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Mexico

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Rafa Márquez: Architect of his utopias

ESPN FC's Steve Nicol reacts to the news of Rafael Marquez's transfer to Hellas Verona.

LOS ANGELES -- Almost a year ago, with the pose and words of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, he paraphrased: "I shall return [to the Mexican national team]." And everyone, or almost everyone, smiled scornfully when they heard Rafa Márquez.

On Monday, beyond just returning to the national team, he returned to Europe, the Italian League, to Verona.

Let's recap. Errors when marking up, being in the wrong place and sluggishness marked his first year with León. He himself condemned his gypsy move to the MLS: "Going there was my worst decision."

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With regards to his play, getting mixed up with the MLS certainly was his worst decision. Financially, between awards, salaries and bonuses, he received $5 million a year. His image? He was at the time declared to be the worst star player in the history of the league.

At that time Marquez was exalted by his European story, but this greatness was annihilated by his immediate past in the MLS and León. How was one to believe that promise? Especially during the sweet years of the bitter Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre. Fed up with himself, he decided to blow up his own statue.

After that embarrassing phase of conflicts with his own teammates on the New York Red Bulls, until his slip against the Galaxy, when he chucked the ball at old nemesis Landon Donovan, and his start with León, Márquez decided to vindicate himself, for his own sake, for the sake of his vanity, for the sake of dignity and ambition and, it must be said, for his loyalty to the Mexican national team itself.

What happened next, the actions he then took, was an undeniable lesson for any Mexican player, of any age, no matter what dreams or hopes they may have.

Not everyone is able to recognize their vestiges, their ashes, their ruins, to then rise from them reinvented. Márquez did just that, and let no one come forward now claiming that they were sure he could do it. Two, and only two people stood beside him: Leon coach Gustavo Matosas, and club chairman Jesús Martínez. No one else.

After a disastrous stint in MLS, Rafa Marquez was able to resurrect his career with Liga MX side Leon.
After a disastrous stint in MLS, Rafa Marquez was able to resurrect his career with Liga MX side Leon.

And Márquez knows the most treacherous terrains. Shortcuts sometimes end up in dead-end streets. He chose his Road to Calvary. He did penance for all of his sins. He was key in bringing León its second consecutive championship win, and Mexico coach Miguel Herrera recruited him when they demanded that he call his "Dirty Dozen" (minus one) to save the team's spot to the World Cup in the intercontinental playoff against New Zealand. "El Piojo" made no bones about it: The team was Rafa Márquez and 10 others.

Their journeys were not at all alike, and he can't be compared to the five "Pichichis" of Hugo Sánchez, but it is clear that the Museum of Rafa Márquez has more altars and European glory than the chapel of the goal scorer of Real Madrid.

With the World Cup in full swing, Spain, and especially its defense, stole out along the underground passageways of dishonor on social media sites the followers of the Red Fury, especially those from Barcelona, expressed their surprise at Márquez's level of play at the World Cup. During one of the mixed zone sessions with the Mexican team, the so-called Kaiser of Michoacán explained that he didn't have offers, that he didn't plan to go back to playing in Spain, but that coming back to Europe was not off the table.

And the destination is Verona. Italy's Serie A is a perfect fit for the multi-World Cup captain of the Mexican team. He will not face the insane vertigo of England of Germany, nor the long spaces and one-on-ones we see in Spain.

In Italy, with everything and all its wizards, they choose to play in a shoebox. And Márquez is still a vivacious, vital, vivid and battle-hardened specialist at that task. And, most of all, Márquez deserves it. I repeat: the audacity and pride of rebuilding oneself from one's own rubble, with one's own relics, is met with the best recompense possible: returning to Europe.

It is worth asking: If the Mexican defender's level of play remains high, or even improves in Italy, will Herrera stay true to his statement that he will not be calling him back even for the scrimmages of the national team in the six FIFA games remaining in 2014?

It will be even an upstart moment for the FMF. It will be a perfect goodbye tour for Rafa Márquez with the national team in the United States, Mexico and Europe.

Swear to it, Rafa, that you will be called back. And it will be a perfect reward.

Rafael Ramos Villagrana

Rafa Ramos is a ESPNDeportes.com staff writer, based in Los Angeles. He is regularly featured on ESPN Deportes Radio's popular Raza Deportiva, and frequently appears on various TV shows. Before ESPN, Rafa was a journalist for L.A.'s La Opinión newspaper, where he covered El Tri through a number of World Cup appearances. He has over 100,000 followers on Twitter @rafaramosESPN

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