On 25 January 2010, the name of Salvador Cabanas dominated the world’s sporting headlines, yet for the most distressing of reasons. A star at Mexican giants Club America and widely expected to make Paraguay's squad for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, the prolific striker was shot in the head following a disagreement in a bar.
Having survived that initial attack, El Chava has since undergone a whole series of operations, spells at rehab clinics and psychological therapy to get him where he is today: on the verge of returning to professional action in the colours of his former club, Paraguayan third-flight side 12 de Octubre.
While Cabanas continues to go through the final stages of the recovery process, with the player currently rating himself at “around 80 per cent”, the 31-year-old spoke to FIFA.com on a range of issues including his imminent return, his feelings towards Mexico and his desire to represent Paraguay at Brazil 2014.
FIFA.com: Salvador, first of all we’d like to congratulate you on your comeback. In doing so you’ve managed to inspire many people, and not just those in the game…
Salvador Cabanas: Thanks very much! To tell you the truth I feel very good and very happy. I’m just trying to do the right things to get myself back to 100 per cent and back on the pitch as quickly as possible. That’s what I want more than anything.
How often have you dreamed of this moment over the last two years?
So often and for such a long time. And it’s incredible to be ending up doing it at the club where I started my career. They’re giving me the opportunity to be here, they opened the doors to me so I could come and train and complete my recovery, and I couldn’t be more grateful to them.
How did your return to 12 de Octubre come about?
I’m good friends with the club’s president, which made agreeing to come here very simple. My team-mates are youngsters who, until not that long ago, used to watch me play. They tell me they’re excited [to have me here] and that they admire me, which really means a lot. Feeling like this will help me complete my recovery, so fingers crossed I can do that soon.
I have to be careful not to head balls that are hit very hard, because I’ve still got the bullet lodged in my head. That’s why I keep working towards my full recovery, as I want to be 100 per cent again.
Presumably, your new team’s goals revolve around promotion to the top flight, but what are your individual objectives?
That’s right, the goal of the club’s board and coaching staff is promotion to the Primera Division and of course that’s what I want too. I’m finding all of this really exciting. Football is my life and it’s giving me another chance. I’m feeling fine and achieving that feat would be a really big deal.
Your coach is none other than Rolando Chilavert, the brother of former Paraguay keeper Jose Luis. How important is it that you’ve already worked under Rolando during your previous spell at 12 de Octubre?
Very important. It’s good to be here with him at this time, as he’s someone who knows me so well. That’s why I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you, both to Rolando and his entire coaching staff, for giving me this chance.
Have you been given any specific medical advice with regard to playing professionally again?
I have to be careful not to head balls that are hit very hard, because I’ve still got the bullet lodged in my head. That’s why I keep working towards my full recovery, as I want to be 100 per cent again to be able to enjoy myself and give it everything I’ve got.
Not long ago you stated that one of your aims was to force your way back into Paraguay contention. Though we’re aware you have to take things step by step, could you see yourself being involved at Brazil 2014?
Yes, of course. Why not? It’s going to depend on me. The national team’s always on my mind and in my heart, and I’ll do everything in my power to be able to pull on those colours again. I must admit that I’ve not seen many of their matches recently, but I know the team’s doing really well. The coach [Francisco Arce] has a lot to do with that - he’s a great professional. The most important thing is that the lads work hard and give their all out on the pitch.
Have you been following the performances of the Albirroja strikers over the past two years? What’s your verdict on their displays?
Yes, of course. I know the players well but I wouldn’t like to pick out any individual over and above the others. If they’re in the national team it’s for a good reason, and you have to let them get on with their job in peace.
How would you describe the way you’ve recovered? Would ‘miraculous’ be going too far?
I’ve always been a believer, throughout my whole life. And this has given me proof, as very few people survive what happened to me. But here I am, still standing and with my family alongside me, which is the most important thing of all. Only those who’ve been through something like this know how much moments like this mean.
What have you learned from this experience? How has it changed you as a person?
What I’ve always done is enjoy time with my family, both with my wife and with my children, and I continue to live that way. But I would like to thank all the Paraguayans who prayed for me and for my recovery. As a footballer you give certain things to people, and now they’ve responded with their thoughts and prayers. That’s something very beautiful.
What kind of memories does Mexico stir for you now? Though that was where the unfortunate incident occurred, you also enjoyed a lot of success there didn’t you?
I’ve got really great memories. I spent a long time there and I experienced some wonderful things. Jaguares opened so many doors for me and then came my time at America, a club which gave me everything. Not to mention all the friends I made there. I’ve only got the very best memories of Mexico.
Would you play there again if the chance arose?
Of course, I’d love to! I’m going to put in all the effort needed to complete my recovery and achieve as many objectives as possible. I was fortunate enough to be the subject of a tribute at America recently, where I was able to look back at some marvellous moments and be among friends. So there’s not much more I can add on the subject, just that I’ll be eternally grateful to America.
One final question, when you score your first competitive goal at 12 de Octubre, who will you dedicate it too?
My first goal will be for my parents, my wife, my children and for [Libertad president] Horacio Cartes, a man I have huge appreciation for. To be honest though, I’ve still not really imagined how that goal might be, but one thing is for certain: once I’ve made my debut, the goals will soon start to flow.