Once capable of running 100 metres in less than 11 seconds, former Argentina striker Claudio Caniggia deserves his nickname El Hijo del Viento (Son of the Wind). Yet it was on the football pitch rather than the athletics track that the blond flyer put his electrifying speed to use, making a unique mark on the game with his trademark runs, which invariably left opposing defenders trailing in his wake. FIFA.com takes a look back at the Albiceleste speedster’s career at the top and finds out what he has been up to since his retirement.
The best of times
Nurtured in the once-prolific River Plate youth academy, Caniggia burst into the Millonario first team as a fresh-faced 18-year-old in 1985. With his explosive running and intricate dribbling skills, El Pájaro (The Bird), as he was also known back then, was an important squad member of the team that made history in 1986 by winning the league, the Copa Libertadores, the Copa Interamericana and the club’s maiden Intercontinental Cup title.
After making his name with River, Caniggia began the first stage of his European travels with a move to Italy’s Verona in 1988, though his finest spell in calcio would come with Atalanta. After returning home and pulling on the Boca Juniors shirt alongside one Diego Maradona, a move for which River fans would never forgive him, he enjoyed his most productive years in the game.
When asked recently about which of the two sides occupied the bigger place in his heart, he came up with a diplomatic response: “Half and half. River is the better school. They demand attractive football. Boca is different. There the fans keep cheering even when you’re losing.”
However, it was his performances in the national side that would raise Caniggia’s profile and make him one of the country’s leading players. He achieved hero status at the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™ when, following a magnificent run by Maradona, he scored the goal that took the Argentina into the last eight at the expense of Brazil. “That was the most important goal of my career, because we were really on the back foot and because of the rivalry we have with them,” he said afterwards.
That was the most important goal of my career, because we were really on the back foot and because of the rivalry we have with them.
The subsequent semi-final against the host nation provided yet more landmark moments in Caniggia’s blossoming career. As well as scoring the goal that forced the game into extra time and a penalty shootout that Argentina would go on to win, he also picked up a yellow card for a handball incident, a caution that would rule him out of the Final against Germany. “It was one of the most frustrating moments of my career,” he lamented. “That and failing to win the World Cup.”
The following year he contributed two goals as Argentina won the Copa America in Chile, where he formed a fearsome strike partnership with Gabriel Batistuta, who made the most of his sidekick’s searing pace.
A drugs ban forced him to miss Argentina’s successful defence of their continental title in Ecuador two years later, though he was united once more with Batigol for USA 1994, a tournament at which the Argentinians were expected to feature prominently. Despite Maradona’s suspension from the tournament, Caniggia scored twice against Nigeria in the group phase but limped off through injury against Bulgaria and was forced to look on from the sidelines as Romania ousted the South American champions in the Round of 16. “Another bitter pill,” he later said. “That was a great team.”
Though his differences with Daniel Passarella led to his omission from the France 1998 squad, Marcelo Bielsa recalled him for Korea/Japan 2002. Yet it was an unhappy tournament for Caniggia, who failed to make a single appearance and was sent off from the sub’s bench during the 1-1 draw with Sweden, a result that sealed Argentina’s surprise first-round elimination. Caniggia, who would never play for his country again, brought his lengthy career to an end two years later, having chosen Qatar as his final port of call.
A place in the sun
The much-travelled Argentinian had a very simple reason for choosing Marbella in the south of Spain as his current place of residence. “I used to come here a lot on holiday,” he said recently. “I liked it and when I retired we came here. It’s a quiet, relaxed place for all the family.”
Caniggia still maintains ties with the game. After a year’s rest he started providing his services as a consultant to a number of English clubs. “I’m also working with a few kids but I’m not an agent or anything like that,” he explained. “I’m just helping them out.”
Currently considering a move into management with an Italian club, he is also working on the long-term development of the game in the Marbella region. “This is an interesting place and there’s a real potential for growth here,” he has said of his adopted home. “There are kids here of different nationalities who have a lot of promise and I think we’re on to something.”
From scorer to scout, Claudio Caniggia clearly still has much to offer the football world.