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Jul 27, 2014

Blanco Mexico's epitome of longevity

Puebla were unable to capitalise on their goal opportunities against Veracruz in Cuauhtemoc Blanco's return.

Cuauhtemoc Blanco didn't debut as a professional soccer player at a particularly young age. He was all of 19 when he first appeared for Club America in 1992. However, it's doubtful even Blanco imagined that 22 years later, he would still be playing in Mexico's top league, Liga MX.

Yet there he is, coming off the bench for Puebla, earning late minutes in a recent match against Veracruz (one of Blanco's many former clubs) and apologizing via the media after the scoreless draw for not producing a winning goal.

It speaks to how highly regarded Blanco is, as well as the standard to which he holds himself, that he and others would expect him, at 41 years old, to still produce a game-winning play.

Some might be left wondering -- after numerous times when it seemed Blanco was done with the game entirely -- is he ever going to retire? Can he continue to defy time?

It's not just optimism or nostalgia at work in his return to top-league play. Blanco indeed looked quite capable and played well for Mexico in an international friendly versus Israel earlier this year. The game was planned as both a tribute match and a send-off for the national team before the World Cup. It turned into something of a testimonial for how well Blanco could still perform.

- Cuauhtemoc Blanco plays in Liga MX

That's part of the reason Puebla took the chance and brought him in, by pulling him from the ranks of Liga de Ascenso, the lower division in Mexico, where Blanco had played for a few years.

For some time, whenever it appears Blanco will finally, actually retire from the sport entirely, writers trot out a number of tribute pieces praising Blanco's creative ball control, his unorthodox and yet effective style on penalties and free kicks, his achievements in international play and his numerous records and awards.

Blanco is ranked as one of the greatest players Mexico has ever produced. Although an injury cut short his time in Europe with Real Valladolid, he won numerous titles in Liga MX. Blanco was also successful in Major League Soccer, and he played well for the Chicago Fire. He is still considered the best Mexican player in that league's history.

At this point, though, Blanco's sheer persistence in the sport he loves deserves accolades of its own. It's not as if has stayed on in Liga MX based on reputation -- his return from exile to a lower league has taken five years.

Part of the reason Blanco can't seem to quit playing is he doesn't excel in the intrapersonal skills needed to transition the next stage for many great players: coaching. Blanco has been a very effective leader for El Tri and his club teams, but more by leading by example than by reaching out and making strong connections with teammates.

Cuauhtemoc Blanco impressed in Mexico's send-off match prior to their departure for the World Cup.

While many players have been inspired by his example and improved by emulating him, Blanco doesn't exhibit the nurturing skills to develop young talent either. His red-mist moments of past misdeeds would also probably make clubs hesitate to hire him in a position of authority, given his tendency to defy such control.

Nor is Blanco likely to be lured into another common destination for retired players by commentating for a media outlet. He tends to be withdrawn, preferring not to say much, or too brutally blunt when he does choose to have a say. He can be belligerent and arrogant, and he is anything but politically correct.

However, Blanco is never boring, especially when he plays. He pushes himself, thinks outside the box and still has the skill to turn a match around. It's doubtful Puebla will make a run for the title this season, but Blanco should provide some bang for the viewing public, rather than leaving the game on the sad whimper of lower-league play.

Blanco certainly seems to appreciate his second chance now. His latest post on Twitter translated: "Thanks to all the fans, and to my followers for the support this season with my team Puebla. Greetings."

Many of those fans will no doubt be eager for a chance to say, "I saw Blanco play in Liga MX during his final season."

Then again, maybe this supposed final season with Puebla won't be the end at all for Blanco. It wouldn't be the first time he's defied the odds.

Andrea Canales

Andrea Canales has covered soccer for over a decade and has loved the beautiful game most of her life. She has watched games in Azteca, interviewed nine El Tri coaches and covered three World Cups. She lives in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter @soccercanales.