Remembering Christian 'Chucho' Benitez

Posted by Eric Gomez

A little over two months ago, Christian Benitez was celebrating. He had just led Club America to an eleventh league title, no small achievement considering the team had gone eight years without a domestic championship. He had won a third scoring title since his arrival in Mexico, a place that he had adopted as home years ago, a place he was getting ready to say goodbye to.

"We've accomplished our goal, now I believe it's time to leave," Benitez told on-the-field reporters as the celebration begun at the Estadio Azteca. He was referring to a lingering rumor that had him leaving the club for greener pastures. Specifically, a European deal.

Over time, a potential sale to a top European club morphed into something else: a big money deal to the Middle East, a region that would offer him a contract more loaded than any top-league club would be willing to spend. It was a new adventure for 'Chucho', a man whose smile and good nature had won over millions of fans in Mexico and his country of birth, Ecuador, which he was hoping to lead into the World Cup next summer.

It was not an ugly divorce, as these things usually can be. Team president Ricardo Pelaez and manager Miguel Herrera thanked Benitez, shook his hand and moved on. Business as usual. Team officials hoped that after a few seasons abroad, the Ecuador international would come back, don the yellow jersey once more and retire in Mexico.

In Qatar, Benitez spoke of a place where preconceived notions were shattered. It was not a socially oppressive place where his wife would be limited, where he and his son would be judged by their faith or their skin color. The wide world of soccer had given them an opportunity to travel and explore a place usually reserved for players on the tail end of their careers.

As these stories will usually tell us, little did any of us know that tragedy was around the corner. At 27 years of age, Christian Benitez died in Qatar. News of Benitez's passing spread quickly, and sparked an overwhelming reaction that attests to the amount of people the former Club America star has touched.

- Christian Benitez died aged 27

Top players such as Antonio Valencia and Radamel Falcao reacted on Twitter, while a bevy of journalists and fans took to social media to do the same. Birmingham City, the English club where Benitez spent a season, confirmed they would honor their former player. Santos Laguna of Mexico did the same. After a pair of games had been rescheduled, America will finally make its debut in the Liga Bancomer MX on Wednesday. It will do so now on a sour note.

Like other young footballers who have passed on, Benitez will be remembered fondly on a public stage for the next few days, but Club America has already asked to take on long-term care for Benitez's family: a wife and two young children, his true lasting legacy.

Two months ago, Club America fans celebrated in a bittersweet manner with Benitez, knowing full well that his days with the team had ended. Today, the world mourns with them to remember a man who left an indelible mark on many of us.

Rest in peace.

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