On the 2ndof July 1994, Andres Escobar, was shot dead during a night out with friends. Since the shooting, many theories have been put forward to explain why Escobar was killed. Was he the victim of a revenge attack? Did his own goal against the USA cost him his life? Or did he somehow manage to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?
Andres Escobar was the part of Columbia’s golden generation of players. The South Americans were relatively an unknown quantity in footballing terms leading up to the 1994 World Cup Qualifying campaign. However, by the time the World Cup, held in USA, came round, Columbia were touted as one of the favourites to lift the trophy.
The confidence in the national team was not misplaced. Leading up the finals, Columbia managed a record of 26 games, losing just once, prompting Pele to tip them to lift their first ever World Cup, a view that many shared pre World Cup. The team was full of superstars who excited and entertained their countrymen with dazzling displays full of exuberance and slick passing football. Players such as Faustino Asprilla, Freddy Rincon and Captain Carlos Valderrama carried the hopes of the nation on their shoulders.
In 1993, Columbia travelled to Argentina for a vital World Cup Qualifying game. Only one of these teams would qualify outright. Columbia put on a world class performance and crusied to a 5-0 win.
However, the rise of Colombian football during the early 90s was not a coincidence. Whilst one Escobar was excelling on the pitch, another Escobar lurked behind the scenes casting a dark shadow over the country.
Pablo Escobar, no relation to his namesake, Andres, was running the country with his drug fuelled wealth. Pablo was so wealthy that the distinguished Forbes Magazine named him as number 7 in their World's Richest Men List in 1989. With more money than he knew what to do with, Pablo turned to one of his passions – football.
Columbian club side, Atletico Nacional, gave Pablo the perfect opportunity to legalised vast amounts of cash. In return, Pablo's money allowed the club to hold onto their best players and also helped attract quality coaches and footballers to the club. Backed by his millions, Nacional created history when in 1989 they became the first Columbian club to win the prestigious Copa Libertadores. Andres Escobar was an important part of that team.
Andres arrived at the World Cup full of hope but against the backdrop of violence in his native land. Pablo Escobar was killed in 1993, which threw the nation even further into a blood bath. Riots were an everyday occurrence as other drug king pins battled to take over Pablo's empire.
Just before the World Cup, goalkeeper Rene Higuita was arrested. Many claimed it was because he openly admitted to visiting Pablo Escobar in his luxurious self made prison. The official line from the government was his involvement in a kidnapping case 'broke rules.' Either way, Columbia were left without their enigmatic goalkeeper for the finals. The well known fact that the whole of the Columbian team were regular visitors to Pablo's prison was lost on authorities.
Andres and his team mates were determined to show that there was much more to Columbia than the violence and dismay that was reported by the worlds media. They saw the finals as the perfect opportunity to showcase the nation in a different light. Hopes were raised all too briefly until their opening game of the tournament.
Romania beat them 2-1. Reports that Columbia’s criminals had placed vast amounts of cash on the team to qualify from the group emerged. Players that were involved in that game explained how the team received death threats at their hotel after the game. Players rang their families at home and learnt the country was being torn to pieces with violence spreading throughout the land.
The players had to somehow put all this to one side as they faced hosts USA in their second game. In the 35thminute, defender Andreas Escobar tried to cut out a dangerous looking cross from the left but inadvertently turned the ball into his own net. The USA went on to win 2-1. Columbia were out. Escobar was inconsolable.
The player, who was dubbed 'The Gentleman of the Field', was about to move to Italian giants AC Milan after the World Cup. But he felt he let his country down and returned to Columbia to “face the people.”
On that fateful day in July, Andres ignored pleas from his manager and joined friends on a night out, claiming he didn't want to hide from the people he had let down. On the advice of a close friend, Andres wrote a column in one of the newspapers just days before. He ended his writings with the line 'Life doesn't end here.' Sadly for Andres and football, that would not be proved right.
Andres was reported to have been shot six times at around 3am during his night out. Reports suggested that gangsters, who had lost huge sums of money, blamed Escobar for Columbia’s early exit. Was this true? Was he the victim of a lost bet? Sources close to Escobar claimed this report was untrue. They said it had nothing to do with betting. For them, the killing was a result of Escobar trying to talk to the minority of people who goaded him throughout the night. Escobar is reported to have told them “It was an honest mistake.”
His explanation was not enough for his killers.
People have since claimed that had Pablo Escobar been alive no one in their right mind would have even thought of harming Andres. Is it really plausible to think that a man who was responsible for thousands of deaths could have been the only man to save another's life?
What was supposed to be a new era for Columbian football only proved what many knew to be true, that Columbia was the land where mobsters and violence ruled.
And Andres paid the ultimate price.