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Rafael Marquez has to be at the World Cup (just not as a player)

Atlas v Chivas - Torneo Clausura 2018 Liga MX Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images

A few weeks ago, one of the greats played his last game in Liga MX. Talking of course of Rafael Marquez. Atlas fans brought out giant banners and flags to honor him during his last home game, and Pachuca even gave him an ovation and named a seating area after him.

Since, sports writers, fans, and pundits have came out of the woodwork to give their opinion on his continued call-ups to the Mexican national team and the 2018 World Cup in Russia. HIs inclusion in the preliminary list of 28 has made the issue even more relevant. Even though he is retired and no longer at the level that he once was, here are a few reasons as to why it is important that he goes to Russia, just not as an active player.

Atlas v Chivas - Torneo Clausura 2018 Liga MX Photo by Refugio Ruiz/Getty Images

A bit of history

Rafa, as he is affectionately known, made his name in the late 90’s as part of a young Atlas team that played a fast-paced and exciting style of futbol. They made it to the final in 1999, losing to Toluca in a penalty shoot-out. His talents soon attracted the attention of European clubs and he was sold to AS Monaco of Ligue 1. Rafa had 4 successful seasons in France. During his time there, he and his team won the league once, the league cup once, and the super cup.

He once again attracted the attention of bigger clubs and was signed by FC Barcelona in the summer of 2003. Rafa enjoyed most of his success with the Blaugrana, winning La Liga 4 times, 1 Copa del Rey, the Spanish Super Copa, 2 Champions Leagues, 1 European Super Cup, and the Club World Cup once. Rafa stayed at the club until 2010 when he moved to MLS to play with the New York Red Bulls. With New York he endured his least successful spell at any club.

Barcelona v Xerez CD - La Liga Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images

After 12 years abroad, in 2012 He made his return to Liga MX with Club Leon. With the “Esmeraldas”, his leadership and talents helped the team to regain relevance in Liga MX. During his brief stint in Leon, the club managed to win back-to-back Liga MX championships in the Apertura 2013 and the Clausura 2014.

FC Barcelona v Club Leon - Joan Gamper Trophy Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

In 2015 he rejoined Atlas with the intention of retiring at his boyhood club. During his club career Rafa has also been called up to the Mexican national team over 140 times, participating in most of the high profile tournaments during that time. He was part of the teams that won the 1999 Confederations Cup, beating Brazil in the final, and the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2003, 2011, and 2015.

Portugal v Mexico: Play-Off for Third Place - FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017 Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

His role in Russia 2018

In terms of success, Rafa is second to none as far as Mexican players are concerned. The problem is Marquez is currently 39 years old. His form has dipped. His speed is mostly gone and he cannot be counted on to be able to play 90 minutes every week. Yes, he can still make amazing cross field passes and his vision and futbol I.Q. are still miles ahead of anybody else on the team. Physically, however, he is just not there anymore.

Now that you know a bit of his history, I bet you are wondering why he shouldn’t go to Russia as an active player. The answer is simple.

With that being said, you may be wondering, “why advocate he go to Russia?”. The answer is simple. His leadership and experience is super important for Mexico. The players on the national team admire and look up to Rafa for leadership. His presence has been a constant during many turbulent times. In fact, Mexico head coach, Juan Carlos Osorio, should make space on his staff for Rafa and give him the title of assistant coach, locker room leader, counselor or anything else. Having played in Liga MX and abroad for the better part of two decades gives Rafa an insight into the players mentality, one that nobody else on the coaching staff can match. If Mexico is to be successful in Russia, the most successful Mexican player of all time has to be there to help.

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