Mexico veteran Rafael Marquez is set to join an elite club of footballers when he plays in his fifth World Cup, but he heads to Russia tarnished by a drug trafficking investigation.
Marquez, who made his World Cup debut in South Korea and Japan in 2002, will join Gianluigi Buffon of Italy, Lothar Matthaeus of Germany and fellow Mexican Antonio Carbajal as the only players to have appeared in five editions of the tournament.
But instead of riding off tranquilly into the sunset, the 39-year-old will arrive in Russia amid legal woes and personal turbulence.
Last August, the US Treasury Department accused the former Barcelona player of being a “front person” for a drug trafficking group based in the Mexican city of Guadalajara.
With his US visa cancelled and his Mexican bank accounts frozen, Marquez took a nearly three-month break from football to focus on his legal defence.
After winning a court decision unfreezing some of his bank accounts, he returned to the pitch.
But the cloud of the ongoing investigation is still hanging over the defensive midfielder.
The Mexican national team’s sponsors, including Coca-Cola, have asked not to be associated with him, and he has been training for the World Cup in an unmarked jersey.
Still, coach Juan Carlos Osorio says Marquez, who recently retired from Guadalajara club Atlas, is an invaluable leader.
“Off the pitch, there’s no debate, he’s the footballer who can bring the most to this team,” he said in announcing his squad.
Marquez has worn the captain’s armband in all four of his World Cups — a record — and is an alternate captain this year.
Osorio denied he was taking him along as a bench-warmer to boost him to the five World Cup club.
“This was strictly about sporting criteria,” he said.