Colombia’s Metronome: Carlos “El Pibe” Valderrama
An iconic look can go a long way in manifesting a player’s status as a cult hero. If you have the talent to go alongside your appearance, you are a legend in the making. Carlos Valderrama had both, and the golden boy with the golden hair made sure that even more than two decades after his heyday, he is still as fondly remembered as ever.
La Tricolor’s Conductor
Playing as a number ten, Valderrama fit the mold of the old-school playmaker, dropping deep to receive the ball and moving it on quickly. He was a metronome at the heart of Colombia’s midfield, a conductor with incredible vision. His ability to get out of tight spaces with little shimmies and play neat passing triangles with his teammates made him one of the most dynamic and skilled midfielders of his day.
Becoming a National Hero
Success had largely eluded Colombia for much of their existence, but with Valderrama pulling the strings, they qualified for Italia ’90, their first World Cup appearance in 28 years. After beating the United Arab Emirates, a loss to Yugoslavia followed, leaving La Tricolor desperate to get something out of their game with eventual winners West Germany.
Despite controlling the match for large stretches, the Colombians fell behind two minutes from the end of regular time, but rather than feeling sorry for themselves with elimination staring them in the face, the goal seemingly flicked a switch. El Pibe diced through the German midfield and defense with his passing before ultimately setting up Freddy Rincón to put the ball in the back of the net.
Colombia went through to the next round for the first time ever, but celebrations were short-lived as an infamous howler from legendary goalkeeper René Higuita soon sealed its exit against Cameroon.
Achieving Legendary Status
Valderrama would continue to be instrumental in Colombia’s success throughout the ’90s, such as in the almost mythical 5–0 drubbing of the mighty Argentina in 1993, or when he helped Colombia qualify for two more World Cups that decade, becoming the nation’s most capped player in the process.
The eccentric, unselfish playmaker etched himself in the annals of history through his looks and sheer ability to take games by the scruff of the neck. Carlos Valderrama personified the comically absurd and yet iconic nature of the 1990s, and he is the greatest player Colombia has produced.
Illustration by @inakivector.
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