Cuauhtémoc: The Last Emperor

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Last night, the most interesting player in recent Mexican football history had a retirement party. What was scheduled to be just a fifteen-minute start with the National Team became 38 minutes of inspired passing and adoring fans.

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Even though he has signed on to play next season with Puebla F.C., the game at the Azteca marked the official beginning of the end for arguably one of the best players in Mexican history. At 41, Cuauhtémoc Blanco, polarizing and inspired throughout his career, personified a particular ethos that was based on superlative abilities and an incredible capacity for annoying the opposition.

Blanco started his career playing as a speedy winger who could swoop from the sides and score for America in the early 90s. Slowly, he forged an arsenal of abilities that turned him into our very own class of #10. As he lost speed he gained finesse with the ball and coarseness without it. “El Cuau” became the craftiest player on the Mexican side, loved and hated with equal measures of intensity. His lowest moment, perhaps, was the time he was hurt by a Trinidadian player in the 2002 World Cup Qualifiers.

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He’ll be remembered as much for his more than 300 goals with several different teams — one with Valladolid against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu and many at crucial moments for the Mexican National Team — as for his antics on and off the field. As a fitting tribute to one of Mexico’s greats, here is a very small but significant sample of those “peculiarities,” ranging from the crafty to the offensive and borderline criminal.

1. He named his own dribble. The “Cuauhtemiña”: not that effective, very celebrated.

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2. Known for his short neck or prominent hunchback, he sometimes made good use of it, as when playing against Jamaica; he also perfected the “butt” pass.

3. While playing for America at Veracruz, things got heated after the game. With the teams in the dressing room and a lot of chaos outside, the press tried to cover the event. David Faitelson, who worked for TV Azteca rival of America’s owner Televisa, and wasn’t particularly well disposed towards Cuauhtémoc, felt the wrath of El Cuau. Standing next to a window, he got punched in the face.

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Blanco later apologized.

4. In 2004, Virginia Tovar became the first woman to referee a First Division match. Her performance was evenhanded and accurate; someone, however, begged to differ. Blanco reportedly told the referee to “go back to washing dishes.”  Not cool.

5. After he scored a penalty kick in 2007, he celebrated by running to the goal line and pretending to pee like a dog. Stay classy, my friends.