I’d also like to visit more places here in the US.