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Carlos Valderrama
El Pibe Valderrama.jpg
Valderrama in 2016
Personal information
Full name Carlos Alberto Valderrama Palacio
Date of birth (1961-09-02) 2 September 1961 (age 62)
Place of birth Santa Marta, Colombia
Height 1.75 m
Playing position Attacking midfielder
Youth career
Liceo Celedón
Unión Magdalena
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1980–1984 Unión Magdalena 94 (5)
1984–1985 Millonarios 33 (0)
1985–1988 Deportivo Cali 131 (22)
1988–1991 Montpellier 77 (4)
1991–1992 Real Valladolid 17 (1)
1992–1993 Independiente Medellín 10 (1)
1993–1995 Atlético Junior 82 (5)
1995–1997 Tampa Bay Mutiny 43 (7)
1996–1997 Deportivo Cali (loan) 19 (4)
1997–1999 Miami Fusion 24 (3)
1999–2001 Tampa Bay Mutiny 71 (5)
2001–2002 Colorado Rapids 39 (1)
Total 619 (54)
National team
1985–1998 Colombia 111 (11)
Teams managed
2007 Atlético Junior (assistant manager)
Representing  Colombia
Copa América
Third 1987 Argentina
Third 1993 Ecuador
Third 1995 Uruguay
  • Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only.
† Appearances (Goals).

Carlos Alberto Valderrama Palacio (Colombian Spanish: [ˈkaɾlos alˈβeɾto βaldeˈrama paˈlasjo]; born 2 September 1961), also known as El Pibe ("The Kid"), is a Colombian former professional footballer and sports commentator for Fútbol de Primera, who played as an attacking midfielder. A creative playmaker, he is regarded as one of the best Colombian footballers of all time, and by some as Colombia's greatest player ever. His distinctive hairstyle, as well as his precise passing and technical skills made him one of South America's most recognisable footballers in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He won the South American Footballer of the Year award in 1987 and 1993, and in 1999, he was also named one of the top 100 players of the 20th century by World Soccer. In 2004, he was included in the FIFA 100, a list of the 125 "greatest living footballers" chosen by Pelé to celebrate the 100th anniversary of FIFA.

Valderrama was a member of the Colombia national football team from 1985 until 1998. He represented Colombia in 111 full internationals and scored 11 times, making him the second-most capped player in the country's history, behind only David Ospina. He played a major role during the golden era of Colombian football in the 1990s, representing his national side in three FIFA World Cups and five Copa América tournaments.

After spending most of his career playing club football in South America and Europe, towards the end of his career Valderrama played in Major League Soccer, joining the league in its first season. One of the most recognisable players in the league at the time of its inception, he helped popularise the league during the second half of the 1990s. To this day, he is an icon and is considered one of the most decorated players to ever play in MLS; in 2005, he was named to the MLS All-Time Best XI.

Club career

Colombia and Europe

Born in Santa Marta, Colombia, Valderrama began his career at Unión Magdalena of the Colombian First Division in 1981. He also later played for Millonarios in 1984. He joined Deportivo Cali in 1985, where he played most of his Colombian football. In 1988, he moved to the French First Division side Montpellier. He struggled to adapt to the less technical and the faster, more physical, and tactical brand of football being played in Europe, losing his place in the squad. However, his passing ability later saw him become the club's main creative force, and he played a decisive role as his side won the Coupe de France in 1990. In 1991, he remained in Europe and joined Spanish side Real Valladolid for a season. He then returned to Colombia in 1992 and went on to play for Independiente Medellín, and subsequently Atlético Junior in 1993, with whom he won the Colombian championship in 1993 and 1995.

MLS career

Carlos Valderrama 1998
Valderrama at a Tampa Bay Mutiny fan meet in 1998

Valderrama began his Major League Soccer career with the US side Tampa Bay Mutiny in the league's inaugural 1996 season. The team won the first ever Supporters' Shield, awarded for having the league's best regular season record, while Valderrama was the league's first Most Valuable Player, finishing the season with 4 goals and 17 assists. He remained with the club for the 1997 season, and also spent a spell on loan back at Deportivo Cali in Colombia, before moving to another MLS side, Miami Fusion, in 1998, where he also remained for two seasons. He returned to Tampa Bay in 2000, spending two more seasons with the club; while a member of the Mutiny, the team would sell Carlos Valderrama wigs at Tampa Stadium. In the 2000 MLS season, Valderrama recorded the only 20+ assist season in MLS history—ending the season with 26 — a single season assist record that remains intact to this day, and which MLS itself suggested was an "unbreakable" record in a 2012 article. In 2001, Valderrama joined the Colorado Rapids, and remained with the team until 2002, when he retired; his American soccer league career spanned a total of eight years, during which he made 175 appearances. In the MLS, Valderrama scored relatively few goals (16) for a midfielder, but is the league's fourth all-time leader in assists (114) after Brad Davis (123), Steve Ralston (135) – a former teammate, and Landon Donovan (145). In 2005, he was named to the MLS All-Time Best XI.

