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Cuauhtémoc Blanco Retires a Champion

Mexican soccer legend Cuauhtémoc Blanco is retiring to run for mayor of Cuernavaca
April 22, 2015, 7:07pm
Photo by Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Cuauhtémoc Blanco entered his final match as a professional soccer player in the 70th minute of Puebla's Tuesday's Copa MX final against Chivas, but did not score in the team's 4-2 win. Not that anyone really expected him to score.

These days, the 42-year-old Blanco can only run a bit, if you can call it running, and it's just admirable that at his age—almost 10 years older than the recently retired Landon Donovan—he even tries. The FIFA 15 video game, which gives Blanco a solid 71 overall rating, only gives him a 27 pace rating, making him one of the slowest players in the game. Running is not something the box-shaped legend does anymore.

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But everyone still wanted that goal. And if you asked Chivas fans, the people the longtime Americanista Blanco tormented most, they'd probably grudgingly admit that a Blanco goal would not have been the worst thing in the world. Indeed, a goal would have been the most fitting ending to the career of one of the greatest Mexican soccer players of all time. Even Chivas fans loved Blanco when he traded in his yellow Club America shirt for the tricolor of the Mexican national team.

He will hope that same admiration will serve him well as he embarks on a political career, by running for mayor of the city of Cuernavaca, an ancient Olmec city in the state of Morelos that's about an hour and a half drive from Mexico City. (Funny enough, Blanco's first political ad shows him using that 27-FIFA 15 rated pace to run slowly through the streets of Cuernavaca.)

Instead, Blanco only retires with a league cup championship. After Tuesday's match Puebla team captain Luis Noriega handed Blanco the captain armband so that he could receive and lift the trophy.

Blanco will be remembered, and will continue to be beloved, for being the everyman to whom Mexican fans could relate—he cussed like them, he drank like them, he ate like them in a way that Hugo Sanchez, Jared Borgetti, and countless other national team stars never did. There is some humor in that it's the unrefined Blanco and not any of his more polished contemporaries who is trying to become a politician.

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Blanco made his debut as a substitute for America on Dec. 5, 1992 against Leon and in the subsequent years became one of the most prolific scorers in Mexican league history. He scored goals in three different World Cups (1998, 2002, 2010) and might have scored in a fourth if not for a rivalry with then-Mexican national team coach Ricardo La Volpe, who kept him off the 2006 team. Yet he's still one of the best scorers in national team history. Blanco's 39 goals in 128 matches for the national team are tied with Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez for second all time. His nine goals in the Confederations Cup are tied with Ronaldinho for most ever in the competition. Mexico won its only Confederation Cup in 1999 mostly because of Blanco.

Never truly fleet, nor particularly athletic, Blanco seemingly knew how to be at the right place at the right time whenever a goal was needed. He was so crafty that he even developed his own signature move—the Cuauhteminha, which required him hold a ball between his feet, and then hop it in between two defenders in order to free himself for an attacking move—that later became incorporated into the FIFA video game franchise.

Blanco became such a national icon that he even starred in a telenovela—the biggest affirmation for any Mexican celebrity—which seemed particularly fitting since Blanco's life almost seemed to have been culled from one of these television dramas: born and raised in the hardscrabble streets of Tepito to later become a sports and television star with a possible encore as a politician.

Even his final match had a telenovela like story book ending, even if he didn't score that goal. On that final night of his career, a sobbing Blanco was lifted onto the shoulders of his teammates and exited the game he loved so much as a champion.