El Kaiser. El Principe de Cataluña. El Capitán. Rafa.
Whichever name you know him by, Rafael Márquez has been a monumental icon in Mexican football.
He began his career in 1996 with Atlas, and his international career in 1997 with Mexico. Even early in his career, Rafa was a hit with the Mexican fans. In 1999, Rafael had a major year with El Tri. In early July, Mexico went to Paraguay to participate in the 1999 Copa América. The Mexicans fought valiantly and came home with a 3rd place finish in one of the most prestigious competitions in international football. Yet, only a few weeks later, Mexico took part in another competition: The 1999 Confederations Cup.
Young Rafael was a giant part to El Tri’s run in the Confederations Cup. He helped the Mexicans reach the final, behind the leadership of another icon, Cuauhtémoc Blanco. It was Rafael who assisted Cuauhtémoc in Mexico’s winning goal over Brazil.
From then on, Rafael had an unforgettable career. Being a captain internationally and at World cups, to winning championships with his clubs abroad. It is thanks to Rafael and his incredible work with teams like Monaco and Barcelona, that gave life to future opportunities for Mexicans to make a leap abroad.
Yet, during the 2013 World Cup qualification, it seemed that Rafa was no longer a part of Mexico’s process towards 2014. His international career seemed to be all but over. However, after several coaching changes, it was Miguel Herrera who decided to call up the old skipper back to El Tri. His run with Club León was enough to warrant the call, and he captained Mexico in their World Cup playoff against New Zealand, which ultimately won them a ticket to Brazil 2014.
In a recent World Cup preparation match, against rivals USA, Mexico took a major hit. They went into halftime down 0-2 in front of a heavily Mexican crowd. But it was the leadership of Rafa which helped spark the Mexicans back into the game. Just a few minutes after halftime, Mexico scored a beauty on a corner…and it was from none other than Rafael. The goal gave spark to Mexico as they fought back to draw, 2-2. The captain played an incredible second half, making plays that many though he could no longer make. It is important to realize that one of the greats in Mexican football is about to make his final appearance for Mexico come June.
Rafa’s career didn’t go without bumps. From a major red card in the 2002 World Cup against the USA, to a rocky stint with the New York Red Bull’s, Rafael, however, seemed to bounce back from the lows. In 2013, when it looked like his career was flattening out, he helped lead Club León to a Liga MX championship. It’s moments like these why Mexico fans must relish every moment with Rafa at the 2014 World Cup. He has been a leader that we might not see again for some time. His unique success has been one that Mexican fans can feel proud about. He played and won with champions…as a champion. Here is a list of some of Rafa’s great accomplishments:
Ligue 1: 1999-2000
Tropheé des champions: 2000
Coupe de la Ligue: 2002-03
La Liga: 2004-05, 2005-06, 2008-09, 2009-10
Copa del Rey: 2008-09
Supercopa de España: 2005, 2006, 2009
UEFA Champions League: 2005-06, 2008-09
UEFA Super Cup: 2009
FIFA Club World Cup: 2009
Liga MX Championship: 2013 (Apertura)
FIFA Confederations Cup: 1999
Copa América: 2nd place 2001, 3rd place 1999, 2007
CONCACAF Gold Cup: 2003, 2011
At the end of the day, Rafael has brought home some of the most prestigious of hardware. The path he has laid out has helped bring hope to Mexican fans and players. The 2014 World Cup will a special time for Mexico fans for many reasons…one of them is to hopefully see Rafael Márquez finish his terrific career on a high note.