Eccentric, spectacular, colourful and always unconventional, in his heyday Colombian shot-stopper Rene Higuita was the highest-profile member of the goalkeepers' union, an extrovert famed for his unforgettable and audacious performances for the Cafeteros and a number of club sides around the globe.
His glory days at the summit of the South American game may be behind him, but Rene is still going strong. Now plying his unique keeping skills with newly-promoted Venezuelan first division side Guaros de Lara, the Colombian legend has just celebrated his 40th birthday. And like a fine wine, he seems to get better with age.
Just hours after blowing out the candles, the inimitable Senor Higuita spoke exclusively, not to mention exhaustively, to FIFA.com about his career, the 1990 FIFA World Cup Italy™, that Scorpion Kick, his failures and what lies ahead. And according the man himself, the show is still far from over: "I'm planning to play on till I'm 45."
FIFA.com: Rene, a belated happy birthday to you.
Rene Higuita: Thank you very much (laughs). I've had a really good time. We had a low-key party here in the hotel. Nice and relaxed.
And how does Rene Higuita feel at the age of 40?
I'm very relaxed and happy right now. I've been waiting for a chance like this for a while now and I've been preparing for it, drawing on all the experience I have to settle into things here in Venezuela. I know a lot more than I used to, and the older you get, the more confident you become.
It is often said there is nothing better than having an
experienced keeper between the posts, and obviously you have an
advantage in that respect.
Yes, I think so. You go about your work more calmly, and like I said before, you know more about your job. Obviously that shows in everything you do.
What is your opinion of Venezuelan football today?
It's coming on and they've got some technically gifted players here. The main problem was obviously convincing them of that. But that's happening now, and the national side is an accurate reflection of what's going on here. They are improving all the time, putting in some good performances and getting some positive results too. But just when you think they're going to make the big step forward, they slip up. That said, the most important thing is that they've gained people's respect. They are no pushovers any more, and that's not easy to achieve.
Do you still play with the same daring style?
It depends on how the team plays. If the team needs me to play as a sweeper, then it's absolutely not a problem for me. If not, then I just save my contribution for between the posts.
Is the Scorpion Kick a thing of the past now?
I still practise it! You never know when it might come out again, so keep watching closely.
You have had a long career but are you still wearing the
Every time! At the end of the 80s Atletico Nacional lost out to Millonarios. Carlos Perea came up to me and we went to see a lady who told your fortune and things like that. She said someone had put a curse on us and she sent all the players a belt and blue underpants. It worked a treat. We couldn't stop winning and we ended up lifting the Copa Libertadores too. I've been using them ever since.
Let's look back at your career now. What memories do
you have of Italy 1990, the tournament that catapulted you to world
I remember we went to Italy with an inexperienced team that knew nothing about its opponents. But we had plenty of quality and we defined an era in Colombian football without doubt.
Do people still remind you of the Roger Milla
People remember me for two things in my career: that Cameroon goal when I tried to dribble the ball outside the box and the Scorpion Kick. They almost go together now, and when someone congratulates me for the Scorpion Kick, they then remind me of the Milla goal straightaway. And when someone criticises me for that mistake, they'll then start going on about the Wembley save. That's football, and life too. There are always winners and losers, good people and bad people, fat guys and thin guys, tall people and short people. You've just got to take things naturally.
Do you sometimes regret what you did?
No, no. I brought the ball out with my feet and I got it wrong. That's in the past now though.
A lot of people say the greatest keepers are always a
little crazy. Do you agree with that?
Well, some people also say that geniuses are a bit mad too. Let's put it this way: before they used to say that keepers who used their feet a lot were crazy, but with FIFA's decisions and the new laws, we have to do it more and more, so we couldn't have been that far wrong.
A lot of things have happened to you in the last few years.
You went to prison, you were suspended for doping, you have taken
part in reality shows on television and you also worked as a
goalkeeping coach. Looking back, what do you feel now about all
They are things that are part and parcel of life and I have to accept them as such. I've achieved a few things and been involved in other less pleasant situations. The most important thing, though, is to develop and grow whenever you come up against an obstacle. That's one way you can set an example to other people, by showing them you shouldn't make mistakes. I thank God for all the obstacles He has put in front of me and for helping me overcome them. Fortunately I can pass that on to children and future generations.
Do you think people judge you a lot?
I don't know. I've lived a normal life with plenty of good, bad and indifferent things. Luckily for me, I can teach my children all the things I've learnt.
Turning back to football now, what do you think about the
current Colombian national team?
I think they are going to do us proud in the qualifiers for South Africa. They've got everything they need: respect, good football and quality players in every position. I'm not surprised they've had problems of late because football is like that. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I hope they can just start putting some wins together and that all the critics start getting behind them.
Do you still have a lot of dreams you want to fulfil? Can
we expect to see Higuita around for a while yet?
A lot, yes. My aim is to carry on until I'm 45, and that's why I turned down all the offers I've been receiving recently. I've been asked to get involved in politics, do TV shows and coach teams and footballers. I prefer keeping goal, though, and this new phase is like the start of a dream for me. I can do all the rest when I retire, but in the meantime I'll just keep on building up my knowledge for the future. I've still got a few dreams I want to fulfil.
Which keepers impress you the most?
I like El Pato (Roberto) Abbondanzieri's coolness between the posts, (Iker) Casillas is a quality keeper and (Gianluigi) Buffon's performances are exceptional. What he did at Germany 2006 underlined the importance of the position. He was fundamental to Italy winning, and that's remarkable in itself. You only have to look at Brazil, who have won several World Cups without relying on their keepers.
Finally, how would you like to be remembered when you
retire from the game?
Let's wait a while yet. There's still a way to go and lots of things can still happen. The best thing they can say, though, is that Higuita was a man like many others; an ordinary human being who made mistakes, but who also had his good points too.