Jose Luis Chilavert pictured firing in a free-kick against Slovenia
He was the first keeper to attempt a direct free-kick at a FIFA World Cup
The Paraguay legend scored more than 50 career goals
We are, of course, more used to seeing goalkeepers facing free-kicks than firing them at goal. But if this image seems out of the ordinary, that's because Jose Luis Chilavert was no ordinary keeper.
The Paraguay icon was an expert in his position, and his ability between the posts earned him 74 caps and a place in the 'Team of the Tournament' at the 1998 FIFA World Cup™. But what marked him out as extraordinary were his skills at the other end of the pitch, where Chilavert’s free-kick and penalty-taking exploits became the stuff of legend.
The former San Lorenzo and Velez Sarsfield star ended his career having found the net more than 50 times. And it was watching a World Cup set-piece – a brilliant, outside-of-the-foot goal by Teofilo Cubillas for Peru against Scotland in 1978 – that provided his inspiration. “When I saw that goal,” he later explained, “I decided that I wanted to take free-kicks too.”
It wasn’t Chilavert's intention to do so as a goalkeeper though. “I started off playing as a striker with my friends in our neighbourhood, and I was very good," he told FIFA.com in 2010. “But one time we were playing ‘singles’ versus ‘marrieds’, and my brother, as a way of protecting me, stuck me in goal. I dived around a couple of times and took to it well.”
The rest, as they say, is history, and Chilavert’s outfield upbringing would add a unique dimension to his game. “It’s normally the worst player, the overweight kid or the one that brings the ball that gets put between the sticks,” he said. “As far as I was concerned, having played as a forward helped, because I was able to kick the ball with power and with both feet.
"A lot of people were against my way of playing at the start though. When I started coming out with the ball at my feet, for Real Zaragoza in 1988, the fans used to freak out and scream at me to get back in goal. [But] if you've got a goalie with a good shot, you ought to make use of it. Later on, I started to practise penalties and free-kicks until they gave me the job for real."
Chilavert would go on to score several free-kicks for club and country, including a famous effort from inside his own half for Velez against River Plate. And though he never managed a set-piece goal at the World Cup, it wasn’t for the want of trying.
At France 1998, the Paraguay captain became the first keeper to take a direct free-kick, and he forced an excellent save from his Bulgarian counterpart. The above image shows him producing another outstanding effort – this time against Slovenia in 2002 – when, again, only the reflexes of his opposite number prevented the net from bulging.
“Coaches don’t agree with it - they think it puts the team in danger. But if you happen to have a keeper who's better at it than your outfield players, why not give it a try?” Chilavert said of his free-kick duties.
"I’ve seen and done all kinds of things in football, but the one thing that makes me most proud is changing the image of goalkeepers forever. Up to then we were the morons, hanging around in our own goalmouths and taking a barrage of flak whenever we made a mistake. But we changed that. We showed we can do a great deal more, and can in fact win games."
Did you know? Chilavert was the highest-scoring keeper of all time until 2006, when he was surpassed by Sao Paulo legend Rogerio Ceni.