Friday, September 23, 2011

Unfortunate Quote

by Dick Mac

Updated at 3:57 P.M.

Nobody has ever accused athletes, as a group, of being the brightest bunch.

I try to avoid generalizations of athletes and entertainers, because they are often very different from one another.

I have had the good fortune of being able to chat with a number of athletes and entertainers over the years. Some are very smart, some not so much.

I met Rafa Marquez last year. Although he did not speak English, we managed to stumble through a few points and he was very polite and very generous and seemed to be rather intelligent. You know what I mean? He had a look of depth in his eyes, like he is thoughtful and deliberate, as though he knows what's going on and how to move through life.

The night before last, Rafa Marquez and the rest of Red Bull New York put on a dismal performance against Real Salt Lake (not FC Dallas - as I originally wrote), and were summarily whipped 3 - 1.

Unfortunately, fans began booing Rafa Marquez. They decided that one of the goals was his personal fault alone, because a striker (a very talented striker) ran right through the central defenders. Watching the highlights, you see that Rafa did a bad job keeping tabs on the opponent, and the entire back line was taken to the cleaners.

Another defender made a bigger blunder, basically giving the ball to an opponent in the box, which led to a very easy goal. We have not been discussing that gaffe, and I am not describing it here.


Yesterday morning, the post-match interviews were published in the media and Rafa Marquez had offered this to the reporters:

I think this is a team game, and unfortunately there isn't an equal level between my teammates and I.
Red Bulls' Rafa Marquez goes after teammates, says they're not on his level

(Update at 3:57 P.M.: RBNY coach Hans Backe has suspended Rafa for Saturday's match.)

He said that he is better than his teammates. He also discussed the skills of young, developing players who earn less than one-thousandth of his salary, and he did not talk about them kindly. He attempted to place all responsibility for the team's woes squarely on the shoulders of his teammates, and his attempt to absolve himself of culpability has offended many.

We can have the conversation about the translation and the possibility that what he said in Spanish did not translate properly to the reporters; but, it's too late for that. Any time we include other people's skills and achievements in a discussion of how badly our job was performed, it is called "throwing someone under the bus." And that's what Rafa Marquez did: he highlighted the shortcomings of others while inflating his own skills and role with the team, he threw his teammates, including (specifically) a young player who is a member of the national team and has a very promising future, under the bus.

So, instead of discussing the overall disaster that is Red Bull New York today, we discuss the impolitic statements of Rafa Marquez.

Will his teammates take his comments in stride? Will he offer words of contrition when he sees his teammates before they take the field Saturday night? And what will he do about the fans?

He is now the sole focus of everything that is wrong with RBNY. Nobody is discussing the failure of the front office and coaching staff, who have done a disastrous job with the team, and left us without any hope for the future, everybody is talking about Rafa's remarks.

Does he have a future with the team? Does he want a future with the team?

I am a fan of Rafa Marquez. I have been his fan for a long time. His arrival at Red Bull Arena was a joyous occasion for me. I want to believe that his remarks were translated in a way that makes them sound more dramatic than he intended; but, I don't think there is any basis for believing that. Even if his remarks are softened, he still did what none of us ever should: he threw his teammates under the bus.

As angry as I am about his remarks, I cannot boo him at the stadium. I simply would never boo any player on my team. As I said yesterday, I will boo my team at the conclusion of an awful match. I will happily engage in a critical discussion of my players' performance, but I will not boo an individual player while he is on the field. I just think it's impolitic, as impolitic as Rafa's remarks, and I will not stoop to that level.

Does he have a future with the team? It's hard to imagine that he will enjoy working at Red Bull Arena. I suspect the boos will continue until the final match of the season. Even if he becomes the best of all defenders for the last few matches of the season, the damage may be irreversible.

What do I want from Marquez? I want him to appear with his teammates at a press conference, apologize for denigrating them, and appeal to the supporters for unity. I want him to acknowledge the anger of the fans, and admit that (even if taken out-of-context) his remarks were inappropriate and inaccurate.

I want Rafa Marquez on RBNY. I do not share my fellow-supporters opinions that he is not doing a good job. I think his role is limited and I think that he has spent most of his career surrounded by players whose performances mask his short-comings, and helped him excel. In MLS, he is expected to be a leader and a mutli-faceted defender, and perhaps he cannot be those things.

Whatever the long-term impact of his remarks, he needs to step forward this weekend and show some contrition. It's the only thing that will save his reputation with the supporters.

It's sad to see a star of his calibre in this predicament; but he has nobody to blame for it but himself and only he can make it better.

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