Andres Escobar was a centre back for Altetico Nacional and Colombia. A player with 51 caps for his country and 222 appearances for his club, he was an accomplished defender who had been offered a contract with AC Milan prior to the World Cup in 1994. However, he lost his life after the 1994 World Cup, shot dead in Colombia. Theories for the reason of his death range from drug cartels betting on football to a disagreement over a woman in a nightclub.
Escobar made his breakthrough at club level in 1986 at 19 years of age playing three times that season. Having broken into the first team he was a regular in the next two seasons. Then in 1989 he won his first trophy, as Nacional won the Copa Libertadores beating Olimpia 5-4 on penalties after a 2-2 draw over the two legged final.
Nicknamed the ‘Gentleman of Football,’ Escobar moved to Young Boys in Switzerland. It proved a short stint as he came back to Nacional soon after, winning the Primera A in 1991. A regular for the team, Escobar had become a star player in Colombian football and with the 1994 World Cup only months away. AC Milan then offered Escobar a contract which he was due to accept, the Colombian excited for his new adventure in Italy after the World Cup.
Colombia had entered the tournament in America as one of the favourites manly due to their 5-0 win against Argentina in qualifying. With Carlos Valderrama and Faustino Asprilla you could understand why they were considered to be among the front runners for the title. But, unknown to many, the team were struggling. Valderrama was still recovering from injury, Asprilla was tired after a long season for Parma, full back Chonto Herrera was still recovering from the shock of his brother who had died in a car crash and there was no Rene Higuita who was in prison for profiting from hostage mediation. If anything, getting out of the group would of been an achievement for the country. However a nation still expected.
Their first game against Romania ended in major disappointment as they were well beaten 3-1. The team received death threats, demanding Barrabas Gomez be dropped from the team. Gomez left the squad but the threat was still in the minds of the players.
Next to come was the fatal match against the USA. Colombia started well and peppered the USA goal, however in the 35th minute John Harkes broke with the ball on the left. He sent in a cross at pace aimed at Ernie Stewart. Escobar stretched to cut out the pass but inadvertently deflected the ball into the Colombian net to put the USA 1-0 up. Stewart grabbed a second for the U.S on 52 minutes before Colombia scored a late consolation goal. It meant Colombia had to win their last game and hope results in the other match went their way. Unfortunately, they didn’t and despite Colombia winning 2-0 against Switzerland they were out of the World Cup.
The team and Escobar in particular had the opportunity to stay in America until things settled down in their homeland. Escobar decided against this, he still felt they were loved in his country and especially in Medellin.
6 days later outside a bar in Medellin, Andres Escobar was shot dead.
There are many theories as to why Escobar was killed that night. Many believe that Cali and Medellin drug cartels had bet heavily on the outcome on the World Cup hence the unhappiness of the own goal, however the courts felt it was perhaps a disagreement with two men after Escobar had approached a girl in the nightclub. Others have said the patrons in the club had been shouting “own goal, own goal” and when Escobar left the club he was harassed again and shot dead.
Whatever happened that night one things for sure, had Escobar not scored the own goal, he would probably be alive today. It’s difficult to believe that football, a sport, could lead to the death of a man in his prime. But this was Colombia and in particular Medellin in the 90’s, homicide representing the primary cause of death.
Andres Escobar is remembered for his own goal in the 1994 World Cup, which led to that tragic day of his death. But let’s also remember his as an accomplished centre back, who was calm on the ball, great in the air and had fantastic timing in the tackle. Escobar was an extremely talented footballer with the world at his feet, his life cut short by one sporting mistake. Andres Escobar, you are still missed.