Where Does James Rodriguez Rank in the Top 25 Colombian Players of All Time?
Colombia has produced some of the most talented players coming out from South America. Among those footballers it is possible to find spectacular goalkeepers, solid defenders, creative midfielders and lethal strikers.
Through these players, Colombia has written its most glorious football pages.
Those episodes include qualifying to Chile ’62, an epic comeback against the Soviet Union, exceptional participations in Copa America, astonishing World Cup campaigns in Italy ’90 and Brazil 2014, demolishing Argentina in the USA ’94 qualifiers, and numerous magnificent performances at club level.
James Rodriguez, Colombia’s newest star, was officially presented as a Real Madrid player on Tuesday. Rodriguez was the main contributor in Colombia’s historic World Cup campaign in Brazil, but where does he rank among the constellation of the Cafeteros' greatest footballers?
The following is a rank of the best Colombian players of all time in which achievements, consistency, leadership, football quality and historic relevance were taken into account.
25. Alexis Mendoza
Alexis Mendoza was one of those players who is not regularly in the spotlight due to his position, but, nevertheless, he was a solid defender who played over 500 games in his professional career.
Mendoza won multiple championships in Colombia and ended his career in Mexico.
He was constantly called up to the national team during Colombia’s golden age. The Barranquilla-born defender played in different editions of Copa America and made Colombia’s final roster for the 1990 and 1994 World Cups.
His consistency is reflected in Colombia’s most capped players list as he ranks among the top 15 of all time.
24. Marcos Coll
Marcos Coll played as a midfielder and displayed his football in various clubs in his native country.
Coll played in another era, where the Colombian team was practically unknown to the world. He was one of the players who put Colombia on the football map with his performance at the 1962 World Cup.
In the second group-stage match, Colombia faced the Soviet Union and was losing 4-1 in the second half. Coll initiated a spectacular comeback with an Olympic goal—the first-ever goal of this type in a World Cup. The game ended in a 4-4 draw.
23. Alejandro Brand
Alejandro Brand was a star with Millonarios de Bogota in the '70s. He formed one of the most lethal duos in the history of Colombian football with Willington Ortiz.
Sadly, an ACL injury at an early stage in his career diminished his potential and eventually was the major cause of his retirement.
22. Ivan Rene Valenciano
Ivan Rene Valenciano had the goal as his best friend during his career. He scored over 200 goals in the Colombian league and is still one of the all-time top goalscorers in his native Colombia.
Ivan was disappointing in his stints abroad in Italy, Mexico and Ecuador, but he always scored goals with the Colombian jerseys he wore.
His best years were with Junior de Barranquilla, where he won two championships and individually was the top scorer of three different seasons.
Valenciano’s undeniable skill to score goals overshadowed his weight problems, and he was able to play with the national team in different categories. He played in the 1994 World Cup with the senior team, and he is still among the all-time top scorers of Colombia.
21. Jorge Bermudez
Jorge Bermudez was considered one of the best central defenders at the end of the '90s when he was the captain of famed Argentinian club Boca Juniors.
At Boca he won everything and scored the decisive penalty to win the Copa Libertadores 2000. His leadership skills won him the respect of his teammates and rivals and earned him the nickname of “El Patron” (The Boss).
Bermudez had a relatively short spell with Colombia’s senior team, but in that time he played in the 1998 World Cup and in three editions of Copa America.
20. Faryd Mondragon
Faryd Mondragon redefined what being a veteran really is.
Mondragon was part of the USA ’94 Colombian roster and played as the starting goalie in France ’98. When he was already considered a veteran, Mondragon went on to play for around a decade in Europe.
When he came back from Europe, Mondragon was almost 40 years old. That didn’t stop him from achieving his dream of being in another World Cup. Jose Pekerman took him to Brazil 2014 and gave him the chance to play the final minutes of the game against Japan, making him the oldest player to ever play in a World Cup.
Mondragon is the only player to live the two most successful eras of Colombian football at some point as an active player in the national team.
19. Delio Gamboa
Delio "Maravilla" Gamboa played as a forward and is accredited as one of the best Colombian players in the '60s and one of the first to successfully play abroad.
Gamboa left his mark on the Mexican club Oro and then came back to Colombia to play with Millonarios, where he won several championships.
Maravilla also played with Colombia in the South American team's first appearance in a World Cup in 1962 but only played one match during the tournament.
