Mexican goalkeeper Antonio “La Tota” Carbajal was the first soccer player in history to play five FIFA World Cups. He made his World Cup debut at Brazil 1950, as the tournament’s youngest goalie at just 21 years old. Carbajal would play his fifth World Cup 16 years later at England 1966.
La Tota’s list of accomplishments could have included some Champions League titles, as he revealed for the first time ever in an interview with ESPN Digital. Former Real Madrid president Santiago Bernabéu asked him to join Los Blancos in 1954, a year before they won their first Champions League. But Carbajal felt an immense gratitude for Mexico, a country that had given him the opportunity to have the career he loved so much, so he refused the opportunity to play with Madrid and alongside Argentine legend Alfredo Di Stefano.
“Mr. Santiago Bernabéu was the one that called me and said ‘Would you like to play on Real Madrid?’ I had played on the Club España team in Mexico, so he got in touch with the Spanish community in Mexico and they gave him my info – who I was, how I began, and where I was currently playing,” describes Carbajal.
“I did not accept the offer because I am thankful for this country, which gave me so many opportunities. It may sound dumb or unprofessional, but it was like that, and I don’t regret a thing. Mexico helped me; they took me to the Olympic Games, to the World Cups of Brazil 1950 and 1954.”
The decision might seem strange today, but in the 50s, changing leagues sometimes meant changing national teams too. Alfredo Di Stefano, for example, played with the Argentine, Colombian, and Spanish national teams during his time in their leagues. For La Tota, who felt the red, white, and green to his core, that was a deal breaker.
Carbajal cannot say he was the first Mexican to win the Champions League, nor that he played alongside Alfredo Di Stefano, but his legacy and place in Mexican national team history remains as glorious as ever.