What happened to…Rene Higuita
The month was September. The year was 1995. And the match was a friendly between England and Colombia at Wembley. If we were playing a Question of Sport, Jamie Redknapp had just taken a shot at goal (he maintains it was a cross) and the ball appeared to be looping over the man in goal for Colombia, Rene Higuita. The question is, what happened next?
What happened next is actually immortalised into footballing history. Kids in the park have copied Higuita’s next move ever since 1995 and will be doing so for ever more. Three words…The Scorpion Kick. Apparently Higuita’s invention, as the ball travelled over his head, Higuita jumps forward and kicks the ball back over his head using his heels without ever looking at it. It’s a remarkable piece of skill that will always top any list of the greatest saves of all time and earned him the nickname ‘El Loco’ that translates as ‘the Madman.’ In case you’ve lived in a cave all your life and haven’t seen it, here it is below:
Eccentricity was always the order of Higuita’s career, indeed he inspired the likes of fellow South American goalkeeper Jose Luis Chilavert to take free-kicks and penalties for club and country. In fact, in 68 games for Colombia, the keeper managed to bag eight goals, a better goalscoring record for his country than Emile Heskey managed for England. During a career that spanned 25 years, he managed 25 league goals in 380 appearances and although he spent the majority of his career in South America, winning the Copa Libertadores with Atletico Nacional in 1989, not mention the Colombian League in 1991 and 1994 with the same club, Higuita only played in Europe with one team, Real Valladolid, in a spell that lasted just the one season.
It’s a shame for European fans that they didn’t get to see more of Higuita during his playing career, indeed on his day he was a fine goalkeeper. However, he lived up to his nickname on plenty of occasions. Higuita was possibly the first ‘sweeper keeper’ in the game, a stopper capable of playing the ball well outside his penalty area with tremendous skill, indeed you only have to look at Colombia’s 1-1 draw with England in 1988 when Higuita managed to dribble round Gary Lineker outside his box. However, on one notable occasion, during the 1990 World Cup, Colombia were playing Cameroon and Higuita gave the ball away to Roger Milla outside his penalty area, allowing the striker to nip in and knock Colombia out of the World Cup.
Off-field controversy dogged Higuita’s career as well, indeed he was imprisoned in 1993 for his role in a kidnapping that saw him act as a go-between for a pair of notorious Colombian drug barons and get paid for the privilege, landing him a spell of seven months behind bars, meaning he missed the 1994 World Cup. How Colombia missed him, as they crashed out in the opening round thanks in large to the inexperience of Higuiata’s replacement, Oscar Cordoba. In 2004, the mad goalie found himself in hot water again after testing positive for cocaine, earning himself another ban from the game.
He became something of a celebrity off the field as his career wound down, making appearances on the Colombian version of the TV Series ‘Survivor’, becoming politically active while also securing himself legendary status after having a Subbuteo model created in the mould of his scorpion kick. Coaching is the next step for Higuita and he joined Real Valladolid, his former European side, as goalkeeping coach in 2008 before moving onto to Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia to perform the same role. Higuita has expressed an interest in joining the Colombian national squad in a coaching capacity and that would be an interesting sight, seeing current number one Faryd Mondragon scorpion kicking clearances off his own line.
The legendary goalkeeper played one final farewell exhibition match in his hometown of Medellin aged 43 in 2010 playing against a select XI including Colombian legends Carlos Valderrama and Faustino Asprilla. Inevitably, as the ball went over his head, out came the party trick for one last time. He made not have made much impression in Europe during his playing career, but the world of football will remember him for one thing and one thing only.