Lead in his head, love in his heart
By Jorge Adorno
There is so much sadness in some people’s lives. I felt immense sadness upon writing this, because I saw and felt the pain behind Salvador Cabañas’s eyes.
I first spoke to the great soccer player on January 24, four years and a day since he was on the threshold of death.
In Paraguay they call him the Mariscal (Marshal in English), while in Mexico he is known as “Chava,” a common nickname for Salvador. In both places, they were dazzled by his soccer genius.
It was always a great privilege for me to watch him score goals in many different stadiums and with nearly all the different team jerseys that he wore. I saw him score for Paraguay’s national team, for Club America of Mexico, and for Paraguayans clubs 12 de Octubre and Guarani. He is considered the best Paraguayan player of recent times, and led the national team to qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. But although he led them to qualify, he never made it to the tournament…
On January 25, 2010 the euphoria around Cabañas ended with the terrible news of an attempt on his life in the “Bar Bar” night club in Mexico City. He received a gunshot to the head, which echoed again and again in our hearts as he began his struggle with death.
Many people began to pray for his life across Paraguay and Mexico. Among them was Gerardo Martino, our national team coach at the time. Another noteworthy fan was Horacio Cartes, then director of the national team and now the president of Paraguay.
After two years of medical care and inactivity, Salvador finally reappeared. But with a bullet now permanently lodged in his skull, his problems were not over. His situation was complicated by his separation from his wife, Maria Lorgia, who was with him at the bar the night he was shot, and by accusations against his manager for allegedly mishandling his money.
A lot of water has flowed under the bridge in the four years since that tragic day. I had the good fortune to talk to Cabañas for the first time, after several attempts to contact him by phone.
Thanks to his new manager, his brother-in-law Amancio, I found out that Salvador was going to watch a team practice, and that I could accompany him. His brother said that I could ask Salvador anything I wanted.
My first question was, “Hi Mariscal. Are you going to practice?”
He answered, “No. I’m just going to watch.”
He stepped onto the field and I asked him if I could take some pictures of him with the ball. He took the ball, made an excuse about not wearing proper soccer boots, and then passed the ball back and forth with a boy named Nelson. After that I began the interview.
ME: “Salvador, why do you think Paraguay didn’t qualify for the World Cup?”
CABAÑAS: “Because I wasn’t with them. Paraguay doesn’t have a team leader.”
ME: “That tattoo of Jesus Christ on your arm, what does it represent to you?”
CABAÑAS: “He saved my life and listened to me during my most difficult moments.”
I was shocked by the sincerity of his responses. I had not expected such a relaxed conversation and I felt a rush of emotion. Maybe his body can’t respond as a professional athlete, but he does know what he wants.
We went to his father’s house where he currently lives, and my interview continued.
ME: “Why do you have the names of your children tattooed on your arm?”
CABAÑAS: “Because they are what I love the most. They’re my jewels, my son Santiago and my daughter Ivonne.”
ME: “Do your former national club teammates visit you?”
CABAÑAS: “Nobody. I only see them when the team invites me to some event.”
ME: “What would you say to the person who shot you in the head?”
CABAÑAS: “That I forgive him. I say that now and I always said it.”
ME: “Who is the best player in the world?”
CABAÑAS: “Lionel Messi. If FIFA chose Cristiano Ronaldo, that still doesn’t mean that Messi isn’t the best.”
ME: “For which team are you going to root during the World Cup?”
CABAÑAS: “For Argentina.”
ME: “What would you say to those young players who were with you this afternoon?”
CABAÑAS: “That they should dedicate themselves to the sport, that when they triumph they invest their money in land and education, and help their families.”
ME: “Why do you avoid the press so much?”
CABAÑAS: “Because there are certain types of media that hurt me very much. Journalists should ask me about soccer and anything related to it, but they are always looking for something wrong with my family, my finances, or women. Anything that raises their ratings.”
ME: “Do you have a dream now?”
CABAÑAS: “Yes, that some soccer club in the United States invites me to teach children to play soccer.”
Salvador Cabañas may have lost his glory, his money, his fame, his wife, and the praise that journalists once showered on him, but he still has the most precious jewel of all – his life.