18. Mario Yepes
Mario Yepes seemed to be destined to be one of the players who, despite being an outstanding Colombian footballer, were going to miss out on playing a World Cup.
However, in his fourth try in the South American qualifiers with himself as the captain, Colombia obtained its ticket to Brazil 2014.
Many thought that, due to his age and his lack of speed, Yepes could end up being a liability for Colombia at the World Cup. But Yepes proved the critics wrong as his defending, leadership and bravery were key in Colombia’s historic campaign in Brazil.
The central defender has been playing at a high level in Europe for a long time in the French and Italian leagues. Apparently Yepes is like the good wines—getting better with age.
17. Efrain Sanchez
Efrain "Caiman" Sanchez was the first great goalkeeper in the history of Colombian football in its professional era.
Caiman had stints in Argentinian and Mexican clubs, but most of his career took place in Colombia. He won championships with Independiente de Medellin, and at the end of his career, serving as both player and coach, he won the championship with Millonarios.
Sanchez was the goalie who played in the historic Chile ’62 qualifiers when Colombia advanced for the first time. He was also selected to play in the World Cup.
As the coach of the national team, he led Colombia to the final of the Copa America in 1975.
16. Leonel Alvarez
Leonel Alvarez wasn’t the most talented player, he wasn’t a goalscorer, but he was one of the “original” and fundamental players to integrate the mid-'80s and early-'90s Colombian successful generation.
Alvarez was a working-class hero in a team filled with art crafters. As a defensive midfielder, he guarded the likes of Carlos Valderrama and other skillful players like no other, which is why he became a fan favorite as well.
Leonel played in Italy ’90 and USA ’94 and appeared in over a 100 games with the Cafeteros, making him the third most capped player for Colombia.
Even though scoring goals wasn’t Alvarez's main feature, ironically he scored the decisive goal in the penalty shootout of the Copa Libertadores final in 1989. Thanks to his goal, Atletico Nacional became the first Colombian team to win the tournament—a milestone in Colombian football history.
15. Francisco Zuluaga
Colombia has had outstanding central defenders, some of which are easier to remember because they are contemporary to our time, but the precursor of them all was Francisco "Cobo" Zuluaga.
Zuluaga became a legend of Millonarios after spending almost 15 years with the club and winning six championships. For an extended period of time during his tenure he was the captain of the club. In Millonarios he was teammates with some of the greatest players of all-time, such as Alfredo Di Stefano and Adolfo Pedernera.
Cobo was also a part of the first Colombian team to ever participate in a World Cup in 1962. Zuluaga scored the first-ever goal from Colombia at the tournament after finding the net through a penalty kick against Uruguay.
14. Juan Pablo Angel
Juan Angel was one of the most important Colombian strikers in the first decade of the current century.
His international career took off when he joined River Plate and won championships in Argentina with him being the main striker in a star-studded Millonarios squad.
Angel became one of the most prolific strikers in the EPL when he played for Aston Villa. It was then that many of Colombia’s hopes of qualifying for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups where set on his goals.
Angel never really exploited his goalscoring ability with Colombia as he did at club level for different circumstances, and he was never able to play in a World Cup. Sadly, Angel’s peak came in a time where Colombia seemed to be in a transition, and he therefore missed out on the biggest international stage.
13. Victor Hugo Aristizabal
Victor Hugo Aristizabal was a natural striker who had better times at club level than with the national team. However, the Copa America 2001, played at home, gave Aristizabal the opportunity to redeem himself with the Colombian jersey.
In Atletico Nacional, he never got tired of scoring and celebrating goals. He also showed his goalscoring capacity with various Brazilian clubs and with Deportivo Cali.
Aristizabal made the 1994 and 1998 World Cup rosters, but only played in the latter. The critics were harsh on him, as he was never able to bring the same productivity to the national team as he did at the clubs he played for.
In 2001, when Colombia conquered its only Copa America up to date, Aristizabal scored six goals in the tournament, which earned him the Golden Boot. He scored in all five matches leading to the final.
12. Arnoldo Iguaran
The Colombian national team has had plenty of world-class strikers, but no one has scored more goals with the Cafeteros jersey than Arnoldo Iguaran.
Iguaran was already a veteran when the Golden era started in the mid-80s, but his goalscoring skills weren’t overlooked by manager Francisco Maturana, who called him up to play with the national team. Guajiro was the top goal scorer of Copa America 1987 and eventually made it to the final roster that traveled to Italy ’90.
