Salvador Cabanas: Dead Man Walking
In January 2010, Salvador Cabanas went to a bar in Mexico City. He got up from his seat to take what he thought would be a routine trip to the restroom. Cabanas was joined by a man at the urinal who said: “I’m going to shoot you” Cabanas cooly replied: “Go on then. Do it.” Cabanas was shot directly in the head with a pistol. Salvador was left for dead on the floor of a Mexico City bar with a bullet lodged in his brain.
At the time the South American hit-man was in prolific form for one of Mexico’s biggest clubs, Club America. He had it all going for him.
Cabanas was a star striker for his nation, boasting a solid record of 10 goals in 44 games for the national team. He lead their line in the qualifying stages for the 2010 FIFA World Cup campaign, and was the South American nation’s top goal scorer. Now, in 2012,Cabanas is counting his blessings. The former Paraguayan front man is miraculously still playing football at Paraguayan third division side 12 de Octubre.
Except Cabanas has a problem. A problem which will plague him for the rest of his life. The bullet is still lodged inside his brain. The chances of surviving a gunshot to the head are a measly 5%. “The surgeon told me it was a miracle I didn’t die” exclaimed the former Paraguayan frontman.
After an emergency operation and two years of intense treatment in Buenos Aires, he returned to his beloved game in April of this year, to play for his boyhood club, Itaugua.
This isn’t the end of a somewhat enthralling tale of a man who won’t back down. Cabanas carries an unwanted passenger with him everywhere he goes. This passenger is a bullet, still lodged in his brain from over 2 years ago. And what’s even more astonishing? His next header could kill him. Yet he plays on. This man knows no fear, no boundaries. He is hailed a hero in Paraguay’s capital city Asuncian, the phrase ‘Idolo Maximo’ – greatest idol – follows his legendary name.
Cabanas still, to this day, delineates the incident clearly, giving a vivid, colourful description of that eventful night in Mexico City, which almost proved fatal to his life. “I went to the toilet and my attacker was standing next to me. Suddenly, he turned around, took out a gun from his jeans and pointed it at my forehead. He said to me: ‘Who do you think you are? You think that you’re better than everybody else, but all you do is play football.’ I told him that of course I’m a nobody. I’m just a footballer. He told me I was robbing Mexicans. ‘I’m not here to rob’ I said. ‘I came here to earn my money and help club America.’ Then he told me he was going to kill me.
‘I’m gong to shoot you, son,’ he said. So I replied: ‘Go on then. Do it.’ And he did.”
The shooter was later identified by Police as Jose Jorge Balderas, a gangster who infamously laundered money for Edgar Valdez Villarael, known as La Barbie, one of Mexico’s most notorious drug cartel leaders. Salvador can at least let his guard down for now without having to constantly look over his shoulder, as the delinquent who committed this crime ( a former drug lord) is rotting away in a Mexican prison.
The bullet has been deemed too dangerous to move by various surgeons, as it is sitting on top of a principal vein in his brain.Cabanas can count himself lucky, but how long is it before we witness another atrocity such as this one? A certain Bill Shankly once said “Football is not a matter of life and death. I can assure you, it is much, much more important than that.” This quote certainly sums up this incident accurately , and Salvador Cabanas must still be counting his lucky stars today. He is yet to score for 12 de Octubre in his second stint as a player at the club, but I can imagine that is the least of his worries, and one of the last things on his mind.