Mex­ico hero and for­mer Barca star Mar­quez branded a crim­i­nal

New Straits Times - - Sport -

MEX­ICO CITY Sanchez’s re­tire­ment – with At­las de Guadala­jara and first played for the na­tional team the fol­low­ing year.

While play­ing for Mex­ico against Chile in a Copa Amer­ica game in 1999, he caught the eye of a scout for French side AC Monaco.

“I went to the Copa Amer­ica to see a Chilean player. But I spot­ted a de­fender in the Mex­i­can side that I liked,” said scout Julien Muller.

Thus be­gan Mar­quez’s march to the top flight of Euro­pean foot­ball, lead­ing to two Cham­pi­ons League ti­tles with Barcelona.

“I have great mem­o­ries of the Copa Amer­ica. The first one I played in gave me the chance to make my­self known and to go to Europe,” he said in 2015.

His first 11-year spell in Europe in­cluded a vic­tory with Barcelona in the Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal against Ar­se­nal in 2006.

He re­turned briefly to Europe in the 2014-2015 sea­son to play for Hel­las Verona in Italy.

He later played for the New York Red Bulls and then for Leon in Mex­ico, win­ning a league ti­tle, be­fore re­turn­ing in 2016 to At­las, where he still plays.

“Hav­ing Rafael Mar­quez on the team is amaz­ing,” said At­las Ar­gen­tine de­fender Fa­cundo Er­pen.

“He is an open book to ev­ery­one. Any­one can ask him things and learn from him con­stantly.”

Mar­quez has cap­tained Mex­ico in four World Cups.

Still po­tent de­spite in­juries, he scored the win­ning goal in the 89th minute of a 2-1 World Cup qual­i­fier vic­tory over the United States last Novem­ber.

Mex­ico’s cur­rent coach, Juan Car­los Oso­rio of Colom­bia, had said re­cently that he in­tended to take Mar­quez to next year’s World Cup in Rus­sia.

“We hope that Rafael is still fit” for that chal­lenge, he said.

Scan­dal struck on Wed­nes­day how­ever when the US Trea­sury ac­cused Mar­quez of be­ing a “front per­son” for a ma­jor drug traf­fick­ing ring.

He was one of 22 peo­ple and 43 en­ti­ties the Trea­sury placed on a sanc­tions list in re­la­tion to a Guadala­jara-based car­tel.

The Trea­sury said Mar­quez has a “long­stand­ing re­la­tion­ship” with car­tel boss Raul Flores Her­nan­dez and held as­sets on his drug car­tel’s be­half.

Mar­quez was the top trend­ing topic in Mex­ico on Twit­ter on Wed­nes­day.

The coun­try is used to news of vi­o­lence and cor­rup­tion re­lated to its pow­er­ful drug gangs.

But foot­ball fans ex­pressed shock and dis­be­lief at Wed­nes­day’s news about their sport­ing hero.

“This is re­ally bad, be­cause he is a role model for chil­dren,” said Fer­nando, a young man in a Barcelona shirt.

An­other fan in the streets of Mex­ico City, shoeshine man Mario Ro­driguez, said the al­le­ga­tion was “ab­surd, non­sense.”

One of Mar­quez’s co-ac­cused, well-known Mex­i­can singer Julion Al­varez, rushed to the de­fense of his “great friend.”

“He’s got one of the long­est ca­reers in foot­ball. Do you re­ally think he would need to do some­thing like this?” he said in a video posted on Face­book. AFP

Rafael Mar­quez

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