When goalkeeper Jose Luis Chilavert scored a hat-trick for Velez Sarsfield

Every goalie has their own quirks. After all, it takes a particular type of player to opt for a life between the posts.

It’s a life as a footballer often spent in solitude, a life that requires intense focus to avoid the kind of calamity that becomes fodder for comedy films on YouTube and Twitter.

In the 1990s, England’s top shooters were looking for alternative outlets for the creativity that was so stifled on the pitch. David Seaman loved to go fishing. Peter Schmeichel started playing drums. Peter Shilton, meanwhile, had the idea of ​​leaving the EU.

However, it was a different story in Mexico and South America. There, some hitchhikers weren’t content to stretch their goal. They wanted to be at the heart of the action. They also wanted to score goals.

Rene Higuita, Jorge Campos and Rogerio Ceni all made a name for themselves as goalkeepers who found the net at a surprisingly consistent pace. A level above South American sweepers like Alisson or Ederson, these shooters risked embarrassment every week in the name of personal glory.

It was bold, brilliant and often totally unnecessary. And if one player characterized the movement more than any other, it was Paraguayan José Luis Chilavert.

Crowned Argentine Player of the Year and South American Player of the Year in 1996, Chilavert was also named the IFFHS World’s Best Goalkeeper three times – in 1995, 1997 and 1998 – during his peak.

More than just a goalscorer, Chilavert was a quick and nimble shooter to rank among the best – a famous streak saw him cheering on Diego Maradona, then Boca Juniors, after he pulled off a superhuman save to deny the Argentine, El Diego also offering a handshake as an extra thank you.

He was also a leader, with Paraguay qualifying for the 1998 and 2002 World Cups thanks to organized defense by Chilavert, who became known as “El Pitbull” and happily leaned on his nickname by wearing a shirt with a picture of a villain. Pit bull on the front.

And Chilavert could be mean away from the pitch. Roberto Carlos, Maradona (of course) and Faustino Asprilla all fell for the sharp-tongued and sometimes aggressive shooter, who once turned on a physiotherapist, resulting in an altercation that earned him a suspended sentence and some excess of caution. friction in the years that followed.

But despite the madness that has dogged the Chilavert throughout his career, there was a method to his chaos, especially when it came to dead-ball situations.

Capable of hitting a free-kick on goal with unerring accuracy and even more ruthless from the spot, Chilavert’s 67 pro tally may have finally been bettered by Rogerio Ceni, but one day in November 1999 the Pitbull etched his name in football. history as the first goalkeeper to score a hat-trick in a professional match.

Chilavert was already a club legend the moment he stepped onto the pitch for Velez Sarsfield against Ferro Carril Oeste in the Argentine Primera Division. The Paraguayan had joined Velez in 1991 as a player with a point to prove.

Having first made a name for himself as a goalscorer with Guarani in his native country, Chilavert had made a fateful first foray into European football by signing for Real Zaragoza. He spent just over two seasons in Spain but his outgoing exploits were not always appreciated.

“Fans used to freak out and yell at me to get back in goal,” Chilavert later recalled.

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READ: Ranking South America’s top 10 scorers: Ceni, Higuita, Alisson

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Chilavert did not always help himself. In a 1989-90 La Liga clash with Real Sociedad, Zaragoza were awarded a penalty. The Paraguayan duly stepped up to bury the kick but was taken aback in the celebrations that followed, with Sociedad scoring from the restart.

He never took a penalty for the club again, although he continued to operate as a libero, much to the frustration of home fans. Despite criticism of his methods, the South American was unrepentant. “I see it as a way to help your team win,” he said. “If you have a goalkeeper with a good shot, you have to use it. I never stopped thinking about what other people say. I only rely on my abilities. »

A move to Velez saw Chilavert team up with Carlos Bianchi, a coach more sensitive to his goalscoring efforts. It is claimed that during his time at the club, Chilavert practiced 120 free-kicks a week and twice as many penalties. Whatever the truth, the approach had the intended effect, with Velez winning four domestic trophies and five international titles during Paraguay’s time at the club, including the 1994 Copa Libertadores.

Chilavert’s goals were also often decisive. His first goal for Velez sealed a 1-1 draw with Estudiantes to secure the Clausura title.

His most spectacular came in a 1996 league clash with rivals River Plate, a deflected strike from inside his own half that floated above Germany’s ill-fated Burgos. The legend says that before the goal, the always confident Chilavert had shouted at his teammates to leave the ball while bellowing: “Step aside, I’m going to score!”

“Some players scored from long range, but it was usually by chance,” he later claimed. “It was different. I saw that Burgos was outside the box, watching the birds rather than concentrating on the game.”

By the time Chilavert lined up for Velez against Ferro Carril Oeste in 1999, he was nearing the end of his time with the club.

After catching the eye at the 1998 World Cup, where he came close to becoming the first goalkeeper to score in the FIFA final, hitting the bar against Bulgaria in the opening game of the Paraguay, Chilavert has resumed courting interest from Europe.

Liverpool, in search of a replacement for increasingly calamitous David James, were heavily linked with South America in 1998 but Velez denied him a move amid ongoing contract issues. Chilavert was, of course, furious. “They’ve completely messed me up and until they pay me what they owe me, I’m not training,” he said. “By not allowing me to move, they deprived me of $8 million over three years.”

Despite his frayed relationship with the club, the Paraguayan was still able to give the fans a parting gift against bottom Ferro, who won just one game this season.

Chilavert scored many important penalties in his career: an equalizer against Argentina to secure an invaluable point in the 1998 World Cup qualifying campaign; the decisive kick for Velez in the 1994 Copa Libertadores final; and a decisive penalty against Amiens in the final of the Coupe de France 2001.

But he had never scored three times from the penalty spot in the same game. What made Chilavert’s hat-trick on penalties all the more impressive that day was the wide variety of strikes he offered.

Ever modest, the Paraguayan once said: “‘I’m not the same as Rene Higuita or Jorge Campos – they can’t shoot like me and I don’t take as many risks as them.’

That variety of shooting and risk taking was certainly on display on all three kicks against Ferro. Played in front of Velez’s home base in Buenos Aires, Chilavert put on quite the show.

The first penalty, imposed at 45 minutes, was ruthlessly sent down the right, a mixture of power and disconcerting precision. Some wondered if the same would happen with the second penalty, awarded in the 75th minute, but Chilavert preferred the psychological option: smash the ball in the middle to the chagrin of goalkeeper Ferro.

The third, given just seven minutes later, was pure thunder, Chilavert blasting it high into the corner from the crossbar to prompt wild celebrations, albeit mostly from the man himself.

Chilavert’s success story made global headlines, with the already booming Paraguayan reputation being further enhanced on the world stage. A move to Strasbourg followed in 2000 but, despite winning the Coupe de France, he never quite reached his heights at Velez in Europe, leaving the French club in 2002 amid another contract dispute.

A move to Penarol in Uruguay followed, with Chilavert winning a league title in a season in which he scored four more goals. He finally ended his career with a farewell spell at Velez, the club where he etched his name in football folklore, before retiring in 2004.

A one-of-a-kind goalkeeper, Chilavert’s eccentricity on the pitch secured him a special place in the history of the beautiful game. He was the Pitbull. He was crazy, bad but also damn brilliant.

By Jack Beresford

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