Rafael Márquez is playing his fifth World Cup for Mexico, an achievement which the country, football team and fans consider an honorable service from the humble, dedicated, and hardworking footballer, yet, his reputation is suffering stains from an alleged relationship with a drug cartel.
Image: Rafael Márquez
Rafael, 39, represented Mexico at the 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014 and currently wears the captain’s armband at the ongoing 2018 World Cup in Russia.
In one of the World Cup’s biggest stories, top sponsors of the global football tournament boycotted Rafael, who is undergoing scrutiny for his connection to a prominent drug lord. American companies are facing up to $10 million fines if they engage with the Mexico international footballer. He denied the accusations leveled against him and proper trials are yet to take place. However, his investments in the US and other assets with ties to American companies in Mexico have been frozen.
Once considered an icon of the round leather game, Rafael’s dignity, and the inspiration he once offered to aspiring footballers have waned. He played a crucial role in Mexico’s victory over Germany last Sunday and is, unarguably, Mexico’s best player of time.
Rafael, who has been on a blacklist held by the US treasury department, was a 15-minute substitute against Germany but required a quick escape from the pitch at full time to avoid getting next to a sponsor’s logo. Representatives of American companies will face prison sentences of up to 30 years if they interact with the accused person in Russia.
The former Barcelona player now wears his training strip with no adverts. FIFA also warned against reporters interviewing Rafael during the World Cup and he cannot stand next to those mandatory Perspex boards decorated with logos from sponsors of the football competitions. In addition, he will never win a Man of the Match award sponsored by Budweiser beer, one of the none-American companies marketing their products at Russia 2018.
According to Rafael’s lawyer, the legendary defender will never play on US soil unless he comes clean of the charges, The Los Angeles Times reported.
Rafa, as the Mexican football icon is also known, has denied claims that he is among a group of three prominent representatives holding assets for Raul Flores Hernandez, a drug kingpin who reportedly has links to the dreaded Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation drug cartels.
‘I am not guilty of the charges lined up against me…I categorically deny having any with the named organizations and the referred events,’ Rafael said after learning of the blacklist.
The accused footballer agreed not to received salaries for his services to Mexico at the World Cup, New York Times reported.
‘I can’t believe that the authorities allowed a footballer accused of supporting drug crimes and laundering money…He should not be playing at a World Cup as if nothing happened,’ Raúl Rodriguez, a 32-year-old chef in Mexico City told the news outlet.
‘This nonsense only happens here in Mexico…If the crime was committed by “an ordinary citizen,” that person should be rotting in jail by now.’
Nonetheless, the Mexico national team captain has support from others who see him as innocent until proven guilty. Ahead of the World Cup kick-off, Rafael and his team personally presented one of their green jerseys to President Enrique Peña Nieto, who also stands accused on corruption – in the media.
Speaking to newsmen on the alleged drug ties, a 43-year-old salesman in Mexico City who identified himself as Armando Diaz said: ‘Rafa is the soul Mexico’s national team, and if he is in trouble with the United States, we don’t give a f***ing hoot.
‘If there’s any such issues with the authorities, they can be solved after the World Cup…We need the Mexican team to concentrate and win its games.’
Rafael became the World Cup’s oldest player with his appearance against Germany, and Puma, his personal sponsor, celebrated the achievement with a post on Twitter:
— PUMA Football (@pumafootball) June 17, 2018
He is lucky to have backup from Puma, a sportswear company based in Herzogenaurach, Germany, with no threats from its sponsorship like other American-based companies like Coca-Cola and Visa that have huge stakes at the World Cup.