Imagine just for a second that you've achieved the pinnacle of your career. You've received the highest possible honors and pretty much written your name in golden letters while having scaled the Olympus of your field.
You won it all, toasted with industrial amounts of champagne. Everyone knows you and admires or at least respects you for what you've accomplished. Now imagine that reputation has generated a different job offer. Something that despite being a step down, is lucrative.
Really, really lucrative.
Sensing the inevitable decline, you take it. That's Rafael Marquez. The soccer world can't really blame ol' Rafa for saying no to Juventus, Arsenal and all the other reportedly interested clubs after the 2010 FIFA World Cup and taking a job in New York. Not even after he exited the world's best club through the front door, bagging several La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League trophies in his seven-year stay.
Most any other high-ranking national team would have thought twice about keeping Rafa around when his younger replacements litter pitches across Europe, but not Mexico. Even when guys like Hector Moreno and yes, "Maza" Rodriguez have bested him the past few seasons, El Tri has conjured up a sweet spot as a holding midfielder, which, next to a guy like Diego Reyes or Hector Herrera, gives Mexico a heck of a defensive apparatus.
But something is wrong with this whole scenario. Marquez is not a national team player anymore. He's not even a first-team player at his club, or doesn't deserve to be, at least. Clearly, Rafa has lost his motivation. In New York, he doesn't see any benefit with plying his trade at Red Bulls. Compared to guys like David Beckham or Thierry Henry, his competitive fire is gone, extinguished.
It's clear that Rafa sees MLS as a retirement league. In almost two full seasons, what do you remember about Marquez's stay in the league? He criticized Tim Ream severely, insinuating that the guy couldn't hack it in MLS. Bolton agreed and decided the Premier League would better suit Ream's level.
During the 2011-12 offseason, Marquez winked at any team that expressed an interest, be it a Serie A team, Primera División de México outfit or even a Brazilian Serie A squad. Prior to that, a nasty brawl against the Galaxy summed up a season of disappointment and failure for the Red Bulls. That seemed to be the cherry on top, until last weekend, when Rafa grappled San Jose's Shea Salinas to the ground and promptly kicked him, breaking his collarbone.
New York's culture of stardom won't push Rafa to the bench. Neither will Hans Backe, who loves the team's spend first, ask questions later strategy. To be honest, the only thing that could motivate Rafa is losing his spot at El Tri, especially with the Olympics and the 2014 World Cup qualifiers around the corner.
However, we forget that Marquez has instigated some pretty sharp power trips in Mexico. Along with other players loyal to Ricardo La Volpe's former regime, they pushed Hugo Sanchez out of the fold in 2008. Later, Marquez engineered another coup, this time against "Chepo" de la Torre's own brother, Nestor, who exited as the team's Sporting Director. Maybe Chepo worries against a last power grab, one that would derail his own job.
It is, apparently, another one of those kooky injustices that will go unpunished in Mexican soccer. Rafa will keep playing whenever he likes, building a nasty reputation as MLS Public Enemy No. 1... and be rewarded with constant call-ups, even the captain's band.
Would any other legitimate national team accept this? Mexico is starting to push forward with a great generation of players at the youth levels. Even then, you would understand that experience is important, you want to surround those young players with guys who have been there and can guide the new talent. If Rafa wants to be in London and Brazil to cap off a great career, shouldn't the same measuring stick be used on him than everyone else aspiring to that?
MLS should make the first move. Suspend the guy. Not for a handful of games, mind you. June. July. Be drastic, be borderline insane. That would raise eyebrows in Mexico, maybe get Chepo riled up. Perhaps, it could create a crazier consequence: make Rafael Marquez care again.
That's one end result that paradoxically, would be the best both for MLS and Mexico.
Eric Gomez is the Chief Editor of Goal.com US Latino