The Craziest South American Footballers
A casual Facebook status recently had me breaking out in an almost uncontrollable fit of laughter, the content of said status unleashing wild images in my mind of the crazed actions of a prestigious minority. These select few are an unusual breed, lumbered with a reckless and rugged devil-may-care attitude often redeemed by a god given talent to entertain the masses in their chosen field. A roll call of misdemeanours that would make the hardened criminal proud is often offset with trophies and glory, their sins temporarily forgiven as soon as their next act of inspirational genius is unleashed. The South American footballer is the subject in mind and in particular the more “loco” extremes of that colourful contingent, a self-destructive cartel that seems to be one constant still prevalent in the new capitalist greedy and murky world of Globalised football and all that entails.
To the regular viewer of the polished Premier League we are often privy to the incredibly boring and repetitive actions of our footballers outside of the game. The stories that do explode of the front pages of the country’s press tends to be more focused on the sex life’s of the 20-somethings as opposed to genuine ‘loco’ behaviour, a constant stream of threesomes and affairs by the immoralistic and hedonistic young men being paid ransoms to kick a ball around our pitches. There have been minor blips in this carefully constructed PR haven however, names such as Eric Cantona, Paolo Di Canio and lately Mario Balotelli providing jaw-dropping glimpses into their extrovert personalities that have occasionally bubbled over. Yet, does this country compare with the best South America can offer? No chance.
Lets study some of the more extreme actions of South America’s most infamous loco’s and check out their rap sheets. How about beginning with the player whom best encapsulated the crazy South American stereotype, even earning the nickname “el Loco” due to his extracurricular (and sometimes curricular) activities. Rene Higuita was born in 1966 in Medellin, Colombia and through his undoubted talent as a goalkeeper progressed into the national team for whom he ended up winning 68 caps over a decade. El Loco Higuita is perhaps best remembered by UK-based sporting fans for his incredible save from a tame Jamie Redknapp cross-cum-shot in a 1995 friendly between Columbia and England at Wembley. Expected to be nothing other than a simple catch for the eccentric keeper turned into one of the greatest sporting moments, Higuita launching his body forward before clearing the ball with the soles of his feet, calling the incredibly picturesque yet professionally risky move “the Scorpion kick”. Cue this writer and many other school children taking to the playing fields all across the country and winding themselves countless times trying to re-enact the pointless clearance. Higuita had infact become famous five years earlier when during the 1990 World Cup he inexplicably began dithering and dribbling on the ball way out of his usual remit, being dispossessed by the eternally young Roger Milla whom proceeded to score in the unguarded net and eliminate Higuita’s Columbia from the competition. Emanating from a nation probably best known for its drug barons and production of Cocaine, why a professional footballer of international repute felt the need to get involved is not evident to normal people but to someone of a Loco temperament it may seem normal. The result? Imprisoned for profiteering from a kidnapping and missing the 1994 World Cup as a result. That’s correct, Higuita acted as a go-between for infamous barons Pablo Escobar and Carlos Molina and his ill-gotten gains of $64,000 landed him in jail. After being released from his seven month sentence, the cult hero stated in an interview “the best moments of my life are the ones I spent in jail. In jail I found a different kind of loyalty – from the so-called delinquent, the so-called narco-trafficker, the so-called terrorist. I learned to know his heart, and it is a noble heart”. El Loco indeed.
Whilst having one madman in your team may seem bad enough, then you must feel some sympathy for the carthorses that made up Columbia’s talented 90’s generation for they were also lumbered with another madman in the cart wheeling dynamo that was Faustino Asprilla. Notable to British fans as the man who, unfairly and incorrectly it must be said, was considered the catalyst for Newcastle’s implosion in the 1997 title race ‘Tino nevertheless left Tyneside awash with memories of historic European nights. This was never best demonstrated by his one-man show against the mighty Barcelona in the Champions’ League group stage when leaping like a salmon his hat-trick put the sword to the Catalan giants with aplomb. The Colombian’s silky skills were often overshadowed by his off the pitch temperament, which goes some way to highlighting just how mad “The Octopus” and one time FIFA top 6 player in the world nominee actually was. As Parma’s star striker, he was expected to lead the line in the 1993 European Cup Winners Cup final but was forced to sit it out through an injury that no doubt would have been avoided if he was a little bit less, well, mad. Involved in a routine car accident with a bus driver in Columbia when he attempted to exit his vehicle to take up his issue with the offending driver his opposite number slammed the door shut on him, forcing Tino to kick at the windows. The result was perhaps inevitable, his foot went through the sturdy glass and he was out of a major European final. After moving to Newcastle he was being wined and dined in the stadium before settling down to watch his new teammates with a glass of wine still barely down his throat…within an hour the Toon’s newest star was on the pitch scoring. It wasn’t a lengthy stay on Tyneside and before long the man who wore his shirt outside his shorts and his socks round his ankles like a naughty schoolboy was back at Parma before winding down his career with as a journeyman on his native Continent. In 2008 the mercurial Colombian was arrested after becoming so enraged at a standard checkpoint in his native country he began firing at the security forces with a machine gun, peppering the area with bullets as though in a Scarface movie. The Octopus became allegedly enraged when his friends were refused entry into a farm at the check point and thus began the shooting, 29 bullets being fired from the firearm although no one was hurt. Not the first time Tino landed in hot water for use of an illegal weapon, at the height of his powers in 1995 the international superstar almost found himself imprisoned for firing his gun outside a nightclub. Another infamous story, which he dispels himself as nothing more than a training ground prank, was when he turned up to training whilst playing in Chile with a firearm and threatened to shoot the players if they didn’t run. What he claims was a joke was still reported by a watching journalist and adds yet another outlandish incident in a lifetime of unstable behaviour from the El Pulpo.
