Why José Luis Chilavert is the king of goalscoring goalkeepers
November 1999. Early summer in the thriving barrio of Liniers, Buenos Aires. At the edge of town, the latest Clásico del Oeste holds the attention of thousands, Velez Sarsfield and Ferro Carril Oeste fighting for bragging rights and honour.
In such games, goals are precious no matter of origin, but when ones goalkeeper strides confidently from the back to crash home a hat-trick of penalty-kicks, all new levels of celebration are created. In the stands, a typical surge of energy and excitement greets another footnote in world football history.
Velez fans had cheered dozens of goals from the left boot of their peculiar Paraguayan, but the novelty endured. No goalkeeper in history had ever scored a hat-trick. Until now. José Luis Chilavert was nothing if not unique.
The most eccentric goalkeepers of all-time
The history of football is littered with eccentric goalkeepers. In fact, nihilism may be a pre-requisite for playing such a position. Chilavert elevated disregard for footballing rules to an art form, however. He shrugged off teammates in order to take penalty kicks, raced forward like a headless chicken to curl home free-kicks, and became an icon for my football-watching generation.
We just couldn't believe this guy. Sure, many other goalkeepers have scored goals, from Hans-Jörg Butt and Dimitar Ivankov to Peter Schmeichel and Jorge Campos, but very few have done it with such precision and skill as Chilavert.
Only Rogério Ceni, the legendary São Paulo goalkeeper, has scored more goals than the Paraguayan from that position in history. His is a safe place in football lore.
How many goals did José Luis Chilavert score in his career?
In a twenty-two year career, Chilavert played for seven clubs in five countries, scoring 46 domestic goals. He also scored 8 times for Paraguay, for whom he played on 74 occasions.
Any newcomer to football furnished only with such raw statistical records would conclude that Chilavert was a veteran striker. Perhaps he was a target man or a linking forward who worked tirelessly to create opportunities for teammates.
In actuality, Chilavert was a very adept goalkeeper. He frequently received World Goalkeeper of the Year Awards ahead of immortals like Schmeichel and Fabien Barthez. The bravery and acrobatic saves of a fine goalkeeper were only outshone by the rather wacky goalscoring exploits.
An introduction to Paraguayan football
Chilavert was born on 27th July 1965 in the southern city of Luque, Paraguay. A fairly nondescript metropolitan area, Luque was famous only for its airport and manufacturing of musical instruments during Chilavert's childhood.
However, a strong sense of civic pride always accompanied Sportivo Luqueño, the local football team, whose famous yellow and blue colours help decorate the city. Soon, the club, one of passion yet little tangible success, was alerted to Chilavert, who graduated through the youth ranks after impressin scouts.
While at Sportivo, Chilavert was mentored by legendary goalkeeping coach Modesto Sandoval, yet occasionally experimented with attacking set-plays, scoring four times in his two seasons before moving on to Guarani, a more successful Paraguayan club.
Chilavert managed to contain his inner playmaker sufficiently to help steer the capital club to a Primera División title in 1985. He did, though, manage to sneak one goal in for good measure.
Who did José Luis Chilavert play for?
The esteemed culture of San Lorenzo in Argentina further restricted Chilavert's goalscoring desires, his four-year stay in Boedo more a demonstration of shot-stopping excellence than goalscoring insanity.
In time, European clubs were alerted to Chilavert, with scouting reports no doubt waxing lyrical about his strong mental approach and sharp reflexes between the sticks.
Therefore, imagine the shock of Real Zaragoza officials when Chilavert decided to trot forward to take a penalty against Real Sociedad shortly after signing for Los Blanquillos in 1988.
“I went up to take a penalty and told an outfield player to go in goal until I got back," Chilavert said of his big bang moment. "I scored and started to celebrate in the middle of the pitch. When I looked round, the other team had already kicked-off, but I wasn't too worried because I'd left my teammate covering the goal.
"The trouble was that he'd come up to celebrate the goal as well. Sociedad scored, and I could have died. Luckily, we were leading 2-0 and we held on to win 2-1. That was crazy.”
A succinct glimpse into the mind of an extreme entertainer, right there.
In time, Chilavert returned to Argentina with Velez Sarsfield, where venturing forward to curl home goals became something of a party trick. During a decade between the sticks at Estadio José Amalfitani, Chilavert became a hero. He embodied the passion and spirit of a Velez team that won four Primera Division titles in a condensed period while also excelling on the continental stage with success in the hallowed Copa Libertadores and Intercontinental Cup in 1994.
It's important to understand that Chilavert was not just a slightly-crazy goalkeeper who could take an occasional free-kick. Rather, he was a deadly artisan over the ball, his shots carrying more verve and technical quality than those of even the greatest outfield technicians. He was a dead-ball genius who just happened to play in goal.
Why José Luis Chilavert is the ultimate goalscoring goalie, Rogerio Ceni be damned
In acknowledging Chilavert's outward perception, one sees a lovable figure perhaps lacking in the intensity of a winner. In reality, this cannot be further from the truth. Chilavert has a collection of rare and prestigious winner's medals from some of world football's most sequestered tournaments, a testament to his ambition.
Yes, he barged teammates out of the way to command dead-ball situations, piquing the chagrin of opponents in the process, but the fiery Paraguayan was immensely competitive. It would be wrong for history to forget his record as a proven winner.
International football gave the entire world an opportunity to witness the sublime Chilavert as he took his show of death-defying stunts on the road with Paraguay. A fearsome captain, the goalscoring goalie starred at two World Cups and even scored in the France '98 qualification campaign.
In the build-up to World Cup 2002, England played Paraguay at Anfield in a friendly game. As a football-obsessed eight-year old, I was thrilled when my dad surprised me with tickets to the game. It was a chance to see some true footballing superstars, even if my idol David Beckham was absent with a metatarsal injury.
Further, it was an opportunity to see Chilavert, but the inspirational stopper was serving the second of a three-match ban for spitting at Roberto Carlos during an altercation in a qualification game. Chilavert maintained that Carlos racially insulted him, provoking the gesture. Nevertheless, I was devastated that my one real to see an iconic hero was snatched away. I'm therefore left with the same grainy video clips and generic match reports as you.
The legacy of José Luis Chilavert
Chilavert briefly returned to Europe with Strasbourg in 2000 before a spell at Uruguayan giants Peñarol and a symbolic retirement with Velez in 2004. He even managed to score a goal in his testimonial game!
In 2005, he received a suspended prison sentence in France for the use of false documentation relating to compensation due from the cancelling of his Strasbourg contract. Somewhat typically for such an outspoken figure, the Paraguayan went on to work as a football commentator and analyst, a role he keeps to this day.
In the history of football, have known bizarre goalkeepers and free-kick experts, penalty-taking savants and inspirational captains, outspoken icons and contrarian characters. But only a hero so monumental as José Luis Chilavert could be all of those things in one. He was the epitome of unique, and we'll never see his like again.