The infamous mop of blonde, frizzy hair which hasn’t changed in years. The horrendous tache. The earing hanging from the left ear. The countless bracelets on both wrists.
Meet Carlos Alberto Valderamma, aka El Pibe. He is to Colombia what Maradona and Pele are to Argentina and Brazil respectively. A legend.
A stalwart in central midfield and a great passer of the ball, he is Colombia’s most capped footballer of all time with 111 appearances to his name. Along with Freddy Rincón, as well, he is the only Colombian to have played in 3 World Cups – Italy 1990, USA 1994 and France 1998. He was captain of la selección Colombia when they famously thrashed Argentina 5-0 in Buenos Aires in the qualifications leading up to USA 1994.
El Pibe is a samario – someone from Santa Marta – and was born in Pescaito, a barrio just outside of the city centre, on 2nd September 1961. It is a barrio I frequently pass through en route to barrio Oasis.
He is honoured throughout the city. All the sports shops either have a picture of him hanging in the their front window or a portrait of him painted outside on the front wall. Outside the main gate to El Estadio Eduardo Santos, home to Santa Marta’s Unión Magdalena, a team currently lingering in the depths of the Colombian Second Division, stands a statue dedicated to him. For it was with Unión Magdalena in which El Pibe made his professional debut back in 1981.
I was fortunate to “meet” El Pibe at the end of 2011 at an exhibition football match which he organizes each year in aid of charity. Before the match, at half time and afterwards, he was mobbed by every supporter in El Country Club as they went in search of a prized photo with him. Only once Feito, one of Elena’s sons, had shouted to him “Hey, El Pibe, my friend has come all the way from England just to watch this match”, was I able to sneak in, put my arm around his shoulder and have my photo taken with him.
Snap. Framed. One for my bedroom wall back at home.