Jose Luis Chilavert
When it comes to crazy goalkeepers, after one has thought of Rene Higuita and his hair, thoughts quickly turn to the goal scoring menace between the posts for Velez Sarsfield and Paraguay; Jose Luis Chilavert. Noted for a brawl with the aforementioned Tino Asprilla in 1997 when they came to blows during a World Cup qualifier, whilst Higuita was more of a crazed persuasion Chilavert was certainly more temperamental, a typical Latin hothead. He also nearly came to blows with fellow South American legend Roberto Carlos after a qualifier between Paraguay and Brazil when he was sent off and banned for spitting at the famous left back, although he alleged that he did so as he was the victim of racial abuse from the Brazilian. The crazy Chilavert then went further into the realms of the ridiculous by exploding the myth of South American unity by claiming that his action of spitting on the Brazilian was justified as the match was a war and referenced the claiming of Paraguayan land by the Brazilians in the 19th Century War of the Triple Alliance. After leaving Velez at the beginning of the millennium Chilavert temporarily played in France for Strasbourg and in 2005 it was because of this short spell he received a suspended Six month prison sentence by French authorities for falsifying documents in an attempt to claim undue compensation from RC Strasbourg. It is perhaps fitting that the last we have heard of Chilavert was with an outburst of his combustible temper in an airport when he was caught on CCTV confronting and trying to fight his agent over a monetary dispute in a way more befitting an episode of The Sopranos than a lauded ex-international star. An lauded he certainly was. In amidst the off-the-field outbursts and the explosive free-kicks not only was Chilavert the first recognised Goalkeeper to score a hat trick in a top level game but was voted the IFFHS World Goalkeeper of the Year an unprecedented three times in 1995, 1997 and 1998 as well as his strong showing at the 2002 World Cup.
Another goalkeeper with a suspect mental capacity but of a more innocent nature was England’s tormentor from the 1998 World Cup Carlos Roa, a top quality goalkeeper who at the peak of his powers abruptly retired and removed himself from public life in accordance with his devout Seventh –Day Adventist Church beliefs that the world was due to end on the cusp of the new millennium. Probably the most bizarre retirement reason the game has ever seen from an international sportsman, “The Lettuce” eventually accepted the inevitability that the world had indeed not ended and returned to his old club Mallorca to begin a gradual decline through the Spanish leagues, his undoubted talent having been irreparably tarnished by inactivity.
Another player whom has seemingly vanished of late but with completely different outlook to life is the Ecuadorian fireball that is Armando Paredes. Unlike his exalted company on this list, Paredes is much lesser talent whom has only earned 2 caps for his country but arguably would be a lot more if he wasn’t…well, loco. As missing training sessions and having an overactive social life being minor to him, Paredes came to prominence when he was substituted by his manager at Emelec and proceeded to not only throw his shirt to the floor in anger and disgust but to launch a tirade of death threats towards his boss. As well as attacking photographers Paredes also found himself arrested in 2009 for attacking his former partner, her mother and the maid after breaking into their house in an intoxicated manner. Before being arrested by the police officers he had insulted, he also managed to scrape through a scuffle with his ex-partner’s relatives before innocently proclaiming he had “only wanted to relax with his daughter” when quizzed on the incident. After being dismissed from yet another club in 2010 for refusing to give blood for a standard test (something to hide perhaps?) Paredes has yet to resurface, although it is surely only a matter of time before his path of destruction comes back to the fore.
