This was supposed to be a week of footie celebration: the world cup field is finally going to be filled up, the Mexican liguilla is gearing up, and the MLS Cup culminates a terrific season for the local league. All of that is still going to happen, and we should all enjoy the festival. I know I will, albeit with a heavy heart.
Antonio de Nigris, the 31 year old Mexican striker, died suddenly yesterday in Greece. I never met the man, but always admired him for the courage he showed to leave the cozy confines of the Mexican Primera to try his luck elsewhere. Blackballed or not, el Tano wanted to play the game, and if it meant he had to emigrate, so be it. His journey took him to Spain, Colombia, Brazil, Turkey, and finally Greece. He played for 12 teams overall.
I was really hoping that De Nigris would find his scoring touch for his last team, Larissa. He had evolved into the kind of player who would be a solid addition to a national team. He wasn’t the most talented player, but he compensated with a mountain of guile and was the consummate pro.
I liked De Nigris, but I really wasn’t sure why he never got the call-ups. It’s not as if you pluck strikers off trees in Mexico. He had modest success with the Tri early in his career, including a stellar performance in the 2001 Copa America. But he was left of the 2002 world cup squad, and didn’t get called back until last year.
As the season started, Tano was looking for a team. He had fallen out of favor with his last Turkish club, Ankaragucu. In an interview with Raza Deportiva (ESPN Deportes’ morning show), he was asked if he could return to Mexico. De Nigris would not comment if the “Pacto de Caballeros” was preventing him from returning to Mexico. So it obviously was. But De Nigris was unfazed, and determined to play somewhere, anywhere, to see if he could fulfill his world cup dream. He found his club, but won’t get his chance to realize his dream.
Que en paz descanses, Tano.