At first glance, the marriage between Rafa Márquez, MLS and the New York Red Bulls looked like a sensible fit.
The former Barcelona star needed a new place to play away from the bright lights of the Champions League. MLS needed another Mexican star after Cuauhtémoc Blanco returned to his homeland in 2009. New York needed someone to bolster the team on the field and sell energy drinks off of it.
The three parties struck a deal and waited for the inevitable success to follow once Márquez arrived after the 2010 World Cup. It never did. Márquez's two-and-a-half years with the Red Bulls operated at the crossroads between disaster and farce.
Blame lays at the feet of all involved parties. This partnership may have looked promising at the outset, but it never really took flight. Its best moment probably occurred when the Red Bulls and Márquez reached an agreement to end their association on Thursday.
Márquez justifiably receives most of the scorn, though the situation isn't entirely his fault. He saw an enticing offer on the table and he took it. Most players in his position would have done the same, even though this particular move didn't fit him or his skills as well as some others might have. His displays with Barcelona and his links to the Mexican national team might have even merited the $4.6 million payout he received in 2012, according to MLS Players Union documents, from a commercial perspective.
His performance on the field certainly did not. Márquez showed few signs that he had once thrived in the Champions League. A deft pass here and a wonderfully struck diagonal there isn't enough to warrant the third-highest salary in the league. He flailed in his attempts to play either center back or central midfield and struggled to cope with the physical demands presented by his opponents and the rigorous fixture list.
In addition to those competitive concerns, he refused to play nicely with his adversaries or his teammates. He belittled Tim Ream to the press to deflect attention from yet another substandard performance. He tackled Shea Salinas to the ground and broke his collarbone. He threw a ball at Landon Donovan after a playoff defeat last season. And those are just the most notable moments on a rather lengthy list of unsavory incidents.
Márquez's inability or unwillingness to amend his rotten behavior ultimately contributed to his departure. Although MLS and the Red Bulls could probably stomach suspect performances from time to time, they could not continue to cope with his evident contempt for the league and its players and his preference to make those feelings known publicly under such circumstances. Unlike David Beckham and Thierry Henry, Márquez did not offer enough to the cause to tolerate those sorts of rebukes on a regular basis.
And the fact that Márquez lasted as long as he did reflects poorly on both club and league. Neither party succeeded in its considerable attempts to guide Márquez back onto the proper path. Neither party found a way to draw a line under the situation when Márquez flirted with a move to Atlas last winter and made his desire for a departure all too clear. Neither party understood at the outset that this lucrative contract – one richer than the pacts handed to Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and scores of other players who keep MLS ticking along and pushing forward – tied everyone together for better and for worse.
By the end of the road this week, it was clear that worse dismissed better long ago. New York finally paid Márquez off and paved the way for him to join Liga MX side Club Léon.
All parties should benefit from the decision to cut ties. Márquez will likely improve his deportment and his performances when he returns to his native country. He remains a talented player from a technical perspective, an established figure capable of excelling in Mexico if given the proper support. MLS will focus its attentions elsewhere, sigh with relief that the ordeal has finally ended and trumpet its noticeable growth in other areas. New York will flip through its envious Rolodex of interested Designated Player targets and select a candidate to replace him.
This isn't the neat conclusion everyone involved envisioned when Márquez moved to America less than three years ago. That denouement likely would have arrived at the end of this season, perhaps with Márquez lifting the Red Bulls' first meaningful trophy to cap his time in MLS. It wasn't to be. Reality, it turns out, has a funny way of ruining seemingly prudent decisions and wrecking carefully laid plans.
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