Rafa Marquez is one of Mexico's greatest ever, so enjoy him while you still can
Editor's note: Rafael Marquez is set to play in what will very likely be his final Clasico Tapatio on Friday night as Atlas plays host to Chivas, and his final appearance in Estadio Jalisco in an Atlas shirt, as the 39-year-old Mexico international has strongly hinted at retiring following this summer's World Cup.
LOS ANGELES -- "I saw Rafa Marquez play."
Someday, in 20, 30 or 50 years' time, that phrase will frequently appear in dinner table conversations across Mexico. Bragging rights will be fully allowed and remembering one of the greatest footballers in Mexico history, a classy player of extraordinary ability, who rose to the highest level possible in this game called football.
Marquez's time as a player is coming to a close and to us, as well, to simply delight ourselves seeing him on a pitch. I hope that the controversy about whether Marquez should play at the World Cup does not end up distracting us from the most important thing, which is, to enjoy his play to the very end, when he finally calls it quits on the field.
It must be his style, the one thing that made him different, unique, special, one of a kind and irreplaceable among his own species. In a distinct planet and in a corner of the pitch where most players show their claws and gnash their teeth in order to compete, he did it with pure and simple class.
Time is not only ending for Marquez on the field as a player. It is also drawing to a close for those of us who saw him born as a player, grow up, playing and developing until he reached the top level of this game.
Someday, we will be able to tell our children, grandchildren or even great-grandchildren: "I saw Rafael Marquez play, that tall player, full of great technical skills, smarts, who effortlessly made passes 60 meters long, who crossed the field with his head held high and the ball glued to his shoes. I saw Marquez, with Atlas, with Monaco, with Barcelona, who was captain of Mexico in four (or maybe five) World Cups, who was able to play in a different orbit in this sport called football. I saw Rafa Marquez play."
During those days in which several players with scoring abilities played closer to the line, practically stealing all of the spotlight, Marquez found a way of standing out on a large scale. He was able to bring his talents to Barcelona -- in those days, one of the most recognized teams in football history -- and he was able to contribute with his greatness in the UEFA Champions League. Between the days of legendary Hugo Sanchez and the new times in which Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez is a bona-fide star, a centre-back still has enough qualifications to be considered the best Mexican player in history.
Players such as Marquez are not found often in the history of football itself, even less in Mexican football. And that's the reason why, until this very day, we are still witnessing the debate unfold: Should Marquez be included on the roster for what would be his fifth World Cup for El Tri? He is a player of such extraordinary abilities that no one in Mexican soccer has been able to match.
Bringing Marquez to Russia could cause controversy, sustained by those who argue that his level as a player has declined, which is normal, considering time, age and also the performance of his club this season, Atlas. Besides, there's the possibility that Marquez has been distracted by issues happening off the pitch. It's true that he possesses an extraordinary and powerful mindset, however, those issues might have been distracting him nonetheless. What's amazing despite all of this is that Marquez himself is still spreading doubts about his possibility of going to Russia.
As for myself, I'm still in the midst of a personal and almost existential battle. I wholeheartedly believe that on the 23-man roster for Mexico there's place for no one but the very best. However, a part of my brain still tells me that a character such as Marquez, despite the fact he is not in the best shape of his football career, is still able to contribute on the pitch and off it unlike any other player. I'm lucky that the problem is not mine, but Juan Carlos Osorio's.
There is no doubt in my mind that we have to enjoy the final minutes in the playing career of one of the greatest players to ever come out of Mexico. A stylish player, displaying class along the way, a thinking man who Mexican football will miss for quite a while. The great Rafael Marquez will now, from generation to generation, cause plenty of memories and sad scenes marked by phrases such as: "I saw Rafael Marquez play one day ..."
David Faitelson is based in Los Angeles and co-hosts "Nacion ESPN," ESPN Deportes' version of "SportsNation." Follow him on Twitter @Faitelson_ESPN.