International career

Valderrama was a member of the Colombia national football team from 1985 until 1998; he made 111 international appearances, scoring 11 goals, making him the most capped outfield player in the country's history. He represented and captained his national side in the 1990, 1994, and 1998 FIFA World Cups, and also took part in the 1987, 1989, 1991, 1993, and 1995 Copa América tournaments.

Valderrama made his international debut on 27 October 1985, in a 3–0 defeat to Paraguay in a 1986 World Cup qualifying match, at the age of 24. In his first major international tournament, he helped Colombia to a third-place finish at the 1987 Copa América in Argentina, as his team's captain, where he was named the tournament's best player; during the tournament he scored the opening goal in Colombia's 2–0 over Bolivia on 1 July, their first match of the group stage.

Valderrama colombia 1993
Valderrama with Colombia in 1993

Some of Valderrama's most impressive international performances came during the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy, during which he served as Colombia's captain. He helped his team to a 2–0 win against the UAE in Colombia's opening match of the group stage, scoring the second goal of the match with a strike from 20 yards. Colombia lost their second match against Yugoslavia, however, needing at least a draw against the eventual champions West Germany in their final group match in order to advance to the next round of the competition. In the decisive game, German striker Pierre Littbarski scored what appeared to be the winning goal in the 88th minute of the game; however, within the last minute of injury time, Valderrama beat several opposing players and made a crucial left-footed pass to Freddy Rincón, who subsequently equalised, sealing a place for Colombia in the second round of the tournament with a 1–1 draw. Colombia were eliminated in the round of 16, following a 2–1 extra time loss to Cameroon.

On 5 September 1993, Valderrama contributed to Colombia's historic 5–0 victory over South American rivals Argentina at the Monumental in Buenos Aires, which allowed them to qualify for the 1994 World Cup. Although much was expected of Valderrama at the World Cup, an injury during a pre-tournament warm-up game put his place in the squad in jeopardy; although he was able to regain match fitness in time for the tournament, Colombia disappointed and suffered a first round elimination following defeats to Romania and the hosts USA, though it has been contributed by the internal problem and threats by cartel groups at the time.

Four years later, Valderrama led his nation to qualify for the 1998 World Cup in France, scoring three goals during the qualifying stages. His impact in the final tournament at the advancing age of 37, however, was less decisive, and, despite defeating Tunisia, Colombia once again suffered a first round exit, following a 2–0 defeat against England, which was Valderrama's final international appearance.

Playing style

Although Valderrama is often defined as a 'classic number 10 playmaker', due to his creativity and offensive contribution, in reality he was not a classic playmaker in the traditional sense. Although he often wore the number 10 shirt throughout his career and was deployed as an attacking midfielder at times, he played mostly in deeper positions in the centre of the pitch – often operating in a free role as a deep-lying playmaker, rather than in more advanced midfield positions behind the forwards – in order to have a greater influence on the game. A team-player, Valderrama was also known to be an extremely selfless midfielder, who preferred assisting his teammates over going for goal himself; his tactical intelligence, positioning, reading of the game, efficient movement, and versatile range of passing enabled him to find space for himself to distribute and receive the ball, which allowed him both to set the tempo of his team in midfield with short, first time exchanges, or create chances with long lobbed passes or through balls.

Valderrama's most instantly recognisable physical features were his big afro-blonde hairstyle, jewelry, and moustache, but he was best known for his grace and elegance on the ball, as well as his agility, and quick feet as a footballer. His control, dribbling ability and footwork were similar to those of smaller players, which for a player of Valderrama's size and physical build was fairly uncommon, and he frequently stood out throughout his career for his ability to use his strength, balance, composure, and flamboyant technique to shield the ball from opponents when put under pressure, and retain possession in difficult situations, often with elaborate skills, which made him an extremely popular figure with the fans. Valderrama's mix of physical strength, two-footed ability, unpredictability and flair enabled him to produce key and incisive performances against top-tier teams, while his world class vision and exceptional passing and crossing ability with his right foot made him one of the best assist providers of his time; his height, physique and elevation also made him effective in the air, and he was also an accurate free kick taker and striker of the ball, despite not being a particularly prolific goalscorer.

Despite his natural talent and ability as a footballer, Valderrama earned a reputation for having a "languid" playing style, as well as lacking notable pace, being unfit, and for having a poor defensive work-rate on the pitch, in particular, after succumbing to the physical effects of ageing in his later career in the MLS. In his first season in France, he also initially struggled to adapt to the faster-paced, more physical and tactically rigorous European brand of football, which saw him play in an unfamiliar position, and gave him less space and time on the ball to dictate attacking passing moves; he was criticised at times for his lack of match fitness and his low defensive contribution, which initially limited his appearances with the club, although he later successfully became a key creative player in his team's starting line-up due to his discipline, skill, and his precise and efficient passing. Despite these claims, earlier in his career, however, Valderrama demonstrated substantial pace, stamina, and defensive competence.

Former French defender Laurent Blanc, who played with Valderrama in Montpellier, voiced one of the most accurate descriptions for Valderrama, "In the fast and furious European game he wasn't always at his ease. He was a natural exponent of 'toque', keeping the ball moving. But he was so gifted that we could give him the ball when we didn't know what else to do with it knowing he wouldn't lose it... and often he would do things that most of us only dream about."

