As Netflix viewers worldwide gorge on Pablo Escobar’s bloody journey via the superlative series Narcos, passing popcorn as he blows up planes, assassinates ministers and builds his own zoo, the people of Colombia who lived through his very real mayhem remain conflicted.
Escobar was many things: a murderer, briber, bomber and racketeer according to his mile-long rap sheet. But to some, he remains an unlikely saint. A huge Escobar flag still marks the entrance of the barrio he built on the site of a former rubbish dump in order to house the poor. On the roadsides of his home city, Medellin, salesmen hawking car stickers – Jesus, Hello Kitty, The Simpsons – report that ‘Pablito’ remains their top seller.
So when I met Carlos Valderrama, I could not resist the question if he saw Narcos on Netflix. He just shrugged his shoulder. That was that. For Carlos had see both the madness and mayhem related to the drug lord and maybe the death of his fellow footballer Andreas Escober was still a fresh wound after all these years.
But one of the poster boys of the attitude era of world football, still was at his charismatic best during his visit to the city with his fluid body language, languid ease and tongue-in-cheek. Whether it was posing at the sports museum or the famous shake hand with Dada at Eden Gardens the man wore his heart on his sleeves.
One of the most influential playmakers of his time, Carlos Valderrama served his deliveries with clinical precision during his playing days. He had lost none of that when it came to talking about world football.
Asked if modern football lacked character, Carlos thought for a moment and then shot back: “These are different times now. Today they have agents. During my time there was no concept of agents. These players now have three-four agents, businessmen controlling them. So things change. They have to behave both on and outside. They are never themselves.”
But he was happy that money had come into the game: “China is doing great. They are attracting big names to Asia. Like MLS did in his time.”
The 1990 World Cup Captain of Columbia was one of the first marquee names to travel to America and play in the Major League Soccer (MLS) and had a giant influence on the global growth of the game. Asked about his experience of playing in MLS, he said: “It was a very positive experience. They embraced football with open arms. I had a chance to influence the game there. It was also a learning experience as I got to understand the country and its culture. They had just started when I arrived. If you see now MLS has 22 teams. They did a very good job and it shows at the way they have qualified and played in World Cup.”
He was fiddling with his braids on his hands and around his neck. Where did you get these from? “World Over! They are memories that I carry,” he quipped. The man known for his fluffy yellow mane also praised Kolkata for its warmth and hospitality but said he found no braids to carry home this time.
Discussions invariably went into the realms of football. Asked if modern football was killing the art quotient, he said: “Everything changes. Football changes, life changes. My wish is that football never ends. I think the entertainment value of football is going up. Now many more countries which did not play football before are playing. So it is growing.”
On the highest and lowest point of his career, the multiple times footballer of Latin America said: “The best one was when we qualified to the 1990 WC and then beat Argentina 5-0. And the worst was when Colombia was favourite for 1994 WC and we had a great team but we were knocked out in group stages.”
Carlos felt the Junior World Cup will do Indian football a world of good. “It’s very important, as whole world will be watching this event. This will help the Indian national team grow. It will leave an everlasting impression on football map of India. It can change the game forever here.”
Asked about the Columbian side today, he quipped: “We have James Rodriguez. He is very good and will shine at Bayern Munich. Colombian football future is very bright. The players play in best teams and best leagues and bring back a world of experience that go to add value to the team.”
El Pibe walked up to Elvira (Redondo) is wife. I knew the interview was over. He posed for a photo, hugged her and began talking among themselves as if they never stopped.