Recovery position

Adam Brandon reports on the story of a footballer whose career, and life, was suddenly put in jeopardy

Just over a year ago Paraguayan striker Salvador Cabañas had been enjoying life as “King of América”, the title bestowed on him by fans of his club in Mexico City for whom he had scored 66 goals in 115 games. Then he was shot in the head in the toilet of a bar where he had gone drinking with his wife and his life turned upside down.

Cabañas is not a footballer who was well known outside of Latin America, as he never made a move to Europe, despite interest from Sunderland. Steve Bruce said just two weeks before the attack: “I’ve monitored Cabañas. He is a fantastic player, whether it’s possible, I’m not quite sure.” Cabañas’ agent also confirmed Sunderland’s initial approach.

After a steady start to his career in Paraguay, Cabañas’ reputation really grew when he had a prolific season with Audax Italiano in the Chilean Primera Division in 2003. That earned him a big money move to Mexico, first with Jaguares de Chiapas then to one of the country’s top sides, Club América. He was a hero at home too, having been top scorer for Paraguay in their qualification for the 2010 World Cup. When the news of his shooting came though, thousands gathered in the national stadium to hold a vigil. After 30 days he regained consciousness and was able to talk, although he remembers nothing of the actual incident.

Cabañas’ wife Maria Alonso subsequently came in for criticism in Paraguay for asking the government to grant them a welfare pension, something usually only reserved for the very poorest citizens. She has now rejected the offer from the government, however, and says she simply wants justice for her husband.

Although Club América have now agreed to pay some of Cabañas’ outstanding wages, it is said to be a lot less than he is owed and his outstanding tax bill has left him on the verge of bankruptcy. He is now suing his former agent, José María González, for fraud and failure to notify him of his tax issues – and is being countersued by González for 
these claims.

The man at the centre of investigations into the shooting is José Jorge Balderas Garza, known as “JJ”. Having been in hiding since the incident, he was arrested recently along with six associates with the help of Facebook – a location update posted by his Colombian model girlfriend alerted Mexican police to his whereabouts.

JJ is an alleged lieutenant of one of Mexico’s most notorious drug traffickers Edgar Valdez Villarreal, known as “La Barbie”, who was rounded up by police late last year. Various rumours are circulating about why Cabañas may have been attacked, though one witness says the pair were arguing about football and the player’s contribution to Club América.

JJ claims was Cabañas acting violently that night but has blamed the shooting on his bodyguard (whom he has now said should be killed for his “betrayal”). Cabañas needs to go back to Mexico to give evidence at JJ’s trial but there is an arrest warrant out for him too – over taxes unpaid since 2007. Yet Cabañas still holds hope of a return to football and to Club América, saying recently: “If I return, I’ll be there to score goals.” If that did happen then a miracle would be complete.

From WSC 289 March 2011