When you have earned the epithet “The Animal”, it would take a very brave man to encounter ex Brazilian World Cup runner up Edmundo without even a hint of trepidation. Once described as having a “lion-like temper” by an ex Chairman and receiving seven red cards in one year, Edmundo has a pretty impressive, or unimpressive as it may be, rap sheet of immaturity, assault, going awol, alcohol and even death. Again as seems to be the norm, Edmundo had incredible talent and was often lauded as one of the world’s best strikers but with the incredible handicap of being, well, himself. In what would turn out to be a vintage year of misdemeanours, 1995 began with a bang when during the South American quarter final against Argentinean team Velez Sarsfield he responded to a tough challenge from an opposition player by slapping him square on the face, earning a punch back for his trouble. The result would be an all out brawl between both teams and coaching staffs as belligerents on all sides aimed kung-fu kicks and punches at each other. That same year he was also temporarily detained in jail in the Ecuadorian city of Guayaquil after lashing out at a TV Cameraman after missing a penalty in a Copa Libertadores match before being pardoned when the Brazilian Foreign Ministry stepped in. Incredibly this would be a tame incident compared to what happened in December that year when an inebriated and intoxicated Edmundo crashed his speeding pickup truck into another car, killing the three passengers whilst he himself would only receive 10 stitches. After he was found guilty of drink driving and manslaughter incredibly he wasn’t jailed outright, but rather was essentially given a free pass due to his profession and at the time of sentencing would only spend a few nights imprisoned. Finally in 2011, after spending some time on the run, the ex Brazilian star was arrested and commanded to serve the four years jail time he had originally been sentenced to. The final incident for which the Animal is perhaps best remembered was the occasion in 1999 when for his son’s birthday party he hired an entire circus for his back garden and proceeded to fuel a chimpanzee with beer and whisky, earning the ire from animals rights groups and the police. With a name like “The Animal”, Edmundo was never going to be a quiet shrinking violet.
To some Garrincha was even greater than Pele. The disabled child with the bend legs whom grew up to win two World Cups possessed the kind of talent which genuine football men always appreciated even if general acclaim from an ignorant public was never as forthcoming as it was with his great teammate Pele. By all accounts, on the pitch Garrincha was a dream, floating past players with ease using his unequalled dribbling skills. As well as being a two time World Cup winner, the 1962 edition’s player of the tournament and scoring an incredible 232 goals in 581 games for Botafogo, Garrincha was honoured when the home dressing room of the Maracana was named after him whilst the away dressing took the name of Pele. As great as his on pitch career was, just like George Best it is the off field tragedy that propels him from mere sportsman to flawed icon. Just like his father, Garrincha developed a lethal liking for the taste of alcohol from a young age and would continue to be addicted to the juice for the rest of his life. His wayward drinking didn’t seem to affect his social life, for Garrincha also married young and fathered 8 daughters with his wife before controversially leaving her for a famous Brazilian samba singer. By his death he was believed to have fathered at least 14 children although rumours have been known to put this number at 30 plus. By the late 1960’s Garrincha was a full blown alcoholic and despite never legally learning to drive regularly found himself behind the wheel in an intoxicated state, having got into numerous crashes including running over his father once. The lowest point of his life no doubt came in 1969 when he drove into a lorry in a car wreck that caused the death of his mother-in-law. Garrincha continued to deteriorate before finally succumbing to cirrhosis of the liver in 1983, passing away at the young age of 49. Strikingly, it was only 20 years after his peak atop the world game of football.
No article on extrovert and crazy South American footballers is complete without the King himself, El Diego. The rap sheet of the greatest of all times is so littered with controversy it’s impossible to know where to begin. Gun crime. Assault. Rants. Weight Gain. Dictators. Drugs. Maradona has seen and done it all, both on and off the pitch. Let’s begin with his cocaine addiction. Allegedly becoming hooked in 1982 whilst playing for Catalan giants Barcelona and carrying the habit throughout the next two decades, he has been suspended from the sport on two separate occasions for his addiction. There was the time he was given a 15 month ban whilst at Napoli in the early 90’s before incurring another ban during his decline in 1997. In between this came arguably his most infamous suspension when he was tested and found positive for ephedrine during the 1994 World Cup, being sent home in disgrace from a tournament he had temporarily lit up with a wide-eyed celebration more becoming of a madman than a sportsman. Further proof that he hadn’t learnt his lesson and continued to use the white powder came in 2000 when he was busted by Uruguayan police with the drug still in his system and further in 2004 when the obese 20-stone legend suffered a heart attack allegedly brought on by a cocaine overdose. Maradona had retired in 1997 on his 37th Birthday and immediately descended into a coke-addled mess, his weight ballooning to unrecognizable levels before he began to overcome his cocaine addiction in 2005 together with a stomach stapling operation to control his weight.