Iguaran achieved an idol status at Millonarios de Bogota, where he won the Colombian league title twice and scored over 100 goals that set him as the second all-time goalscorer of the club.
11. Ivan Ramiro Cordoba
The central defender became a symbol of Colombia and Inter Milan.
Ivan Cordoba was a natural leader who, despite his short height, managed to be a solid defender and score goals by striking aerial balls on set pieces.
He was able to live the end of Colombia’s most successful era and was selected to play in France ’98. At the beginning of the century, Cordoba wore the captain’s armband in Colombia’s championship campaign at the 2001 Copa America. In the final against Mexico, he scored the winning goal off a header.
Cordoba also had a very successful career with powerhouse European club Inter Milan, where he won everything.
10. James Rodriguez
At only 23 years old, James Rodriguez has already impressed enough and made enough merit to be considered as one of the greatest players in the history of Colombian football.
Rodriguez emigrated to play in the Argentinian league when he was still a teenager. In Argentina he significantly contributed to small club Banfield's championship campaign. James then went over to play at Porto, where he became a starter in his second season at the club.
The Colombian playmaker was then sold to Monaco, and in the French league he was the top provider.
At Brazil 2014, he made everyone forget that Radamel Falcao was injured and carried Colombia on his back, serving both as a playmaker and as a striker.
James scored six goals in the tournament, including masterpieces against Japan and Uruguay, and won the World Cup Golden Boot. His performance took Colombia to the quarterfinals; the furthest it has ever gone in a World Cup.
Rodriguez will now be playing with Real Madrid and attempting to add more glorious moments to his career.
James Rodriguez has the potential to finish his career as Colombia’s greatest player of all time, but we’ll have to wait to see if that happens.
9. Oscar Cordoba
Oscar Cordoba is another one of the great goalies that Colombia has produced. Among other things, he became highly regarded for his ability to save penalty kicks in crucial shootouts with famed Argentine club Boca Juniors.
At club level, Cordoba won everything with Boca Juniors, becoming an icon of the Xeneizes as he contributed to the beginning of the most successful era of the club at the end of the last century and beginning of the current one.
He was the starting goalie for the Colombian national team in USA ’94, when the Cafeteros were considered a serious candidate to win the tournament. And he was also the starting ‘keeper in the Copa America 2001, which is the only time that Colombia has won the tournament.
At the Copa America played on home soil, Cordoba registered a clean sheet in all five games he played on the road to the championship.
8. Andres Escobar
Andres Escobar was an elegant central defender who spent most of his career playing at Atletico Nacional, where he achieved an iconic status.
With Atletico Nacional he won the 1989 Copa Libertadores, something no other Colombian club was able to achieve before.
Escobar’s promising and rising career coincided with Colombia’s golden age. He was called up to the national team from 1988 until 1994, and in the process he played in Italy ’90 and USA ’94 World Cups.
There were reports that linked him to powerhouse AC Milan in 1994.
Escobar was brutally murdered in Medellin just days after Colombia’s elimination from USA ’94, and it was believed his own goal against the U.S. in the second group-stage match played a role in the assassination.
After his murder, Colombia’s golden generation was never the same, as it was even stated by some of his teammates in documentaries such as ESPN’s series 30 for 30.
As a tribute, players like Ivan Ramiro Cordoba wore the No. 2 jersey. His legacy is still alive, and he is regarded as one of the best defenders in Colombia’s history.
7. Adolfo Valencia
Adolfo Valencia was a powerful Colombian striker in the '90s.
"El Tren" (the train) scored the fifth goal against Argentina in the Albiceleste’s humiliating World Cup qualifiers loss to Colombia; that is one of his most remembered goals.
Despite an early exit in USA ’94 after expectations were way higher than that for the South American squad, Valencia did not disappoint as he scored against Romania and the U.S.
Valencia played for high-profile clubs Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid during his time in Europe.
6. Radamel Falcao Garcia
Falcao took over the spot that Juan Pablo Angel left as Colombia’s main striker with the national team and at club level in Europe. Radamel was so successful at it that he made everyone quickly forget about Angel’s absence.
Radamel Falcao’s career started in River Plate, and his game significantly progressed in his stints at Porto and Atletico Madrid. "El Tigre" (The Tiger) not only scored goals, but he did it in important and intense games such as the Europa League final.
