Rafael Márquez: More issues than FourFourTwo

Where do you begin with Rafael Márquez? A fantastic career in Europe, only enhanced by a stellar international legacy with Mexico - the pinnacle of which saw him captain El Tricolor at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

In August 2010, Márquez traded Europe for MLS, agreeing a three-and-a-half year contract with the New York Red Bulls; his vast experience wouldn't come cheap at $4.6m a year. In his introductory press conference Márquez (via a translator) sounded ambitious: “I have not come here to [retire]. I am only 31 years old. I have come to play and to win championships.” 

The league’s commissioner Don Garber also championed the deal, adding “This team, up until recently, hasn’t earned the right to go out and say ‘We’re a world-class team, we’ve got a world-class building, we are deeply committed to this sport’.”

That world-class authenticity demonstrated itself early into Márquez’s Red Bulls career, a wonderful long range effort against Toronto FC* proving that the Mexican still had more than enough to give. With an overall third-place finish, the 2010 season was far from terrible for the club, with the 2011 campaign eagerly anticipated.

In the off-season Hans Backe introduced new faces and Márquez started the season well, but as the Red Bulls began to struggle midway through the season, a change emerged in the Mexican. Poor form during August and September saw the Red Bulls secure only two wins in seven.

The nadir of that poor form came at home to Real Salt Lake. Down three goals after 21 minutes, a late strike by Joel Lindpere was scant consolation for Red Bulls fans as the defence looked worryingly porous. Low on confidence, Tim Ream’s mistake for RSL’s second was unfortunate and not befitting of a side with aspirations of winning MLS Cup.

As the huddle of reporters crammed into New York’s dressing room after the game, Luke Rodgers, while content to acknowledge the mistake, more bemoaned the fact that the Red Bulls always seemed to learn the hard way.

By contrast Márquez was less diplomatic saying: "I think I am playing at my maximum level, and doing everything I can. I don’t have, unfortunately, four defenders on my level that can help me out. I think that this is a team game, and unfortunately, there isn’t an equal level between perhaps [Thierry Henry] and myself, and our team-mates."

Not content to simply bemoan the majority of his team-mates, Márquez then homed in on US international Ream, with some stinging criticism. “Tim is still a young player with a lot to learn. He still has quite a lot to learn, and well, he has committed errors that are very infantile and cost us goals.”

Although Marquez tried to claim mistranslation, video surfaced that proved contrary to his claims. Manager Hans Backe chose to suspend Márquez immediately.

Even with the off-pitch issues, New York made the play-offs after defeating FC Dallas in the wildcard game – meaning a meeting with LA Galaxy and a chance for Márquez to redeem himself.

Instead, the Mexican put on an altogether different kind of show in the first leg at Red Bull Arena. The Galaxy secured a narrow 1-0 win thanks to a goal from former New Yorker Mike Magee, but sadly that wasn't the indelible image left by the matchup. At the final whistle Márquez threw the ball at Landon Donovan, which engineered an almighty fracas that would make the WWE proud.

The scuffle was far from the most endearing moment of Márquez’s illustrious career, and for many it was already enough: his first full season had been a disaster and the subsequent three-game suspension seemed somewhat lenient.

Having missed the first two games of the 2012 season, he returned with a solid display against the Colorado Rapids. But if he seemed a reformed character, he chose last weekend’s game against San Jose to provide his detractors with ample ammunition.

Márquez repeatedly grappled with Shea Salinas at every San Jose corner, and when the pair fell to the ground Márquez seemed to lash his foot out at the midfielder. It was a blatant penalty and Salinas broke his clavicle, ruling him out for six to eight weeks. Credit must go to the former Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder, who told curious journalists that he had already forgiven the mexican for what happened.

In the second disciplinary action of his Red Bulls career, Márquez received a fine and another three-game suspension. Many have commented on the leniency of the ruling, citing Brian Mullan’s 10-game ban for breaking Steve Zakuani"’s leg as evidence of inconsistency from the MLS disciplinary panel. 

From a club perspective, it presents a potentially difficult decision. New York-based journalist Daniel Feuerstein admits that there is a dichotomy between fans and the ownership. “A lot of the fans want him gone, they feel he's an arrogant player," says Feuerstein. "The problem is the club are paying him a lot of money, so they won’t want to just let him go as it would be expensive. The team is also going through some injuries so it won't be that easy to just let him leave.”

Márquez will serve the first game of his suspension this weekend, missing the trip to D.C. United. Given that the transfer window is now closed till late June, the club’s hierarchy have ample thinking time on precisely what to do with project Márquez.

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