To talk about Rafael Marquez Alvarez is to talk about arguably the most successful player in Mexican history, since he made his debut with Atlas of Guadalajara back in 1996 at the precocious age of 17. It quickly became evident that he would be one of the best in his position. Then along came the 1999 season with Ricardo La Volpe in which Atlas reached and lost the final against Toluca with Rafa in the starting lineup.
His elegant pace, ball control and peripheral field vision to touch the ball out of the box calmly made French club Monaco set his sights on him. Marquez finally made the big leap to Europe in the summer of 1999 right after losing the final against Toluca that year. He arrived in Ligue 1 with a €7 million price tag and quickly became one of the main attractions of the league, and even lifted the Ligue 1 trophy in his debut season in France.
Then one of the best clubs of the 21st century became very interested in Marquez, who arrived to Catalan side FC Barcelona in 2003 alongside Brazilian star Ronaldinho, who also arrived from Ligue 1. Marquez grabbed Barça's #4 and quickly made a name for himself with astonishing performances by playing alongside Catalan defender Carles Puyol. Rafa was the gifted of the two; while 'Puyi' sacrificed himself with great effort by doing the defensive "dirty work", Marquez took care of delivering clean passes to Barcelona's midfielders.
This is where Marquez's greatest virtue lies, his ball control is so clean cut that he was even moved from his natural central defender position to elaborate in midfield when either Frank Rijkaard or Pep Guardiola needed fresh legs in that position. Needless to say, he won every possible trophy with the Catalan side and even became one of the best central defenders in the world back in 2006 when Barcelona defeated English side Arsenal in the Paris Champions League Final.
During that game, Marquez made his best defensive work to date as he completely suppressed French striker Thierry Henry in his prime. 'Titi' finished the final with enormous frustration, all thanks to Marquez's clean cut defensive work. It was in that precise moment when he reached levels of Ballon d'Or winner Fabio Cannavaro at club level. But Rafa's story has a huge contrast when it comes to playing for 'El Tri'. Despite always competing at a high level for Mexico, Marquez has always been hot-headed, especially when he's facing defeat.
The skipper's history of unnecessary roughness, getting sent off prematurely in numerous crucial games and making the same mistakes over and over again is well known among Mexicans. This is perhaps Marquez's 'Achilles heel' that has brought him a lot of mistrust among Mexican fans and media. If he wants to make a decent wrapup to his fourth and final World Cup participation, Rafa will have to put pride aside and act for the well being of the group in Brazil. He's mature enough to see that such childish actions to get sent off so repeatedly need to stop so he can make a true impact for El Tri.
This is a problem with which Marquez still struggles. The two-time champion with Mexican side Leon has recovered a shred of the level that got him to European football but with it came the return of that hothead all Mexican fans know and loathe. His last tantrum came in the last edition of the Copa Libertadores in which he lost it in the round of 16 against Bolivar. Rafa committed a brutal and unnecessary aggression against a rival in a game Leon was down in the scoreline and were evidently going to lose. This happened not more than two months ago, a problem Rafa needs to fix urgently for El Tri's sake.