Aside from his unrivalled on-pitch skills that led him to becoming the world’s most expensive player (twice) in the early 1980’s he first came to prominence away from his football skills for an incredible on-field brawl in the 1984 Spanish Cup final when chaos broke out between his Barcelona team and those of their rivals Athletic Bilbao after the match. Although by no means the only player whom erupted, Maradona was infamous spotted launching a series of karate kicks at anything that moved, his acrobatic attacks catching their targets on more than one occasion. It doesn’t need to be highlighted that this was also the period that the unhappy Argentine began experimenting with cocaina. After moving to Naples after Barcelona, El Diez reached the peak of his powers on the pitch but also began cavorting with the shadier elements of Neapolitan society off the pitch, namely the Mafioso-like Camorra. An investigation by the authorities into links with the Camorra’s drugs and prostitution rackets were only abandoned shortly before his 1991 failed test and his nocturnal activities around Naples were not innocent to say the least. A recent story emanating from the mouth of an incarcerated Mafia don was that the Camorra had even melted down his 1986 World Cup Golden Ball trophy in another example of the incredible community that Maradona immersed himself in. It was also whilst in Naples that one of El Diego’s many extramarital affairs resulted in the birth of a lovechild dubbed Diego Maradona Jnr in 1986. Maradona had always denied parentage of the child even though Italian Courts had ruled contrary in 1993 after the icon refused to undergo DNA tests. He is even on record as stating “my legitimate kids are Dalma and Giannina. The rest are a product of my money and my mistakes”. Although still not playing an active part in his son’s life to the present day (who now goes by the name Diego Sinagra and is a beach soccer player in his native Italy) he did meet the boy for the first time in 2003 when the youngster tricked his way onto an Italian golf course and confronted his absentee dad. His time in Italy would also have another consequence that he continues to fight to the present day, two decades after he ceased to work and live in the country. Italian authorities recently reported in March 2009 that the ex-Napoli hero owed the Italian government €37m in taxes and that so far he had only repaid €42,000, two luxury watches and a pair of earrings that were seized when he made a short visit to a clinic.
Always a target for the press for stories such as these and the fact that Diego himself would never shy away from a barbed comment on a wide range of topics, he took it a step further prior to the 1994 World Cup tournament when he confronted journalists camped by his property by firing an air-rifle at them, some of them reporting injuries to the police after being struck. Additionally in 2000, again irate at what he felt was an unnecessary intrusion into his life by the paparazzi, he attacked one such chancer by punching the photographer and then breaking his car window. Referring to his infamous “Hand of God” goal at the height of his athletic prowess, Diego commented in typical self-absolving style “if, in 1986, I said the goal against the English came from the ‘Hand of God’. Today I announce this broken glass comes from the ‘Hand of Reason’.” Maradona was again involved in a dubious incident with a member of the press on the day the then-Argentina manager announced his anticipated 23-man squad for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Making his way to the venue to make the announcement, the short-fused Diego seemingly hit a cameraman with his car and rather than apologizing or at least feigning concern as most decent people would, he immediately began launching a vicious verbal assault at the stricken man culminating in the epic retort “what an asshole you are! How can you put your leg there where it can get run over, man?!”. This outburst itself had only come a short while after his infamous and sordid rant during a press conference in the immediate aftermath of a climatic qualifying campaign where the normally resolute Argentines had struggled. Only mere minutes from being eliminated from the qualification spots for the World Cup, Maradona’s Argentina incredibly clinched a victory in their penultimate game against all odds and the dramatic reprieve sent the extrovert Diego into a crazed and wild spring town the touchline which culminated in a theatric “Klinsmann”-type dive on the waterlogged pitch. Clinching another victory to sneak into the World Cup a few days later Diego then shocked journalists and football bureaucrats the globe around by shouting at the press “to all you who did not believe in us, and I apologize to the women in here, you can suck it and keep sucking it”. Cue a fine and a ban from FIFA. Under threat from the game’s administrators and warned about his conduct at the game’s showpiece event, Maradona seemingly forgot this during another press conference after his team had satisfactorily defeated South Korea in their second group match. Theatrically hugging and kissing his players when celebrating on the touchline, when questioned about this Maradona replied in his customary manner; “Well I still prefer women. I am dating Veronica who is blond and 31-years-old. No I have not gone limp wristed”. Not his first reference to homosexuality, he issued a barbing retort to his constant nemesis Pele in 2009 after his Brazilian rival for the “greatest ever” title admonished him as a bad role model. Maradona outrageously and cheekily stated “what do you want me to say? He debuted with a lad”.
However, my personal favourite moment of the most outrageously outspoken but incredibly talented footballer of all time is his constant admonishing of the United States government in a way almost all other sports stars wouldn’t dare do. Maradona doesn’t care and feels passionately about many issues which always leads to fantastic outbursts, including nonchalantly referring to George Bush as a “murderer” to wearing a “Stop Bush Nazi” t-shirt with a Swastika on depicting the ex US president. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Diego Maradona, the greatest and craziest of them