The Cruyff turn, the Zidane toulette: it’s the rarest of footballers to have a world-renown piece of skill named after them and its company in which the maverick Mexican maestro Cuauhtémoc Blanco belongs. He first caught the footballing world’s imagination at the 1998 World Cup with a piece of audacious skill that would become his oft-repeated trademark
The move came in a group game against South Korea; static with the ball as two opponents closed in, Blanco trapped the ball between his feet and jumped with it between the two bewildered Koreans. It was nicknamed the ‘Cuauhtemiña’ and remains synonymous with the player nearly two decades later.
In some ways being remembered chiefly for a moment of trickery underplays the substantial career of a player who was a big part of the Mexican game for nearly two decades. He won 120 caps for his country as a deep-lying forward between 1995 and 2014 and those appearances yielded an impressive 39 goals – only Jared Borgetti and Javier Hernández have scored more for their country.
There was a decent array of silverware won, too. Blanco was twice a CONCACAF Gold Cup winner in 1996 and 1998 and inspired his country to Confederations Cup success in 1999 on home soil with his six goals – including the winner against Brazil in the final. On an individual level he was a four-time Mexican Player of the Year winner and represented (and scored for) his country at three World Cups – he was left out of the 2006 squad after a squabble with its coach Ricardo La Volpe.
Cuauhtémoc Blanco was mostly associated with Mexican giants Club América for whom he made his debut in 1992 and stayed with for the next fifteen years, offset by several loan spells at Necaxa, Veracruz and Real Valladolid in Spain which was the only time he played in Europe.
He joined Valladolid the year after illuminating that 1999 Confederations Cup but broke his leg in a World Cup qualifier which put him out of the game for six months. When he returned to action he did score some memorable set-piece goals, but homesickness diminished his play and by 2002 he was back home in Mexico.
His most successful period came around the middle of the 2000s when he won a first title with América in 2005 and was named as the League’s MVP for three years running between 2005 and 2007. At the end of the 2007 season he departed for Chicago Fire in MLS and so began the diva stage of his career – repeated announcements of his retirement only to be not-especially-reluctantly persuaded back by popular demand.
This was a regular part of his complex relationship with the national team. On several occasions, he quit the team after some less than professional escapades, like in 2001 when he missed a plane before a friendly with Spain, blamed the Mexican FC and loudly declared he would never again wear the green shirt. Even the mild-mannered Sven-Göran Eriksson would later despair of him when he arrived late – and with alcohol on his breath – at the squad’s camp before a qualifying game.
In 2012, and now aged 39, Blanco declared his time was up and yet continued with several short stints at various Mexican top-flight clubs. At the age of 41, he signed with Puebla and played as part of the team which surprisingly won the Copa MX Final, giving him a glorious denouement before finally exiting the stage – apart, of course from one final curtain call back at his beloved Club América where he had scored 135 career goals. Signing up for just a single game, he played for 36 minutes and was substituted so he could bask one last time in the acclaim and adulation of the home support.
SEE ALSO: The Making of Guardiola In Mexico
Cuauhtémoc Blanco conformed to just about every trait that the typical Mexican football fan demands from their heroes: fantastic skills, great showmanship, awkward temperament and huge inconsistently – all topped off with a healthy dose of picardia mexicana (Mexican naughtiness).
For Blanco it was always about the performance and the drama and rather less about the result which serves as a perfect epitaph for a fascinating career.