Rene ‘El Loco’ Higuita wasn’t a traditional goalkeeper by any measure. The Colombian played for more than 13 South American clubs in a career that spanned 15 years. While he didn’t make it to Europe, El Loco was an international hero. Notorious for his scorpion kick and daring play, fans around the world would tune in to watch his antics.
He was also a prolific goalscorer. In 380 competitive matches, he scored 41 goals. Any soccer enthusiast will tell you: 41 goals for a goalkeeper is unprecedented. Unless you are Rogerio Ceni or Jose Luis Chilavert.
In the 12 years Higuita represented Colombia’s national team, he scored 3 goals in nearly 70 games.
El Loco indeed.
Higuita began his career in 1985 with Colombian side Millonarios. At just 19 years of age, he became an instant hero for the club scoring seven goals in 16 matches.
The following year he went to Atletico Nacional where he spent the next six years as a club icon. While at Nacional his career reached the heights nearly every player dreams. Playing a sweeper role with unique physical skill, speed and agility, Higuita showed a strong soccer I.Q. His style allowed his defense to press so far up, it was as if his teams had two midfields. He would stand outside the box like a sweeper and sole defender.
Known for his massive long kicks and free kicks, El Loco could score from distance and assist from behind the center half line. “With Rene as sweeper, we have 11 outfield players,” said Colombia coach Francisco “Pacho” Maturana before the 1990 World Cup.
His infamous scorpion kick which had been put on full display throughout his time at Nacional hit the international stage in a friendly against England. Higuita would literally stop the ball from entering his net by diving face first into the ground and allowing his legs to kick-up and knock the ball out with his feet. It was simply a sight to be seen.
The eccentricities didn’t stop on the pitch. During one season with Nacional, it was revealed that he wore blue underwear to ward off a curse put on the team by a rival fan.
He told FIFA in 2007: “At the end of the 80s Atletico Nacional lost out to Millonarios. Carlos Perea came up to me and we went to see a lady who told your fortune and things like that. She said someone had put a curse on us and she sent all the players a belt and blue underpants. It worked a treat. We couldn’t stop winning and we ended up lifting the Copa Libertadores too. I’ve been using them ever since.”
While his blue underwear could be the stuff of hocus pocus, Higuita was put to the test during the 1990 World Cup where his name became synonymous with entertainment.
“People remember me for two things in my career: that Cameroon goal [in Italia ‘90] when I tried to dribble the ball outside the box and the Scorpion Kick. They almost go together now, and when someone congratulates me for the Scorpion Kick, they then remind me of the Milla goal straightaway. And when someone criticizes me for that mistake, they’ll then start going on about the Wembley save. That’s football, and life too. There are always winners and losers, good people and bad people, fat guys and thin guys, tall people and short people. You’ve just got to take things naturally,” he told FIFA in 2007.
During the 1994 World Cup, Colombia were seen as one of the strongest squads heading into the tournament. The team featured talented players like Carlos Valderrama, Leonel Alvarez, Faustino Asprilla and Andres Escobar. El Loco missed the tournament because he was serving jail time for a 1993 kidnapping case. Colombia’s fairy tale fantasy was crushed as the team was eliminated in the group stage. The murder of Andres Escobar shortly after would, sadly, come to define Colombia’s appearance on US soil.
Following Higuita’s release from prison, he returned to the club circuit to play. Though he represented Colombia in international friendlies, he was not called up for the ’98 Cup in France.
Trouble found El Loco again when he was busted for doping and essentially thrown out of the Ecuadorian league in 2004 while playing for Aucas.
“They are things that are part and parcel of life and I have to accept them as such. I’ve achieved a few things and been involved in other less pleasant situations. The most important thing, though, is to develop and grow whenever you come up against an obstacle. That’s one way you can set an example to other people, by showing them you shouldn’t make mistakes. I thank God for all the obstacles He has put in front of me and for helping me overcome them. Fortunately I can pass that on to children and future generations,” he told FIFA in 2007.
The Scorpion Moves On
By 2010, Higuita announced his retirement. He finished his playing days with Colombian side Deportivo Pereira. Up until his last game, he was still performing his trademark scorpion kicks.
Since 2012, he has become a goalkeeping manager for Saudi Arabian side Al Nassr FC. No word if he has had a Middle Eastern pupil pull off the scorpion, but we have a sneaky suspicion he is showing them how it is done.
Now at 50, Higuita hopes the world remembers him for all the good he brought to the game and what he did to change it. Should others remember his personal troubles, he will hold his head high.
“The best thing they can say, though, is that Higuita was a man like many others; an ordinary human being who made mistakes, but who also had his good points too,” he told FIFA.