It was a strange midterm election season in Mexico this year. A clown, a telenovela star, and a vigilante leader all ran for public office, as distrust in the Mexican political class left the door open for pretty much anyone else.
Enter Cuauhtémoc Blanco. One of the most important players in the history of Mexican soccer announced his candidacy for the mayor of Cuernavaca the day after retiring from his 23-year career in soccer.
“Ahora si ya me los chingué” was his rather abrupt victory speech after beating his rivals in the race to be mayor of the picturesque tourist town about an hour outside Mexico City. After being worn down in recent years by spiraling drug violence, voters in the colonial city in the State of Morelos were apparently craving some straight talk.
But is he up for the job?
His election as mayor of a major Mexican city might seem improbable.
When reporters from the sports website Medio Tiempo requested the soccer star’s resume from the national transparency institute, Cuau (as he is lovingly known) just copy-and-pasted the Wikipedia page about him to answer their request.
Here are just a few of Blanco’s qualifications to run the city of more than 800,000 people:
- 4 goals during Gold Cup
- 33 of his 38 goals were in international tournaments
- 5 goals during Copa América
Given his admitted lack of political experience, his election as mayor of a major Mexican city might seem improbable, but desperate times seem to have driven voters to a familiar face with a reputation for sharp elbows.
Blanco’s early life – before his years as a famous player – may be what best prepared him for the rough and tumble world of Mexican politics.
He began playing on dirt pitches in the poor neighborhood of Tepito in Mexico City, famous for its markets peddling contraband of all kinds. Salvador Luna, who has lived there for 49 years, grew up with Cuau and was often involved in pickup games with him.
Blanco earned a reputation as an aggressive – sometimes dirty – player.
“We played on pitches that were only 12 meters long and wide with two little goals. He was always good on the ball, you just had to see him to know he had talent,” Luna said in an interview with Remezcla.
But Blanco earned a reputation as an aggressive – sometimes dirty – player, says Luna.
“He’s not a bad person – the problem is that we lived in a tough barrio. You have to be a bastard because if not, people run all over you. The first hint of trouble and you’re both swinging at each other, and that molds your character,” he said.
Even as a child, Blanco was known for having a small hump on his back. But rather than holding him back, Cuauhtémoc learned to use it to his advantage. Clips abound on YouTube of him turning his back to let the ball bounce off the hump and land exactly where he planned.
At the age of 15, then talent scout Angel “Coca” González watched him land four goals in one game in an interregional tournament in Mexico City and decided Blanco should leave the dirt pitches and start training with him. By 19, he was debuting for América.
Blanco was known not just for his sublime bizarre technique and pinpoint free kicks, but also for his flying fists.
The Blanco glory years began, full of fast cars, celebrity girlfriends, and a flashy lifestyle. The kid who once played on dirt pitches now starred in World Cups. In 1998, he delighted audiences all over the world with his signature move, the Cuauhtemiña, in which he picked up the ball between both legs and lifted it between two opponents.
Mexican fans called him Tlatoani (or emperor) after his namesake Cuauhtémoc, the last Aztec ruler.
But frequently, the boy from the tough Mexico City barrio would emerge. Blanco was known not just for his sublime bizarre technique and pinpoint free kicks but also for his flying fists.
One memorable blow from his elbow in the 2004 semifinals of the Libertadores Cup sparked a brawl and then a flood of incensed América fans invading the field intent on lynching the club’s Brazilian opponents. In the wake of the chaos, CONMEBOL banned Blanco for a year.
Although he has seen just about everything in fútbol, Blanco admits he’s just a beginner in the world of Mexican politics. “I am not a politician and I’m not going to steal from you; I started from the bottom just like you,” he said to media when he started his campaign.
A businessman from Cuernavaca told Remezcla that Blanco’s triumph reflects this. “Nobody trusts politicians to resolve the problems in the city, and also most people aren’t informed about politics. To me, Cuauhtémoc Blanco being elected as mayor is something unfortunate and sad because he is a professional football player, not a professional public servant.”
Cuernavaca has the highest rate of violence among Mexican municipalities with populations over 10,000.
The businessman declined to give his name because because of gang-related crime which has afflicted the city for years. He told Remezcla that he has been a victim of extortion himself. “You walk the streets and see a lot of houses for sale. Business owners have gone, some have been kidnapped and then left. The insecurity is tremendous.”
According to 2014 data published by the National System of Public Security, Cuernavaca has the highest rate of violence among Mexican municipalities with populations over 10,000.
Blanco has said that his first priority as mayor is making the city safer. The city’s inhabitants will be hoping that the man who rose to the top of the soccer world can transform himself into a new type of Mexican politician – one who actually keeps his promises. Then he’ll be able to update his Wikipedia page.