Rafa Márquez: Mexico’s Leader and Burden


Why should Mexico be worried? Because there’s a complex balancing act to be struck between the established international stars who stuttered through qualifying and the home-based squad which have done better since the identity of the coach changed? Because they were unrecognisably bad in CONCACAF qualifying zone they usually boss?Or simply because they most senior player is Rafael Marquez?

I write this with a heavy heart, as I am a long time admirer of Marquez. The problem is that as time has dragged inexorably on, his value as a defensive lynchpin and deep-lying playmaker has increasingly been over-shadowed by his hot-headed follies.

A journey to the MLS, sadly still seen some who played the peak of European football as the equivalent of retiring to FLorida, seemed to mark the tipped point. As Benjamin Franklin said, “The only things certain in life are death and taxes and that Rafael Márquez phoned it in for New York Red Bulls.”

The MLS doesn’t get the respect it deserves: it certainly didn’t from Marquez. It’s a serious league, competitive and highly athletic, but there are plenty in football’s old world that won’t let their prejudices go and see it as a place where old pros can go for a nice pay day. Sadly, it seems Rafael Márquez viewed it that way.

If that’s not the case, then Márquez deteriorated remarkably quickly. From being a key figure in the early days of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona project, he was suddenly floundering in New Jersey. Sergio Busquets might be the perfect example of the defensive midfielder able to drop into the back as the shape of the game dictates, the ultimate deep move progenitor, but Márquez was the prototype.

In a 2010 World Cup which was notable for its tactical innovation, with Marcelo Bielsa’s Chile constantly reinventing itself and Spain’s possession game earning the ultimate affirmation, Márquez was the most tactically interesting player, constantly flitting between his defensive duties and a more advanced role as Mexico’s formation constantly shifted, encapsulating a modern, flexible approach to the game.

Who knew he’d go from new age to stone age so quickly afterwards?

Márquez arrived in the MLS after that tournament, and was so poor that The Guardian could justify a column asking “Was Rafael Márquez the worst ever MLS designated player?” just two years later? His performances were so half-hearted that you could reasonably ask whether it really was a redundant question!

Márquez looks for the nearest exit.

He was also suspended for one game by his own club after an astonishing arrogant outburst against his own team mates. It’s hard to choose a stand-out comment from the verbal wreckage, although it’s probably a straight fight between calling his fellow centre back Tim Ream’s errors “infantile” and suggesting there’s a gulf between his inferior team mates and himself… and “perhaps” Thierry Henry”! Henry must have been so grateful!

New York is in the past for Marquez now, but this season he’s let his team mates down on the pitch, losing the plot and getting a red card for a head butt which sealed an exit from the Copa Libertadores. He’s older than he was when he left the Red Bulls, but none the wiser. Seventeen years on from his international debut, becoming the first man to captain his nation in four World Cups, El Tri ought to be able to expect El Gran Capitán to carry the side when the going gets tough. Yet the real question might turn out to be can they carry him?

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