Remembering Christian "Chucho" Benitez
By Kim Tate
Many across the globe are mourning the sudden death of 27 year old international Ecuadorian striker Christian "Chucho" Benitez, who played with Santos Laguna, Birmingham City, and Liga MX Champions América. His passing comes one day after his first game with new Qatari club, Al Jaish.
A statement released by the Ecuadorian Football Federation (FEF) read "The FEF regrets to inform you of the death of Christian Benitez, the striker of Qatar club Al Jaish and the Ecuador national team. Benitez, who was with his new club in Qatar, had a severe stomach pain, which was why he was rushed to a hospital, where after a few hours suffered he suffered a cardiorespiratory arrest, which ended his life. The Ecuadorian Football Federation extends its heartfelt sympathy to the family - parents, wife, children - and friends of our striker Christian Benitez. May he rest in peace."
In Latin America, he leaves behind the legacy of a champion. He made 58 appearances for Ecuador, scoring 24 goals, which makes him the third highest scorer overall for the national team.
Benitez received an award in 2007 with Santos Laguna as "best Ecuadorian footballer outside of Ecuador," and also won Best Player of the Clasura in 2008, before being loaned to Premier League side Birmingham City in 2009/10 where he scored four goals in 36 appearances. He made his debut at Old Trafford against Manchester United and scored his first goal against Liverpool.
When then-City manager Alex Mc Leish returned him to Santos Laguna, Benitez signed to play for Club América in 2011. With a transfer fee of $10 million, Benitez and América established a record for a club in México.
He scored in his debut on July 24 in a 2–1 win against Querétaro. He registered his first hat trick with América in August of 2011 against Atlas in a 5–2 win. He ended the 2012 Clausura with 14 goals and ended up being the league's top scorer along with Iván Alonso.
On November 11 during the 2012/2013 season, Benitez became joint top goal-scorer of the 2012 Apertura alongside Atlante's Esteban Paredes. He ended the Clausura 2013 in Liga MX as top scorer for the third consecutive season, and on May 26, Benitez and América became champions after defeating Cruz Azul 4-2 in a penalty shoot-out, where he converted the second penalty.
An outpouring of sympathy and heartfelt emotions flooded Twitter this morning, including a tweet in English and Spanish from Mexico National Team and Manchester United striker Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, which read "Extremely sad and shocked by the death of Chucho Benítez, my thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.. #animoEcuador" (English translation)
Fellow international teammate Antonio Valencia shared his pain on Twitter, with moments of expressed disbelief.
"This strong pain you've caused me will stay forever my brother, but we love you.
"Brother, God is with your family, we love you.
"Please brother. Someone please say no."
Mexican American players who knew the striker also took to social media to share their thoughts and memories. US Men's National Team and Xolos de Tijuana left back Edgar Castillo posted a picture on his Instagram page of Benitez holding a trophy, the caption reading "Friend, companion, brother; you stay in my heart as a great person..." (English translation)
Birmingham City released a statement that read "Birmingham City Football Club is saddened to learn of the passing of former striker Christian 'Chucho' Benitez. The thoughts of all associated with the football club are with Chucho's family and friends at this very sad time."
Benitez leaves behind wife Liseth, the daughter of fellow international player Cleber Chala, and twins who were born in 2009.