Faustino Asprilla: The Colombian Octopus

Faustino Asprilla: The Colombian Octopus

Player Profile: Faustino Asprilla

Date of Birth: 10/11/1969

Height: 1.76 m (5 ft 9 in)

Position(s): Forward, attacking midfielder

National Team: Colombia

International Caps: 57

International Goals: 20

Club Career

Faustino Asprilla’s career began at 18 years old with the Colombian side Cucuta Deportivo, who were one of the smaller clubs in the Colombian first division. Before he made his first professional appearance though, he was a graduate of the famous Carlos Sarmiento Lora academy in Cali. 

He was a star for Los Motilones, scoring 17 goals in 36 league appearances. As was the case in Colombia in those days, the young striker was snapped up by Atletico Nacional in Medellin. 

In the 1980s and 90s, the big clubs in Colombia were owned and bankrolled by drug traffickers. If you showed any sign of talent or potential, no expense was spared to bring you to one of those clubs. 

Asprilla repaid the faith shown in him as he scored 32 goals in 75 matches. While the return was solid, Asprilla was proving he was more than just a goal scorer. He personified Colombian football at the time with his flash and flair. And to top it off, he was a skilled free-kick taker. 

However, his playing style would be a double-edged sword later in his career. 

Asprilla’s flash and flair earned him a move to Europe and the world’s top league at the time. Asprilla was bought by Serie A club Parma for $10.9 million in 1992. 

He got off to a flying start with Parma, scoring 12 goals in all competitions and helping the club into their most successful era. With Parma, he won the 1992-93 European Cup Winners Cup. In that tournament, Asprilla scored four goals in 8 matches, including a match-winning brace in a 2-1 victory over Atletico Madrid in the semifinals. The club followed that up with a European Super Cup win over AC Milan months later. 

As a result of his performances in Colombia, Italy and with the national team, Asprilla was voted the 6th best player in the world by FIFA at the end of 1992. 

Despite this, he would quickly lose the patience of his manager and fans. 

While Asprilla was still displaying the flash and flair he showed in his native Colombia, earning him the nickname, “The Octopus” for the way his long limbs moved with the ball, Asprilla’s final product was lacking. Simply put, he wasn’t scoring enough goals. 

If Parma had looked at his resume they would have noticed that despite his playmaking abilities, he never was a prolific scorer. But 40 goals in 4 seasons would not be good enough, and Asprilla was on the move again. 

After playing just 5 matches in the first 5 months of the 1996-97 season, Asprilla was sold to English Premier League club Newcastle for £6.7 million. Asprilla arrived to Tyneside in the middle of a snowstorm and wearing a plush fur coat. To say he stuck out in Newcastle would be an understatement. 

At the time of his arrival, Newcastle was at the top of the table, with Manchester United nipping at their heels. The goals Asprilla would bring would carry Newcastle over the line, or so they hoped. 

He started brightly, creating an equalizing goal off the bench on his debut. That wasn’t the only positive for “Tino” during his first season at St. James’ Park, but there weren’t many more to follow. 

It was at Newcastle that his eccentricities were on full display. Before his debut match, he drank a glass of wine. The next match he was sent off after scoring his first goal for the club. Three weeks later, Asprilla chose to shower, and leave the locker room on the back of a motorcycle instead of listening to his manager’s team talk after a defeat to Arsenal. 

His reasoning? He couldn’t yet understand English, much less Kevin Keegan’s South Yorkshire accent, so he figured he could beat the traffic if he left early.

That wasn’t the sort of reaction his manager was looking for after a defeat during a title challenge. Asprilla finished the season with 3 goals in 14 matches. Newcastle faded as the season went on and were eventually caught by United, finishing second, 7 points behind the champions. Inconsistent performances and off-field issues led to much of the blame falling at the feet of Asprilla. 

He began his second season at Newcastle as an option off the bench instead of being in the starting lineup. Asprilla still managed 24 appearances in the league, scoring just 4 times. He saved his best stuff for the UEFA Cup though, scoring 5 times in 6 matches. Newcastle would make it to the quarterfinals of the tournament, and finish second in the Premier League for the second consecutive season. 

Asprilla’s final season on Tyneside came in 1997-98. With Les Ferdinand being sold and an injury to Alan Shearer, Asprilla was the first-choice option for Newcastle. He made 10 appearances but scored just twice before being sold back to Parma in January. 

