Carlos Valderrama

For the baseball player, see Carlos Valderrama (baseball).
Carlos Valderrama

Valderrama in 2016.
Personal information
Full name Carlos Alberto Valderrama Palacio
Date of birth (1961-09-02) September 2, 1961
Place of birth Santa Marta, Colombia
Height 1.75 m (5 ft 9 in)[1]
Playing position Midfielder
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1981–1984 Unión Magdalena 94 (5)
1984 Millonarios 33 (0)
1985–1988 Deportivo Cali 131 (22)
1988–1991 Montpellier 77 (4)
1991–1992 Real Valladolid 17 (1)
1992–1993 Independiente Medellín 10 (1)
1993–1995 Junior 82 (5)
1996–1997 Tampa Bay Mutiny 43 (7)
1996–1997Deportivo Cali (loan) 19 (4)
1997–1999 Miami Fusion 24 (3)
1999–2001 Tampa Bay Mutiny 71 (5)
2001–2002 Colorado Rapids 39 (1)
Total 619 (54)
National team
1985–1998 Colombia 111 (11)
Teams managed
2007 Junior (assistant manager)

* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.

This name uses Spanish naming customs: the first or paternal family name is Valderrama and the second or maternal family name is Palacio.

Carlos Alberto Valderrama Palacio (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈkarlos alˈberto βaldeˈrama paˈlasjo];[2] born September 2, 1961 in Santa Marta, Colombia), also known as El Pibe ("The Kid") is a Colombian former footballer who played as a midfielder. His distinctive blond hair, coupled with his flamboyant technique on the ball and ability as a playmaker, made him one of Colombia's most recognizable footballers.

Valderrama was a member of the Colombia national football team in the 1990s. Between 1985 and 1998 he represented Colombia in 111 full internationals and scored 11 times, making him the most capped player in the country's history. Valderrama was known for the accuracy of his passing and assisting, his vision and tactical brain, which allowed him to have a strong presence without the necessity of running as much as it would be expected, his precise technique on the ball, and his clean assists.[3][4][5] Valderrama played a huge role during the golden era of Colombian football during the 1990s. In 2004, Valderrama was included in the FIFA 100, a list of "greatest living footballers" chosen by Pelé to celebrate the 100th anniversary of FIFA.

At the end of his career Valderrama played in Major League Soccer joining the league in its first season. The most recognisable player in the league at the time, he helped popularise the league during the 1990s and attract other foreign footballers to ply their trade in the league. To this day, he is an icon as one of the most decorated playmakers to ever play in MLS.[6][7][8][9]


Valderrama began his career at Unión Magdalena of the Colombian First Division in 1981. He also played for Millonarios and Deportivo Cali before joining the Montpellier of the French First Division in 1988. He then went on to play for Independiente Medellín and then Atlético Junior, for whom he won the Colombian championship in 1993 and 1995. In 1996, he went to the US to play for the Tampa Bay Mutiny (1996–97, 2000–01), Miami Fusion (1998–99), and Colorado Rapids (2001–02). While a member of the Mutiny, the team would sell Carlos Valderrama wigs at Tampa Stadium. In Major League Soccer, Valderrama scored relatively few goals (16) for a midfielder, but is the league's second all-time leader in assists (114) after Steve Ralston (121), a former teammate. In 2005, he was named to the MLS All-Time Best XI. He was also named one of the top players of the 20th century by Pelé in 1999.[10]

MLS career

Valderrama began his Major League Soccer career with the Tampa Bay Mutiny in the league's inaugural year of 1996, and won its first Most Valuable Player award. In 2000 Valderrama recorded the only 20+ assist season in MLS history—ending the season with 26—a record that remains intact today, and which MLS itself suggested was an "unbreakable" record in a 2012 article.[11] Valderrama remained in the league until 2002, playing for the Mutiny, Miami Fusion, and the Colorado Rapids in his eight-year American soccer career.[12]

Retirement as player

In February 2004, Valderrama ended his 22-year career in a tribute match at the Metropolitan stadium of Barranquilla, with some of the most important football players of South America, such as Diego Maradona, Enzo Francescoli and José Luis Chilavert.

Valderrama has since become assistant manager of Atlético Junior. On November 1, 2007, Valderrama accused a referee of corruption by waving cash in the face of Oscar Julian Ruiz when the official awarded a penalty to América de Cali. Junior lost the match 4–1, which ended the club's hopes of playoff qualification.[13]

Playing style

The first and arguably the last thing to know about "El Pibe" Valderrama is that the qualities most commonly associated to him are in fact remarkably inaccurate. Always defined as a "slow" player, but watching him run at full speed puts that myth to bed very quickly; not a fast player, but definitely not a slow player either. Always defined as "lazy" when in fact, when he played at Montpellier (between 1988 and 1991), he was one of the most hard-working creative players in the world: his movement off-the-ball resembled the movement of a modern player, more than it resembled the movement of players of the early 1990s.

