When the legendary captain of the Colombian team turned 50, BOCAS had the opportunity to talk with the icon who was the symbol of the national team in three World Cups: 1990, 1994, and 1998. Among many other topics, Carlos Alberto 'El Pibe' Valderrama spoke about the intimacies of the team, his sorrows and glories, bad decisions, his responsibility as an idol and his teammates: René Higuita, Leonel Álvarez, Arnoldo Iguarán, Freddy Rincón, 'El Tren' Valencia, and 'El Tino' Asprilla, among others. This is an excerpt from the interview published in November 2011.
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They were always fighting. When they were eight years old, they were the best in the streets of Pescaíto. Of the 24 hours in a day, 25 were spent thinking about soccer. The “picaditos” [street soccer games] they played, using two stones on each side of the block [as goal posts] and always Calle Quinta vs the best of Calle Cuarta - four against four, or three against three, or two against two – no matter the combination it always ended in a personal feud between Carlitos and Juanito.
The two Samarians also battled in a separate tournament, one against one, which consisted of making the greatest number of touches in “la pinola” –also known as “la 21” [soccer juggling] - Where 'El Pibe' always lost by one or two points. They also played for their honor, trying to get the ball from one goal to the other using their left foot. A game “el Mono” used to lose too.
Carlitos, a skinny and proud boy, would return home so upset that he would not sit down to eat and began to practice in his backyard the art of “the pinola”, his left foot kick, and other tricks just to be better than Juanito, until his mother would put an end to it. However, in this way, Carlos Alberto Valderrama Palacio (Santa Marta, September 2, 1961) got the technique that with time would make him the “10” of Magdalena’s soccer team, Unión Magdalena, and also Millonarios, Cali, Montpellier, Valladolid, DIM, Junior, Tampa, Miami, Colorado, and the Colombian National Team, and would get him chosen as the Best Player in America, twice. (Juanito, on the other hand, the great Juan Olivar, is today a cargo official in the port of Santa Marta. Go Juan!).
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It all started there, in Pescaíto, the fishermen's neighborhood in Santa Marta, at the heart of two soccer families: the Valderrama and the Palacio, where they were either cracks, or they were aggressive players. My dad, Jaricho Valderrama, was a rather aggressive mid-fielder and my uncle, Toto Valderrama, a “nice” left front player. From that side of the family came Roland and Alan, my brothers, also aggressive players, and me, a nice one...We also have my cousins Didí, a true crack, and Pablo, rather good at kicking players. Then we have my uncles on my mother’s side, the Palacio: Justo, a very technical offensive midfielder, and Aurelio, a right defender “who had fire in his eyes”. The González Palacios’ brothers came out of that side: Miguel, who was called ‘El Fercho’, Edison the ‘Robapollos’, and Julián, all defenders with skills, says “El Pibe” a midfielder.
Jaricho, his old man, was his first technical director at the Celedón school and the teacher who gave him the great lesson of his life: “To get far you have to be disciplined, there is no other way”. And thanks to that wise advice, he went very far.
A lot, it helps you to build your technique. It goes like this: the ball is made with newspaper, it is tied tightly with rope so that it does not lose its shape, then you put glue to fix the rags, until it has a perfectly round shape, and that’s it, off you go. At first it is difficult to handle, but you get the hang of it; and since it does not bounce, the player has to work hard to lift it, to control it. That’s the thing you see: Control and technique.What was your first ball?
My dad fixed balls in the neighborhood and the ones that were in bad shape stayed at home. Using a needle and thread, my dad made my first ball, of course it had more stitches than a rag doll.After so many years, the La Castellana field, in Pescaíto, finally has grass. It was about time, don’t you think?
When I played there, it was just dirt. Then when I grew up, it was still dirt. This year I decided, with the help of several companies, to fix our house. I hope the boys have better conditions than I had.Were you always number 10?
Always, since I was a child. I was born with that.
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People think I didn't want to, but the truth is that when I came back from American football in 2003, no one called me. No team. Can you believe it? And I wasn't going to start making calls.Do you think the statue that was made of you in the Eduardo Santos stadium does you justice?
They didn’t make the statue of the “Pibe” with the socks down and with the “cool” attitude that always characterized me. A relaxed attitude. Not at all, I look stressed…What thing made you the angriest about soccer?