To look at Asprilla’s scoring record for Newcastle gives you a glimpse into the personality of the man. He scored just 9 goals in 48 Premier League matches, an awful record for a forward. Yet, he scored 9 goals in 10 European matches. It’s clear Asprilla saved his best play for the biggest stages. 

His £6 million move back to Parma set in motion the final whirlwind stage of his career.

Over the next 5 years, Asprilla would play for 8 clubs, but never for more than 13 matches before moving on. He spent short six-month or so periods with each club, and even managed to pick up some trophies along the way. 

With Parma in 1999, he added another UEFA Cup. In the offseason, he transferred to Brazilian club Palmeiras where he picked up the Rio-Sao Paulo Tournament and Brazilian Champions Cup trophies in 2000. 

After the stop at Palmeiras, Asprilla moved to Fluminense, Atlante in Mexico, back to Atletico Nacional, to Universidad de Chile in Chile, to Estudiantes La Plata in Argentina, and finally finished out his career with one match for Cortulua in Colombia.

When it was all said and done, Faustino Asprilla played 318 matches and scored 105 goals in his professional career. He was an extraordinarily talented and creative player, who, as his big-money moves showed could excite fans and cause clubs to dream about what was possible with him in the lineup. 

Instead of making those dreams come true, Asprilla often frustrated his coaches and fans. Unfortunately, he didn’t produce enough moments that earned his somersaulting celebration. However, when he was in the mood, he could light up the field with his play. 

International Career

Faustino Asprilla was the tip of the spear of Colombia’s golden generation. He was the talented and mercurial top of the Colombian spine that included, Rene Higuita in goal, Andres Escobar in defense, and Carlos Valderrama in midfield. 

Although he played up top, Asprilla functioned more as a second striker and playmaking forward rather than as an out and out goal scorer. He scored 20 goals in 57 matches for his country over 8 years. 

Asprilla was a late bloomer for his generation, only receiving his first cap in the leadup to the 1994 World Cup. However, his presence was noticed right away when he scored two goals in the famous 5-0 victory over Argentina in Buenos Aires in the final round of CONMEBOL qualification. 

Like his fellow Colombians, Asprilla left his playing boots at home in Colombia when the national team traveled to the United States for the World Cup in 1994. He scored no goals as Colombia was unceremoniously dumped from the tournament after losing two and winning one of their group stage matches. 

A year later, Asprilla was in the Colombian team that finished third at the Copa America during which he scored twice. 

His finest performance for Los Cafeteros came against Chile in a World Cup qualifier in 1996. In front of a home crowd in Barranquilla, Asprilla recorded a hat trick en route to Colombia’s 4-1 win. 

During the 1998 World Cup, Asprilla was sent home after publicly criticizing the Colombian coach for substituting him in a loss against Romania in Colombia’s opening match. Yet, again Colombia was eliminated at the group stage of the tournament. He wouldn’t be gone from the team for long as he was back in the side for the friendlies that winter. 

As the rest of Colombia’s golden generation was wrapping up their international careers, so was Asprilla. The group that had given their nation so much hope called it quits without winning a trophy. 

Asprilla officially retired in 2001. 

Where is Faustino Asprilla Now?

Faustino Asprilla officially retired from football in 2009, albeit 5 years after his last professional match. He’s had an active retirement, to put it lightly. He was arrested in 2008 and placed under house arrest after firing a machine gun at security forces near his farm in Colombia. 

He’s also been on two separate Colombian reality tv shows. His connection with Newcastle United remains strong and in 2013 he was linked to a coaching role at the club that would create a pipeline for Colombian talent to Tyneside from the academy he runs in his homeland. This never developed though. 

Most recently he launched his own brand of flavored condoms. Ever the philanthropist, Asprilla sold the condoms at a reduced price during the 2020 pandemic to ease the financial burden on his fellow Colombians. 

Did You Know? 

– Faustino Asprilla once showed up nine hours late to training with Colombia because he was at an equine show.

– He once publicly declared to reporters that “Being a substitute is bad for my image”.

– Asprilla once showed up to training with a prop gun from a movie set and declared that if the team didn’t start running, he would shoot them all. 

– He once missed four weeks of the season with an injured leg after kicking a bus that cut him off in traffic.