The 2007 South American Footballer of the Year will make a return to professional soccer in his native Paraguay nearly two years after he nearly lost his life in a shooting.The word fairytale gets thrown around a lot in the world of sports writing. If there was ever a story that qualified, though, Salvador Cabañas certainly has a case.
Nearly two years ago, Cabañas was shot in the head at close range in the early hours of the morning at a bar in Mexico. While the details and motives behind the shooting were disputed at the time, one thing was clear: Cabañas, who was playing his club soccer for Club America at the time, would face a nearly impossible task to play professional soccer again
Yet now, just a week shy of the two-year anniversary of his shooting, the news has broke via leading Parguayan daily ABC Thursday that Cabañas would be making his return to the professional game with his boyhood club, 12 de Octubre, in Paraguay's second division.
It might not sound like the most glamorous assignment for the 31-year-old who terrorized defenses in Chile and Mexico for nearly a decade, was named South American Footballer of the Year in 2007 and scored six goals in qualifying to guide Paraguay to the 2010 World Cup, but his recovery to even play again at a high level has proven to be nothing short of inspirational.
"It's a miracle that Salvador is still alive after what happened. The bullet within his head was within millimeters of touching vital areas," neurosurgeon Dr. Carlos Codas, who was part of the team that on Cabañas, told reporters in the days following the incident.
Dr. Ernesto Martinez Duhart, head of the team that operated on Cabañas added that, "80% of people who receive a gunshot to the head die."
However, Cabañas was optimistic, and even hoped he might be able to recover in time to make Paraguay's squad for the 2010 World Cup, where the Albirroja made a surprising run to the quarterfinals before falling narrowly to eventual champion Spain.
"I still want to play," Cabañas said to Televisa, a month after the shooting. "Within a little while, I'll be there."
While he didn't make the World Cup squad, and indeed did not play at all professionally in the year after the shooting, the signs of recovery were there. Some training with Libertad, one of the top clubs in Paraguay gave his supporters some hope.
However, his appearance at a friendly in his honor between America and the Paraguayan national team in late 2011 was regarded as a likely going away match. It had been a year and a half since the shooting and although he was lucid and able to contribute, he still looked sluggish and out of shape. Having recently turned 31, it looked as though his ultimate hope, to return to professional soccer, might be dashed.
However, when ABC reported that he would be returning to professional soccer with his boyhood club, it marked the culminating chapter of a remarkable recovery.
While observers hailed the recovery as nothing short of a miracle, Cabañas seemed to play down the whole situation, simply telling the publication, "I'm a soccer player. I have to play soccer."
At 12 de Octubre, Cabañas will finally have the opportunity to resume a career that was interrupted right as it reached its pinnacle. He might not ever reach those heights again, but the way his story has unfolded, it would be unwise to rule anything out.