Valderrama was, for example, substantially comparable to Ruud Gullit in terms of mileage-per-game value; and Ruud Gullit is universally known as one of the most industrious creative players of all time. World Cup 1990 serves as a remarkably accurate barometer in that regard, in that both Gullit and Valderrama played against West Germany; in fact, Valderrama played the third group stage game against West Germany, and then Gullit played the Round of 16 (i.e. the game that follows immediately after the third group stage game) against West Germany; so not only did they play against the same opponent (and an opponent that happened to be the team that won that World Cup), but they played against West Germany more or less at the same exact time, in the same exact tournament. And so, Colombia vs. West Germany (third group game), and Netherlands vs. West Germany (Round of 16); those two games demonstrate in great detail, that Valderrama's work-rate, work-ethic, mileage-per-game, was not in the slightest "lazy" nor "slow" nor "lethargic" nor any of the other widely accepted clichés that define Valderrama in the collective conscience. In reality, Valderrama was essentially a "flair and grit" type of player, very similar to Andres Iniesta; Valderrama was one of the first players of that style. In the generations to follow, other players who could be defined as "flair and grit" are: Dennis Bergkamp, Luis Figo, Rivaldo, Andrea Pirlo, Andres Iniesta, Eden Hazard, etc. Such players are still incredibly rare today.

Although Valderrama was known or defined as a "classic number 10 playmaker," in reality it was brutally evident that he wasn't a classic playmaker, because classic playmakers are (by and large) not "flair and grit" type of players; classic playmakers are more direct, less defensive, less hard-working, typically take a lot more shots at goal (compared to Valderrama who practically never took shots at goal), and don't actively play in the deep-in-field areas that Valderrama was most comfortable in; Valderrama was unequivocally not a "classic playmaker" playing behind the forwards, as was typical of South American sides of that era, in reality, Valderrama was tactically speaking a natural deep-lying playmaker, which is a fundamentally different role than that of the traditional attacking midfielder. He was not slow; he wasn't lazy; and he also wasn't a classic playmaker. Three of the most widely used definitions for Valderrama are blatant misconceptions that are proven as misconceptions by the sheer volume of evidence in the form of the videos of the actual games. Valderrama arguably is one of the most misunderstood football players of all time; by and large, the descriptions about him are wildly inaccurate, not based on anything real or consistent. It is rather obvious that Valderrama playing in the United States in the twilight of his career (in fact, his career extended into his 40th birthday), helped define the misconceptions about Valderrama, namely his being slow, and lazy, and a classic playmaker – none of which applies to Valderrama's prime, but characteristics that arguably apply to the 36-year-old Valderrama that played in the MLS.[14]

Valderrama's instantly recognizable features were, of course, the big hair, but perhaps more importantly, his agile and electric and elegant feet; agility and electric-like are not obvious characteristics that one would tend to readily associate to a player who wasn't fast, but that's part of the "charisma" about Valderrama's unique characteristics (which extend to his actual game, and not just to the hair and the general outlandish appearance). His footwork was similar to that of much smaller and shorter players, which for a player of Valderrama's physical build and height was not a common feature. Although his passing ability was considered to be as good as the best European (or South American) players of the time, it was his balance and ability to shield the ball that differentiated him from most of his peers; his ball retention ability was always the subject of praise, not only remarkably efficient from a practical point of view, but also unique and "a joy to watch" from a purely aesthetic argument, thereby defining Valderrama as a logical fan favorite for both South American or European viewers.[15]

Valderrama's passing was highly accurate and versatile to the point where he held a consistent rate of assists, and was often involved in plays that often related to goals. This also involved free kicks, whether supporting his teammates, or attempts on goal. His creativity made him very influential, to the point where he became a known legend throughout South America, and eventually throughout the world of football.[16][17][17]

Aside from his exceptional vision and passing talents, Valderrama held very precise ball-control and dribbling abilities that were supported by quick reactions, and his disciplined mindset. This allowed him to perform impressive plays that have been highlighted throughout his career.[18][19][19] A team-player, Valderrama was also known to be an extremely selfless midfielder for both club, and nation.[7][20][20]

Former French defender Laurent Blanc, who played with Valderrama in Montpellier, described Valderrama perhaps more accurately than anyone else, when he said “In the fast and furious European game he wasn’t always at his ease. He was a natural exponent of ‘toque’, keeping the ball moving. But he was so gifted that we could give him the ball when we didn’t know what else to do with it knowing he wouldn’t lose it… and often he would do things that most of us only dream about!”.[15]

One of Valderrama's most impressive moments, was during the 1990 FIFA World Cup last group stage match against Germany. In a game where Colombia needed at least a draw to survive into the next round, Pierre Littbarski scored what appeared to be the winning goal in the 88th minute of the game. However, within what was sure to be the last few seconds of the added extra time (that is, the last 2–4 minutes that are added to the standard 90 minutes per game), Valderrama made a crucial left-footed pass to Freddy Rincon who equalized immediately and saved Colombia into the next round.[21]

Personal life

Valderrama is married and has five children. Valderrama was the only Colombian to feature in FIFA's 125 Top Living Football Players list in March 2004. He is currently a coach for a football academy called Clearwater Galactics [22] in Clearwater, Florida.