The time when I was Junior's manager when I insulted Cacharrito Ruiz. The story goes like this. During a corner kick –and hey, a corner kick where everything can happen, where someone even grabbed my balls, I'm talking about a corner kick so high that the ball has not yet landed in Pescaíto- the referee gave a penalty in favor of America because apparently someone pushed another player. Everyone knows that was made up by Ruiz and, of course, I told him every single insult I knew. They sanctioned me for 11 games. But I don't regret it, no way.Millonarios fans - I among them - still wonder why Jorge Luis Pinto didn't let you play enough in 1984. What happened?
The first six months I did play, until a bigger number 10 arrived: Silvano Espíndola. I had to go out. I wanted to play, and it was cool in Bogotá, but Cali called me, and I realized it was a great opportunity.When you were part of that legendary Cali team of 1985, 86, and 87, what was it like to face the América team with Falcioni, Cabañas, Gareca, Battaglia, Willington Ortiz and, worst of all, Rodríguez Orejuela?
When I got there I had a nice team that I know by heart: Gato Fernández, Jet Polo, Flaco Murillo, Polaco Escobar, Jorge Ambuila, Cenizo Núñez, Bernardo Redín, Piripi Osma, Gambeta Estrada, Checho Angulo, and me. Then, Buenaventura Ferreira and Miguel González arrived. It was a great team. And this is my answer, the most beautiful thing is that people still remember that Cali because we played well at home and abroad. That is our title of honor, regardless of if everything else was for America. Because we played better. Later on, we learned all about “los Diablos”.
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Worse. He would poke me with needles, punched me, grabbed my ass. He would tell me: “your wife is cheating on you”, “you are gay”, “your mother blah blah...”, etc.Was Redín your best partner?
Yes, no doubts. Also, definitely, Freddy Rincón, two beautiful partnerships.
In 88, you finally went to Europe.
Because they called me.They paid 2,5 million dollars. Do you think that amount would be different today?
At the time it was a lot of money. It was cool.
No. Julio César, the Brazilian who played there told me: “Don't despair, you will get your chance to play”.What did you do when you couldn’t play?
Travelling. I took the car, a Renault 21, I think, and I would go to see beautiful places. The Costa Azul, and the beach and the promenade… just hanging out, waiting for my chance. And I ate so much delicious food. There was a seafood pasta that was really good. I don't know if it was the oil or what, but it was magic.Who taught you how to drive?
Piripi Osma, in Cali. We would drive along the Universidad del Valle and he would make me stop to drink a ‘champús’ [local drink]. That is why I drive slowly; you know relaxed and calmed. That's also why I always leave early...What was the best time in France?
When we won the French Cup. During the semifinal I had a wonderful match against Saint Etienne, on their court and it was pouring rain like never before. But I swear, they couldn’t take the ball from me no matter what they did. In the second half though, I was expelled with five minutes to go, because of the most stupid move I made. So, I couldn't play the final in Paris that we won 3-1. That always bugged me. It was the only Montpellier title in its history.
The one against Israel. That was a nice game, I lost the ball 1000 times, but I made 2000 passes.And the saddest one?
Have you ever cried because of soccer?
Against the Americans in U.S.A. 94, because of everything it meant. Because we were kicked out from the World Cup and because of Andres Escobar’s death.
Twice, once with the Magdalena team, when Cesar (1979) eliminated us and the other when I qualified for the first World Cup in Tel Aviv (1989). I cried from the bus to the hotel like a child. I still get excited because I knew that I had passed the exam, that I graduated.If you were born again, would you try to be a soccer player again?
Yes, over, and over. It is a wonderful career.Do you think you became a classic figure in advertisement?
I became a product.You got married when you were very young and you have had a stable marriage, do you think that’s crucial?
Clara Iveth Galván, a woman I met in Pescaíto when I was a child. She has been my right hand and my rock. And she is three years older than me. She helped me build discipline and do things right. I got a good marriage and six cool kids Alan (26 years old), Jenny (22), Carlos (17), another Carlos (15), Stefi (14), and Carla (13).Do you recommend marriage… For example, have you told “el Tino” get married?
Noooo… I don’t get involved in those matters.Did the Valderrama Palacio dynasty finish or do your kids have the same abilities?
The oldest one was injured, the other is on the Autónoma team and the others, well, you never know. If it happened for me… who knows…More news
MAURICIO SILVA GUZMÁN