By Debayan Mukhejee
Kolkata, Sep 12: Colombian legend Carlos Valderrama feels that Bayern Munich star James Rodriguez is one of the best footballers in the world and can become the country’s greatest player after him.
“I don’t think there cannot be anyone like me. There is James,” Valderrama told IANS in an interview.
“He is very good and one of the best in the world. Why can he not become the greatest,” the former Colombian captain asked.
The 56-year-old was in the city to unveil Dhulaiwala Durga Darshan, an app-based ticketed Durga Puja concept.
Valderrama skippered his national team to three World Cups (1990, 1994, 1998) and is the country’s most capped player. The three-time South American Footballer of the Year (1987, 1993 and 1999) was pivotal in Colombia’s journey to the knockout stages of the 1990 World Cup in Italy.
They were eventually knocked out in the Round of 16 when the legendary Roger Milla came on as a “super sub” and scored twice in extra-time as Cameroon defeated Colombia 2-1 to become the first African to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup. The South American side were knocked out in the group stages of the following two World Cups in 1994 and 1998.
Colombia failed to qualify for the next three World Cups (2002, 2006, 2010) before James lit up the 2014 edition in Brazil, scoring six goals as the team registered their best-ever finish by reaching the quarter-finals where they lost 1-2 to Brazil.
“The future of Colombian football is very bright. The players play in the best teams in Europe and in the best leagues,” Valderrama said.
Asked to rate the team of the 1990’s against the current one, which is ranked eighth, Vaderrama said teams of two different eras cannot be compared.
“You can’t compare the team we had and the players who represent the national team now. Those were different times when we played,” said the legendary midfielder, nicknamed ‘El Pibe’ (the kid) in his native country.
“Today they (players) have agents; during my time there was no concept of agents. These players now have three-four agents, businessmen controlling them. So things change.”
Valderrama, fondly remembered for his afro-curly hairdo, was an entertaining character off the field. Does he think that football today lacks such personalities?
“These are different times. There is still entertainment in football. In fact, it has gone up. Now more and more countries, which did not play football before, are playing. So the game is growing,” he said.
Asked to choose the better player between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Valderrama did not directly pick anyone, albeit naming the Argentine FC Barcelona forward as his favourite in a No.10 jersey in contemporary times. “All time best in a No.10 jersey would be Maradona. Now it is Messi,” said Valderrama, who also donned the No.10 on his back.
Brazil superstar Neymar, Valderrama said, can become like Messi and Ronaldo in the near future.
“Yes he can catch them. He is very good. He can fight to be the best in the world.”
During the time Major League Soccer (MLS) was taking baby steps in the USA, Valderrama was the brighest star plying his trade there.
Quizzed if stars like Brazilian Oscar going to the cash-rich Chinese Super League bodes well for the game, he said: “Yes, why not. This means we have big names coming to Asia.”
A U-17 World Cup star himself, Valderrama signed off by saying that Indian football can only grow after hosting a U-17 World Cup.
“It’s very important as the whole world will be watching this event. This will help the Indian national team grow,” he said.
(Debayan Mukhejee can be contacted at email@example.com)
By Debayan Mukhejee