Defeating 3 de Febrero 4-0 on Sunday, Paraguayan club 12 de Octubre won promotion to the Paraguayan second division, a fitting end to Salvador Cabañas’s first season back in soccer (link in Spanish). After two years on the sidelines, the 32-year-old returned to his first club this spring, still carrying the bullet that nearly ended his life.
On Jan. 25, 2010, Cabañas was one of the best players in the Mexican Primera. He was the focal point of a Paraguayan national team that had qualified for South Africa’s World Cup. He was a recent South American Footballer of the Year, twice leading scorer in the Copa Libertadores, and the best player on one of Mexico’s biggest clubs: Club América.
Early that morning, Cabañas was assaulted in the bathroom of a Mexico City club, shot in the head. Initial fears for his life faded, though it was decided the bullet would never come out. Operations, intensive care, and physical therapy followed. Cabañas still spoke ambitiously about making that summer’s World Cup, though it was still unclear whether he’d even resume a normal life.
With these types of recoveries, normal life is usually a euphemism for regular, daily, independent functions. For you and me that might be walking the stairs to our apartment or being able to drive the car to work. For Cabañas, that meant soccer.
In January, Cabañas signed with his original club, 12 de Octubre, who had fallen to the third division since his spell with the team 11 years ago. This April, Cabañas made his debut, the first of 12 starts during Octubre’s title campaign.
He never found goal, not that it particularly matters. With the exception of the man himself, nobody’s judging Cabañas’s production. Even if they were, the goals would be footnotes in a much larger story, one which got its happy endin after Sunday’s victory.