As a soccer player, Cuauhtémoc Blanco was known and loved for his irreverent antics on the pitch, eccentric playing style, and somewhat fluid attitude to the rules. As a politician, he seems to apply the same modus operandi, but the effect is rather more mixed.
Blanco — who represented Mexico's team in three World Cups and is popularly known as Cuau — was the surprise winner of elections in June to be mayor of the city of Cuernavaca, the capital of the state of Morelos.
Between then and his inauguration this Wednesday, Cuau has courted controversy. First he swore at the result, then he disappeared for months, and more recently he's become embroiled in a vocal political scrap with the state governor and members of the municipal council who he has accused of plotting against him.
"I am a citizen who will be close to you, a mayor who will cut his soul in half to rescue Cuernavaca from the crisis which it is in", Blanco said during yesterday's ceremony. "Some said that we weren't going to be here, that we were going to crack, but we're here today."
The ceremony — that was brought forward two days for no obvious reason — took place in Cuernavaca's Museum of the City, which was closed tight with a padlock to prevent uninvited guests getting in.
It's been a rollercoaster ride from the start for the man who made his name as a talented deep forward and who is now set to govern the city, located an hour's drive from the capital.
Cuernavaca's pleasant climate means many wealthy capitalinos — particularly among the intelligentsia — maintain weekend residences there. It is also famed for being periodically consumed by extreme drug war violence and waves of kidnapping, and is currently on the verge of bankruptcy.
Many observers assumed that the tiny Social Democratic Party picked Blanco as their candidate in the hope that the soccer icon's name recognition would ensure the party the two percent of the vote required not to lose its registration and access to the considerable amount of state funding this brings.
According to an open letter sent to local media earlier this month by Manuel Martínez Garrigós — a former mayor of Cuernavaca who helped in the campaign but has since turned into a sworn enemy — the party paid Blanco eight million pesos (just under half a million dollars) to be their candidate. He also accused Blanco of having falsified his proof of residence in the city in order to be allowed to run for mayor, and demanded he take a polygraph test.
"I will only ask you three things", he wrote in the letter. "Whether you know me, if you have had legal residence in Cuernavaca and if your were paid, by contract, eight million pesos."
Whether the accusations against Blanco have any basis or not, few observers expected the campaign of the former soccer star to take off the way it did.
Blanco retired from professional football just before the elections. He was 42. He's made his name in Club América where he debuted in 1992. He moved to the Chicago Fire in 2007 before returning to Mexico in 2009 for the final years of his career.
Cuau had shown no previous interest in politics, but astute marketing and campaigning strategies turned this into an advantage allowing him to tap into widespread frustration with the traditional parties after years of financial mismanagement and rampant criminal violence.
Much like Jaime 'El Bronco' Rodríguez Calderón, who that same month became Mexico's first independent governor in the northern state of Nuevo León, Cuau campaigned as a straight-talking tough guy and a man of the people whose lack of political experience looked like an attractive alternative to the established political elite, often perceived as deeply corrupt.
His mould-breaking reputation as a soccer player probably helped too. This was a man who might let his weight get out of hand, and yet could still dribble past younger and fitter opponents or employ the famed Cuauhtemiña — or the 'Blanco Bounce' — by which he would jump over defenders while grasping the ball between both feet. Even when it didn't work it might still earn him a cheer.
The controversy started immediately the results came in when a jubilant Blanco celebrated his victory by saying "me los chingué" about his opponents. The phrase is roughly translatable as: "I really fucked them."
Then, he disappeared — twice.
On June 25, Blanco announced he would take a month off to go on vacation. He said the campaign thad made him 'tired and ill', but promised to get down to work forming his adminisration immediately he returned.
Shortly after his return, he immediately bumped into controversy and ridicule again. First, in late August, he expressed his plan to pull Cuernavaca out of Morelos' unified police force — a controversial move due to the perceived success of a single state-level police in lowering the state's high level of violent crime.
Barely a week later, in early September, Mexican media reported Cuau had handed in a resumé directly copied from his own Wikipedia entry to the Morelos' state electoral institution.
He disappeared again in early October, this time for nearly two months, seemingly without any explanation at all.
After finally returning in the spotlight, Cuau assured reporters he had been keeping busy. "Well, I've been doing things", he said. "I've been working, I haven't kept my arms crossed, I've been knocking on doors."
With his inauguration now just weeks away the mayor-elect was suddenly very much around — complaining.
He announced he had sent a desperate letter for help to President Enrique Peña Nieto because the nine members of Cuernavaca's municipal council were plotting against him under the orders of Morelos governor Graco Ramírez.
They wanted, he said, to make the incoming mayor powerless by reforming the municipal statute to limit Blanco's executive powers. He wasn't specific about what the council members exactly want to change, but claims they have held secret meetings to do so.
The council members responded that they believed Blanco will be a mostly absent mayor who attempts to delegate his tasks to others. The council appears to have won; a judge rejected a request for a judicial stay against the reform.
Then, on the day of his inauguration, Mexico City newspaper Reforma published a story based on anonymous sources that claims his former promoter who now heads his political team told top level state politicians that the new mayor had no intention of governing at all. According to the article, José Manuel Sanz told the politicians: "Cuauhtémoc doesn't take any decisions. He just comes in and signs."
Blanco said nothing about the latest allegations as he took control of the municipality to some dire warnings from observers.
"The victory of Cuauhtémoc Blanco clearly reflected the crisis of [Mexican] political parties and the phenomenon of electoral trivialization," José Gil Olmos wrote in an opinion piece in the newspaper AM this week. "But the electorate is also responsible for depositing their vote in people who are not up to governing."
Follow Jan-Albert Hootsen on Twitter: @Jayhootsen