A footballer’s life can often be like a soap opera with off field scandals and on field dramas all played out in the public eye. The general fascination with these players, mostly thanks to increased media attention has made the modern day player into a modern day superstar. Now a Colombian TV station has decided to fixate on the fascination with footballers by creating a soap opera called “La Seleccion” all about them. Featuring four of Colombia’s best known players – Carlos Valderrama, Freddy Rincon, Faustino Asprilla and Rene Higuita, the show focuses on the trials and tribulations of these iconic and legendary figures.
The four players in question are perfectly suited to star in such a TV event as all four had colourful careers and indeed hair. Goalkeeper Higuita is probably best remembered for one sensational save during a friendly between England and Colombia. As England broke the ball was played wide to Jamie Redknapp who looped the ball into the box towards the six yard line. Higuita with no one around and in his usual flamboyant self decided to entertain the crowd with a spectacular scorpion kick clearance. But apart from that Higuitas life is somewhat more checkered. Away from the pitch, Higuita was a known acquaintance of infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar and even spent some time in jail for his part in a kidnapping. On the field, Higuita was known as “The Madman” as he created the term defensive goalkeeper. Higuita’s runs out of the box and dribbles towards the half way line became as famous as the goals he scored (yes goals) as he went on to finish his career as the world’s third highest goal scoring goalkeeper of all time with 41 strikes.
Similarly Asprilla will be remembered in the UK for his time at Newcastle where he entertained the Geordie faithful with his dazzling goals, mesmerizing runs and amazing back flip celebrations. But like Higuita there is a dark side to his past with run ins with the law on a too frequent basis. His wild off field antics and partying lifestyle led to several ticking offs by the clubs he represented and by the police but it was never as serious as the incident in 2008 when he was arrested for allegedly firing a machine-gun at security forces near his farm in Colombia. Asprilla was placed under house arrest on charges of weapons possession and criminal damage. Further problems with drug lords and dealers back home in Colombia led to Asprilla needing an escape back to England, which led to the bizarre link to Darlington back in 2002.
Asprilla’s gun antics were nothing compared to his countryman and teammate Freddy Rincon’s run in with the law. The tedious midfielder, who represented Colombia on 84 occasions and also holds the honour of being the first Colombian to ever play for Real Madrid, Rincón came under criminal investigation in Colombia and Panama, facing charges of collaboration with cocaine kingpin Pablo Rayo Montaño and suspicion of money laundering. As he was living and working in Brazil at the time, São Paulo police took him into custody after a Panamanian request for extradition came into effect. Interpol issued an international arrest order against him and Rincon was sent to jail in Brazil. He was released after 123 days, having given proof of his properties and businesses. However the Panama government continues to pursue Rincon on money laundering charges, with the player now in daily talks with his lawyer in order to prevent further jail time
One player who ever embodies Colombian football is Carlos Valderrama. The former captain, famously recognized worldwide due to his colourful perm, is probably best known for his appearances at the 1994 World Cup in the USA and for being the poster boy for Colombian football’s golden age during the mid nineties. His love affair with the USA led Valderrama back there to play in the MLS inaugural season as one of its first star players. Over the next six years, Valderrama firmly placed himself in the leagues history books with some sensational performances and iconic hair styles. In 2004, Valderrama was included in the FIFA 100, a list of “greatest living footballers” chosen by Pelé to celebrate the 100th anniversary of FIFA, highlighting what an amazing player he was during his career.
All four are as recognizable in Colombia as any Hollywood star. Like current favourite Falcao, the four men are seen as gods so to have their lives play out on the small screen is must see TV. The company behind the soap opera knows that they are on to a good thing as long as they can tell the players colourful stories in an interesting way avoiding the trap of making them look less special. Not an easy job considering what these four did during their careers on and off the field.
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