Rene HiguitaEl Loco in Locombia
Jose René Higuita Zapata is a former Colombian football goalkeeper nicknamed 'El Loco' – 'The Mad One'. Born 27 August 1966 in Barrio Castilla, Medellín, he pioneered the Scorpion kick and was notorious for his over-confident outfield play which included dribbling the ball out of defence and acting as sweeper. This same over-confidence led to some incredibly bad decisions in his private life.
During the 1990's, Colombia became known as 'Locombia', the crazy country. Drug cartels were running amok, politicians, judges and journalists were routinely assassinated. René Higuita always looked like a Colombian drug lord, so perhaps it's not surprising that he got involved with some, acting as a go-between for Pablo Escobar (who he’d visited in jail in 1991) and Carlos Molina. Higuita’s alleged act of good faith enabled the release of Molina's daughter by delivering ransom money to Escobar and receiving a $64,000 fee.
It is illegal in Colombia to profit from a kidnapping and Higuita served seven months in the infamous jail Cárcel Modelo de Bogotá, Colombia in 1993.
This resulted in the USA refusing Higuita a visa for the 1994 World Cup, but he defended his actions. 'I acted for humanitarian reasons. If I’m needed to secure somebody else’s freedom I wouldn’t doubt a second. I’m a footballer – I don’t know anything about kidnapping laws', going on to protest his imprisonment with an aborted hunger strike.
The Colombia team that went to USA 94 had great qualities - but did not have its goalkeeper. Higuita was in jail – a harsh decision the authorities now admit. Shortly before the 1990 World Cup, Colombia’s coach, Francisco Maturana stressed the importance of his goalkeeper to the system of play and acknowledged the huge contribution ‘El Loco’ made to his team. He compared his goalkeeper to the Jan Jongbloed, the great Holland keeper in the 1974 World Cup. Maturana stated that the Dutchman also operated as a sweeper but with a difference as he merely came out to boot the ball into the stands.
‘Higuita, gives us something no one else has, With René as sweeper, we have 11 outfield players, he can do much more.’