News Column

Valderrama: Colombian Soccer 'a Mess'

Dec. 19, 2011

Carlos "El Pibe" Valderrama might not be invited for a cup of coffee at the Colombian soccer federation anytime soon after his blistering comments last week during a visit to Miami to promote the Feb. 29, 2012, friendly between Colombia and Mexico at Miami's Sun Life Stadium.

Turns out the fluffy-haired Colombian great's opinions on the federation are as laser-sharp and direct as the passes he distributed for 22 years from the center circle for his national team and a dozen clubs, including the defunct Miami Fusion.

"What a mess we're in!" Valderrama declared, in Spanish, when asked what he thought about the Colombian national team during an informal interview. "At this moment, we're (screwed). Our officials have once again fired a coach prematurely, and they don't even have a replacement. All we can do is pray."

Asked if they ever seek his input, he laughed and said: "If I tell them to do A, they'd do Z."

His criticism came a day after the Colombian federation fired coach Leonel Alvarez, who had been on the job barely three months and who played alongside Valderrama in two World Cups. The team played three games under Alvarez -- a 2-1 win at Bolivia (no small feat with the altitude at La Paz), a 2-1 loss to Argentina, and a 1-1 tie with upstart Venezuela.

El Pibe, 50 and still sporting big hair and colorful bracelets, continued his rant: "We had played a great Copa America in Argentina this year, reaching the quarterfinals, had found our team, a very talented group that has been together since Under-17s, almost all of whom play in Europe. There was no reason to overreact and fire Leonel that way. They don't care because they're going to the World Cup in Brazil to watch from the good seats whether our team makes it or not. They say they care about our country and our team, but if they really did, they wouldn't be so disorganized and rash in their decisions."

Valderrama lamented that Colombian fans could miss out on seeing a deserving team reach the World Cup because of internal strife. The 2014 World Cup is in Brazil, so Brazil gets in automatically as the host, leaving the other nine South American teams to compete for four spots. The fifth-place team enters a playoff for another spot. Having Brazil out of the mix makes this an easier-than-usual World Cup for South American teams to make.

Colombia -- and Valderrama -- played in the 1990, 1994 and 1998 World Cups, but the team hasn't qualified since.

"If we don't take advantage of this talented generation, I don't know when we're going to get to the World Cup," he said. "My country lacks organization in its soccer leadership, and it's a shame."

He joked that Colombian officials will probably vacation at the beach for the holidays and into January, and it wouldn't surprise him if they wait until four days before the Mexico match to name a coach. Worse yet, he said, they are capable of calling him and asking him to fill in ... and if I don't win, they'd fire me after one match."

Laughing at Valderrama's comments, and nodding in agreement, was former Mexico goalkeeper Jorge Campos , 45, who also was in town promoting the February match. Campos, known for his flamboyant shirts and daring dashes out of the penalty area, is a good friend of Valderrama's. They agreed that U.S. soccer has improved drastically since they joined MLS in 1996, largely because of front-office organization. They also reminisced about Valderrama's retirement tribute match at Barranquilla in Colombia in February 2004.

Campos, Diego Maradona, Jose Luis Chilavert and Enzo Francescoli were among the players who showed up. Valderrama said he still has the sombrero Campos gave him as a gift (though it probably wouldn't fit over El Pibe's mop-top).

Valderrama retired to his hometown of Santa Marta and runs a soccer academy there. He also works as an MLS ambassador and T V commentator.

Campos lives in Acapulco and works as a TV commentator, as well.

Source: (c) 2011 The Miami Herald

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