Mexican police have arrested former international soccer goalkeeper Omar Ortiz on suspicion of links to organized crime, fanning concerns about lawlessness plaguing the United States' southern neighbour.

An official in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo Leon who is close to the attorney general's office said authorities were due to present Ortiz to the media on Saturday evening, along with other suspected criminals.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said Ortiz, who has been missing for several days, would be paraded alongside other members of a gang of suspected kidnappers.

I'm speechless, said George Grayson, a Mexico expert at the College of William & Mary in Virginia. I suppose it's an indication of the possible ubiquity of organized crime.

President Felipe Calderon's conservative government has staked its reputation on rooting out drug gangs, some of which have branched out extensively into other activities like robbery, extortion and kidnapping.

More than 46,000 people have been killed in the gang violence that erupted since Calderon began the crackdown on drug cartels shortly after taking office five years ago.

Drug gangs have long been suspected of corrupting public officials and politicians. Calderon's National Action Party (PAN) has sought to tar the main opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) as susceptible to the cartels.

But public probes into sports stars and entertainers for suspected ties to organized crime have been rare.

The drug war is one of the issues dominating the run-up to Mexican presidential elections due in July.

THE CAT

The sudden disappearance of Ortiz, nicknamed El Gato (The Cat) for his bright eyes, prompted media speculation he had been kidnapped.

In 2010, Ortiz was suspended for doping offences, a ban that is due to expire in April. The 35-year-old played a single match for Mexico in 2002.

Famous for his many tattoos, bleached blond hair and earrings, Ortiz was a longtime regular for top division side Monterrey, the state capital of Nuevo Leon.

This goes to show Monterrey is no longer this island of tranquility, said Grayson at William & Mary.

Long regarded as the jewel in the crown of Mexican industry, Monterrey has fallen prey to attacks by drug gangs over the past two years.

Murder, extortion and kidnapping have surged in the city of 4 million people that is about 140 miles (230 km) from the Texas border.

(Reporting by Dave Graham and Carlos Calvo; Editing by John O'Callaghan)