Retirement and legacy

In February 2004, Valderrama ended his 22-year career in a tribute match at the Metropolitan stadium of Barranquilla, with some of the most important football players of South America, such as Diego Maradona, Enzo Francescoli, Iván Zamorano, and José Luis Chilavert.

In 2006, a 22-foot bronze statue of Valderrama, created by Colombian artist Amilkar Ariza, was erected outside Estadio Eduardo Santos in Valderrama's birthplace of Santa Marta.

Valderrama was the only Colombian to feature in FIFA's 125 Top Living Football Players list in March 2004.


Valderrama appeared on the cover of Konami's International Superstar Soccer Pro 98. In the Nintendo 64 version of the game, he is referred to by his nickname, El Pibe.

Valderrama has also appeared in EA Sports' FIFA football video game series; he was named one of the Ultimate Team Legend cards in FIFA 15.

Besides his link to videogames, Valderrama has been present in sports media through his work with Fútbol de Primera, Andrés Cantor's radio station. He works as a color commentator during broadcasts of different matches, mostly participating during the FIFA World Cup, alongside play-by-play commentators like Sammy Sadovnik or Cantor himself.

Coaching career

Since retiring from professional football, Valderrama has become assistant manager of Atlético Junior. On 1 November 2007, Valderrama accused a referee of corruption by waving cash in the face of Oscar Julian Ruiz when the official awarded a penalty to América de Cali. Junior lost the match 4–1, which ended the club's hopes of playoff qualification. He later also served as a coach for a football academy called Clearwater Galactics in Clearwater, Florida.

Personal life

Valderrama is married and has six children.

Career statistics


Appearances and goals by club, season and competition
Club Season League Cup Total
Division Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
Unión Magdalena 1981
Millonarios 1984
Deportivo Cali 1985
Montpellier 1988–89 Division 1 24 1
1989–90 18 1
1990–91 35 2
Total 77 4
Real Valladolid 1991–92 La Liga 17 1
Independiente Medellín 1992
Atlético Junior 1993 35 4
1994 18 1
1995 29 0
Total 82 5 0
Tampa Bay Mutiny 1996 MLS 23 4 1 1 24 5
1997 20 3 1 0 21 3
Total 43 7 2 1 45 8
Miami Fusion 1998 MLS 18 2 1 0 19 2
1999 4 1 0 0 4 1
Total 22 3 1 0 23 3
Tampa Bay Mutiny 1999 MLS 27 3 2 0 29 3
2000 32 1 2 0 34 1
2001 12 1 1 0 13 1
Total 71 5 5 0 76 5
Colorado Rapids 2001 MLS 12 0 0 0 12 0
2002 27 1 2 0 29 1
2003 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 39 1 2 0 41 1
Career total


Scores and results list Colombia's goal tally first, score column indicates score after each Valderrama goal.
List of international goals scored by Carlos Valderrama
No. Date Venue Opponent Score Result Competition
1 1 July 1987 Estadio Gigante de Arroyito, Rosario, Argentina  Bolivia 1–0 2–0 1987 Copa América
2 30 March 1988 Estadio Centenario, Armenia, Colombia  Canada 2–0 3–0 Friendly
3 24 June 1989 Miami Orange Bowl, Miami, United States  United States 1–0 1–0 Friendly
4 27 June 1989  Haiti 3–0 4–0 Friendly
5 9 June 1990 Stadio Renato Dall'Ara, Bologna, Italy  United Arab Emirates 2–0 2–0 1990 FIFA World Cup
6 22 July 1995 Estadio Domingo Burgueño, Maldonado, Uruguay  United States 2–0 4–1 1995 Copa América
7 7 July 1996 Estadio Metropolitano Roberto Meléndez, Barranquilla, Colombia  Uruguay 2–0 3–1 1998 FIFA World Cup qualification
8 20 August 1997  Bolivia 2–0 3–0 1998 FIFA World Cup qualification
9 16 November 1997 Estadio Alberto J. Armando, Buenos Aires, Argentina  Argentina 1–0 1–1 1998 FIFA World Cup qualification
10 23 May 1998 Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, United States  Scotland 1–0 2–2 Friendly
11 31 May 1998 Waldstadion, Frankfurt, Germany  Germany 1–3 1–3 Friendly


André Kana-Biyik vs Carlos Valderrama 1994 stampsheet of Nicaragua
Valderrama and André Kana-Biyik at the 1990 World Cup, pictured on a stamp sheet of Nicaragua


Atletico Junior

Tampa Bay Mutiny


  • Copa América MVP: 1987
  • South American Footballer of the Year: 1987, 1993
  • South American Team of the Year: 1987, 1993, 1996
  • MLS All-Star of the Year: 1996
  • Major League Soccer MVP: 1996
  • World Soccer's 100 Greatest Footballers of All Time: 1999
  • Colombian Player of the Century: 1999
  • MLS Assist leader: 2000 (26 assists – a single season record)
  • FIFA 100: 2004
  • MLS All-Time Best XI: Midfielder
  • Golden Foot: 2013, as football legend

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Carlos Valderrama para niños

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