Joyful, incisive and scrupulous are the adjectives that perhaps best describe Carlos Valderrama - both as a player and a man. “El Pibe” talked to from his American home as he finally prepares to hang up his boots. Why is it time to say goodbye?
Carlos Valderrama: The moment has finally come. In life it’s important to make the right choices at the right time, which is what I did in February and March this year. But in fact it was a simple decision to make at my age. I’ll miss the game – but let’s just say I’ve had my day. What’s important is that I’ve savoured every minute of my footballing career.

What will you remember most?
The good times; my team-mates, the banter in the dressing room, the ball at my feet. Football was and will always be my greatest passion.

And what now? Coaching?
Yes. And just like when I wanted to become a professional footballer I will have to train for it and work hard. Of course I want to be a coach but first I have to prepare myself if I want to be ready for the challenge. I’m ready to put in the work that is required to ensure I’m ready when the day comes for me to coach at the highest level.

What memories do you have of your debut in the Colombian first division?
The emotion. The joy at making my dream come true. That’s what I remember.

How would you define yourself as a footballer?
That’s a difficult question (laughs). I prefer to let others do the talking when it comes to describing my game. That’s what the fans and journalists are there for isn’t it?

b>But you are aware that you were capable of pulling off quite unbelievable passes aren’t you?
Yes, but you are born with skills like that. Then, with the right work ethic and concentration, you get to fine-tune those attributes.

How important was it for you to play for Colombia?
It was the best thing that happened in my career. The feeling I got when I pulled on the shirt and the recognition from the fans was just incredible. Words can’t express how it felt.

In South America, the 5-0 win over Argentina in Buenos Aires in the qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup USA 1994™ has gone down in history as a high point for Colombian football.
Absolutely. It’s a real personal highlight too, as much for the quality of football we played as for the result. That’s what I remember best – the fun we had playing football that night.

I imagine the death of Andrés Escobar in 1994 was the low point of your career?
I found it very hard to get over. Andrés was a very good player and a wonderful person. We will always miss him and never forget him.

What has prevented Colombia from doing well at a FIFA World Cup?
What has been lacking? Victories. We had great teams with top-class players and a great coach. But unfortunately we were never able to convert that into success simply by winning one game after another. That’s why we failed to get through to the second round in 1994 and 1998.