Montpellier HSC
Atletico Junior
Tampa Bay Mutiny


Other recognition

A statue of Valderrama outside Estadio Eduardo Santos in Santa Marta.

Valderrama appeared on the cover of International Superstar Soccer Pro 98. In the Nintendo 64 version, he is referred to by his nickname, El Pibe. A 22-foot bronze statue of Valderrama, created by Colombian artist Amilkar Ariza, was erected outside Estadio Eduardo Santos in Valderrama's birthplace of Santa Marta in 2006. Valderrama has also received a Legend card in EA Sports' soccer video game FIFA 15.[24]


Club performance League Cup Total
Season Club League Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
Colombia League Cup Total
1981Unión Magdalena
1985Deportivo Cali
France League Coupe de France Total
1988–89MontpellierDivision 1241
Spain League Copa del Rey Total
1991–92Real ValladolidLa Liga171
Colombia League Cup Total
1992Independiente Medellín
1993Atlético Junior354
USA League Open Cup Total
1996Tampa Bay MutinyMajor League Soccer23411245
1998Miami FusionMajor League Soccer18210192
1999Tampa Bay MutinyMajor League Soccer27320293
2001Colorado RapidsMajor League Soccer12000120
Total Colombia
France 774
Spain 171
USA 1751610118517
Career total

International goals

Scores and results lists Colombia's goal tally first.[25]

# Date Venue Opponent Score Result Competition
1. 1 July 1987 Estadio Gigante de Arroyito, Rosario, Argentina  Bolivia
1987 Copa América
2. 30 March 1988 Estadio Centenario, Armenia, Colombia  Canada
3. 24 June 1989 Miami Orange Bowl, Miami, United States  United States
4. 27 June 1989  Haiti
5. 9 June 1990 Stadio Renato Dall'Ara, Bologna, Italy  United Arab Emirates
1990 FIFA World Cup
6. 22 July 1995 Estadio Domingo Burgueño, Maldonado, Uruguay  United States
1995 Copa América
7. 7 July 1996 Estadio Metropolitano Roberto Meléndez, Barranquilla, Colombia  Uruguay
1998 FIFA World Cup qualification
8. 20 August 1997  Bolivia
9. 16 November 1997 Estadio Alberto J. Armando, Buenos Aires, Argentina  Argentina
10. 23 May 1998 Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, United States  Scotland
11. 31 May 1998 Waldstadion, Frankfurt, Germany  Germany


  1. "Carlos Valderrama". National Football Teams. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
  2. Colombian Spanish pronunciation.
  4. Boots and a bouffant -
  5. Mike Zizzo (15 June 1994). "Baggio Takes Great Strides Toward Soccer Greatness". The Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 24 September 2015.
  7. 1 2 Colombians in MLS: Stability, status influence recent shift |
  8. Why are so many Colombians keen to play in MLS? | Football | The Guardian
  9. Colombia Makes An Impact On Major League Soccer -
  10. FIFA 100
  11. Power 5 Unbreakable Records - Valderrama's 26 assists in 2000 |
  12. Carlos Valderrama |
  13. AP (2007), Valderrama expelled from match for taunting referee with cash, USA Today, 1 November 2007, Retrieved 10 July 2008.
  14. Chi ha sbagliato Pagliuca?: How Maturana changed football
  15. 1 2 Valderrama: an artist’s short spell in Montpellier -
  16. Valderrama: Colombia aren’t creative enough -
  17. 1 2 The day Colombia rocked the Monumental -
  18. 1996 Valderrama vs West MLS All star - YouTube
  19. 1 2 MLS LEGENDS | Carlos "El Pibe" Valderrama - YouTube
  20. 1 2 Carlos VALDERRAMA keep and pass compilation - christinayan - YouTube
  21. Italia 90 Mundial World Cup 1990 Germany v Colombia - YouTube
  23. "South American Team of the Year". 16 January 2009. Retrieved 10 March 2015.
  24. Carlos Valderrama FIFA 15 - 86 Legend - Ultimate Team FUT Stats | Futhead
  25. Mamrud, Roberto (13 March 2004). "Carlos Alberto Valderrama - Century of International Appearances". The Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation. Retrieved 7 August 2014.
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