Photo by ISIPHotos.com
BY DAVE MARTINEZ
HARRISON, N.J.– Having played in one third of the Red Bull’s regular season matches (9 of 27), and appearing for just five minutes of play during the course of the past eight weeks, Rafa Marquez finally feels fit enough to return to the team and contribute in a major way.
“I find myself at 100% and ready to play,” Marquez said after training at Red Bull Arena on Thursday. “I have to go little by little. I expect to play 60-70 minutes at a good level because there are three games coming up and I want to be 100% for all three. “
Red Bulls coach Hans Backe has seen a difference in his enigmatic Designated Player since his return, but downplayed Rafa’s ambitious expectations.
“I think he is fit, he has been training well, and as always, when players are coming back from injuries, you need to be smart that you don’t pick up new injuries,” Backe explained. “The number of minutes he can play I am not really sure. You have to look at the game if he is coming on from the bench or if he is a starter.”
Marquez, who garnered some criticism for leaving the team to seek out medical attention in Mexico for his chronic calf issue, feels the move may have been the right one for his recuperation.
“I had to seek other options and work a bit harder to come back at a good level,” he explained. “(He went to Mexico) specifically to work on my rehabilitation. I worked day and night for two weeks.
“It wasn’t a vacation. I went there to recover.”
“He has definitely shown that the last six sessions after the break that he would like to contribute,” Backe observed. “Giving the guys this break and looking into the six sessions, it’s probably the best five, six sessions of the year. Competitive, intense sessions. With almost every player back from injury, it will be a very, very competitive team.”
“I’m really hungry to come back and help out,” Rafa said. “I’ve missed too many games already and I don’t want to miss the home stretch of the season.”
Long-time friend and teammate Thierry Henry once again showed support for Marquez, who’s nagging injuries have created a cloud of controversy surrounding his time as a Red Bull.
“You know already (how I feel about Rafa),” Henry told reporters. “And I can assure you guys he didn’t pay me to say what I say every time about him.
“I just think there is a big, big, big misunderstanding with Rafa Marquez, unfortunately for him. I can assure you he was injured," Henry added. " I can hear some people thinking he doesn’t want to play or something like that – that’s not the case. The guy is a competitor. Sometimes when your body doesn’t respond, your body doesn’t respond – it’s not a reason to doubt him.”
Marquez echoed the team captain’s sentiments. Asked about missing the World Cup Qualifiers with Mexico, Rafa replied, “It is difficult, just like with Red Bull. You always want to play and it’s difficult when you are out and you can only watch your teammates play. It’s a little frustrating.”
For Henry, Rafa’s contribution is unequivocal.
“I’ve said it many times and ill repeat it; we need him to win the league," Henry said. "Simple as that.”