An Argentinian game which took place on 29th November 1999 sets the scene for this week’s Throwback Thursday by Neil Evans. Vélez Sarsfield played Club Ferro Carrill Oeste, with an unlikely hat-trick hero grabbing the headlines…Vélez’s goalkeeper! A routine 6-1 romp might have been a mere footnote had it not been for the scorer of three penalty kicks. Step forward, José Luis Chilavert (and he certainly did!) – the goalkeeper who enjoyed scoring goals more than preventing them.
Born José Luis Félix Chilavert Gonzalez in Luque, Central Paraguay, in July 1965, he walked barefoot until the age of seven, such was the poverty he was born into. Aged five, his primary responsibilities were the care of his two younger brothers and selling milk in his local market. Overcoming his circumstances, his talents were spotted by local club, Sportivo Luqueño, and his goalkeeping skills were honed by legendary coach, Modesto Sandoval (later coaching Sergio Goycochea, Faryd Mondragón and Ever Hugo Almeida).
Four goals scored at his first club was a small indicator of what was to follow, though after moving to San Lorenzo in Argentina, he spent his time stopping shots rather than scoring. Chilavert earned a move to Spain’s Real Zaragoza – a stage befitting his character. The fans, in his own words, used to “freak out” whenever they saw him advance with the ball. It was at this point, that Chilavert began to seriously perfect his free-kicks and penalties. His explanation: “I wanted to be so good that they’d have to give me the job!”
First capped by his country in 1989, Chilavert returned to Argentina in 1991 with Vélez, where he would cement his goalscoring reputation; the three goals against Ferro (in 1999) remain the only hat-trick scored by a goalkeeper. He scored magnificent free-kicks, including one from the halfway line against River Plate.
More than just a mere circus act, Chilavert won many honours during his illustrious career, including four Argentinian titles (with Vélez), and five international trophies between 1993-98 including the Copa Libertadores, the South American version of the UEFA Champions League. Personal honours included winning the International Football Federation of History and Statistics (IFFHS)’ ‘World’s Best Goalkeeper’ three times, South American Player of the Year in 1996, and being named in the 1998 FIFA World Cup All-Star XI. When Chilavert scored for his country, they never lost, and eight international goals from 74 appearances make Chilavert the most prolific international goalkeeper of all time. Brazilian Rogério Ceni, however, has the most overall goals scored, with over 100 in his career!
But for entertainment, thrills, and controversy, nobody comes close to the man from Luque – and controversy sure followed Chilavert. He received a suspended sentence for attacking a physiotherapist, and fought on the pitch with Diego Maradona. After a short spell in France, he was given a six-month suspended sentence for falsified documentation relating to his contract at Strasbourg. In 1997, he was sent off for brawling with Colombian Faustino Asprilla, and earned the nickname ‘El Buldog’; a name in which he revelled.
It is often said that you have to be more than a little bit eccentric to be a goalkeeper, and it should be noted that Chilavert’s antics made Bruce Grobbelaar seem like James Milner. He was considered a revolutionary, always on the side of the poorest. He refused to partake in the 1999 Copa America, held in Paraguay, over its cost and the general corruption of his country’s politicians, believing the money should be invested in education instead. He didn’t care much for football journalists either, defending the then Paraguay boss, Cesare Maldini, by claiming 90% of them were incompetent.
His quotes, like his football, were legendary. Too many gems to list here but one, made this year, perhaps best sums him up. “I’ve had a lot of fights on the pitch, but what do people expect? With the face I’ve got, I’ve got to play the bad guy. It’s a lot easier that way. Being the good guy is just not me.”
Forget scorpion kicks and wobbly-kneed penalty shoot-outs, Chilavert was the true goalkeeping eccentric. With an ego to match his goals, he thrived on his notoriety and cared little for critics and naysayers. For now, he lives rather quietly with his wife (an English teacher he met in Buenos Aires), but has always promised he would enter Paraguayan domestic politics.
This may not have happened (yet) but, as in his playing career, we should expect the unexpected when it comes to José Luis Chilavert.
Read more by Neil Evans here!