Falcao was fundamental in Colombia’s resurgence in the last four years. Jose Pekerman built a Colombia that provided Falcao Garcia with enough balls for him to score constantly in the qualifiers and get Colombia back into a World Cup after 16 years.
Colombia was in shock earlier this year when its main star got injured playing for Monaco. Falcao missed out on Brazil 2014 as he wasn’t able to recover in time, but that doesn’t erase what he has done for the Cafeteros in the 2014 cycle.
The Tiger is still young enough to keep adding achievements to his career with Colombia and probably end as the top goalscorer of the Cafetero’s history.
5. Rene Higuita
Rene Higuita is possibly the most extravagant and spectacular goalkeeper in the history of football.
Higuita was Colombia’s goalkeeper in its historic campaign in Italy ’90. It was in that World Cup that the football world learned that a goalie can also participate in the game by using his feet and coming out of the box.
Curiously, Higuita’s praised style ended up costing Colombia the elimination in the round of 16 when Roger Milla stole the ball from him and scored.
Higuita not only contributed with his saves, he also collaborated by scoring penalty kicks both at club level and with Colombia.
Rene is also remembered for making one of the most impressive saves of all-time. While playing a game against England at Wembley Stadium, Higuita decided to make a save with a scorpion kick.
4. Faustino Asprilla
Faustino "Tino" Asprilla's speed and finishing skills made him one the most fierce strikers that Colombia has ever had. He remains a top-three striker in Colombia’s all-time leading scorers list to this day.
Tino was another of the most recognized players of the Colombia’s '90s team. He scored a memorable brace against Argentina in the famous 5-0 Colombian win. He also participated in the ’94 and ’98 World Cups but was unable to score.
Playing for Parma, Asprilla became one of the most successful Colombian players performing in Europe.
His strong character sometimes became his worst enemy; after Colombia’s first game in France ’98 Asprilla got expelled from the team due to an argument with the Cafeteros coach.
3. Freddy Rincon
Freddy Rincon is considered one of the best players in Colombian football due to his performance at both club and international level.
Rincon scored the stoppage-time goal against Germany in Italy ’90 that allowed Colombia to make it to the second round for the first time in its history. And three years later he scored a brace in Colombia’s 5-0 victory over Argentina.
The Colombian midfielder was one of the key components in the Cafeteros' golden age. Rincon participated in all the three World Cups that Colombia played in the 90s and in successful Copa America campaigns in the same decade.
At club level, Rincon played in highly praised clubs in both Europe and South America, including stints in Real Madrid, Napoli, Corinthians, Palmeiras and America de Cali.
2. Willington Ortiz
Before Carlos Valderrama came on the scene, Willington Ortiz was considered the best Colombian footballer of all time.
Ortiz had outstanding dribbling skills, speed and, as all historic strikers, was a lethal finisher.
He only played for three clubs in his career—all of them in Colombia. He scored goals for Millonarios, Deportivo Cali and America de Cali. His goals served to lift trophies with Millonarios and America, as well as reaching three consecutive Copa Libertadores finals.
Willington was Colombia’s symbol in the '70s and early '80s and was regarded as one of the best South American players in football history. However, he was never able to play in a World Cup as the Cafeteros failed to qualify.
Despite never being able to play in a World Cup, Ortiz did help Colombia reach the Copa America 1975 final, an achievement that the great late '80s and '90s generation wasn’t able to equal.
Destiny is sometimes cruel, and it certainly was with Ortiz when it came to the national team. If Willington had been born a few years later, he might have been able to be a part of the golden generation. Instead he was only able to play along with a young Valderrama wearing the Colombian jersey on his final year with the team in 1985.
1. Carlos Valderrama
The leader, brain and most talented player of Colombia in its golden age.
Valderrama played as the classic No. 10, orchestrating the midfield and providing attackers with dreamed assists.
"Pibe" participated in all of the successful moments that made the Colombia National Team respected worldwide. He was fundamental in Colombia qualifying for three World Cups in a row, consistently making the Copa America final stages and demolishing Argentina at the Monumental Stadium.
Carlos Valderrama was a pioneer as he was one of the first Colombian players of his generation to play several years in Europe, and he was also named the best player of South America in 1987 and 1993.
As if his football skills weren’t enough to notice him, Valderrama’s look—which included a mustache and a blonde Afro—made him one of the most recognizable and charismatic players in the history of the game.
El Pibe is an icon and a living legend of Colombian, South American and world football.