Friday 04 September 2020, 19:13

Colombia’s scorpion king, 25 years on

  • Rene Higuita performed his scorpion kick 25 years ago today

  • The audacious clearance was typical of the man nicknamed ‘El Loco’

  • “It was a trick that helped put Colombia and myself on the map”

Football’s long history is littered with magnificent, near-miraculous saves. None of them, however, are as instantly recognisable – or as synonymous with one man – as the goalkeeping intervention Wembley witnessed 25 years ago today.

Even without the aid of video footage, there is surely not a football fan alive who cannot vividly picture Rene Higuita throwing himself head first, foregoing the simplest of catches, and clearing from behind his torso with both feet.

In bearing one man’s indelible trademark, that ‘scorpion’ kick is the goalkeeping equivalent to Johan Cruyff’s eponymous turn. And in truth, it was even more audacious – and certainly more unexpected - than the Dutch master’s dazzling change of direction.

The moment illuminated an otherwise dull, goalless friendly at England’s national stadium, with the Three Lions' then coach, Terry Venables, one of many to reflect on having “never seen anything like it before”.

There was a good reason for that, as ‘El Loco’ himself was quick to point out. “It’s the sort of thing only one person can do,” Higuita said afterwards.

Later, the flamboyant Colombia keeper explained the origins of the move that helped cement his name in football folklore. "Children have always been my inspiration,” he said. “I always saw them in the street or in a park trying out bicycle kicks, and I told them it would be good to do it in reverse. That day in England, I was given the ball that I had been waiting for for five years!

“It was a trick that helped put Colombia and myself on the map. Human beings are always remembered for their great work, and that was what it was.”

Of course, remarkable as the move was, Higuita’s scorpion should not be allowed to solely define his spectacular career. He was, after all, a true pioneer; a frequent goalscorer who was talented and courageous enough to dribble and play out from the back in an era defined by the back-pass rule and conservative, safety-first goalkeeping.

“To me the ball was a toy, a gift they give you every Christmas and you don’t want to let go of,” he told in 2018. “And if you do let go of it, then there’s a fight for it. I didn’t want to fight for the ball; I wanted to have my ball. And I wanted my team to have that ball. That’s how I read the game and that’s how the rules changed.

“I remember going to the stadium as a little boy and seeing good keepers who, when they got to the ball before the forwards did, would kick it out to the side. They were great keepers between the posts and I thought: ‘Can’t they play with their feet? If the ball’s not out then it’s in play and, while it’s in play, the team’s always got a chance of scoring. So why are we going to give it to the opposition?’”

Such logic, sneered at in Higuita’s pomp, is now conventional football wisdom. But while Colombia’s Scorpion King paved the way for the progressive, ball-playing keepers of today, it’s hard to imagine any of his position’s current exponents having the chutzpah required to attempt El Loco’s Wembley party piece.

Rene Higuita's scorpion kick at Wembley.