Player Profile: Juan Pablo Ángel
Date of Birth: 24/10/1975
Height: 1.85 m
National Team: Colombia
International Caps: 33
International Goals: 9
The first few years of the new century saw several South American players move to the Premier League with mixed success. A couple of highly touted ones were not that successful — Juan Sebastian Veron and Diego Forlan come to mind. Juan Pablo Ángel though was on the other side of the spectrum. Despite a slow start, he ended up becoming a club legend at Aston Villa.
It was not just at Villa, though. Angel was one of those players who was a hit with the fans wherever he went. From his hometown club Atletico Nacional to Major League Soccer side New York Red Bulls, he was always cheered on the loudest from the stands.
Angel grew up in what was a very turbulent time for Colombia. He grew up in Medellin, the city that was notorious for being the home of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and as such, the epicentre of Colombia’s drug wars.
His talent was evident from a young age. After joining the youth system at Atletico Nacional, he broke scoring records at various age-group levels. By 1993, he had managed to make his debut for the senior team and in 1994, helped his team clinch the league title.
In 1998, Angel’s big chance to impress came as Argentinean giants River Plate zeroed in on him when trying to replace Hernan Crespo. Angel took to Boca like a duck to the water and soon, Boca fans were sporting wings to honour him. His instincts in the box and his powerful headers ensured that he was never short on goals.
After his performances for River Plate, clubs from Europe began to take notice. A number of big sides were linked to Angel and he nearly made a move to Porto. But in the end, it was English side Aston Villa who opened up their chequebooks and signed Angel for a club record of £9.5 million in 2001.
Angel joined in the January transfer window, and as such, was faced with the unenviable task of settling into unfamiliar surroundings rather quickly. He did not have it easy initially. He only scored one goal during the rest of season, including a barren run that lasted five months. This difficult beginning was made worse by off-field factors. Angel would later reveal that his wife was close to dying during this period and that his son was also rushed to the hospital.
However, when the 2001-02 season dawned, Angel began finding his feet, scoring sixteen in all competitions. He lifted the Intertoto Cup with Villa in 2001, scoring twice in the second leg of the final against Swiss Cup FC Basel.
The following season was one to forget, but Angel was back to his brilliant best in the 2003-04 season, scoring 23 goals in all competitions. That would remain the Villa record for the most goals in a season until it was broken by Christian Benteke nearly a decade later.
Angel never reached those heights for Villa again as instability at the club began impacting his own performances. Aston Villa wasn’t exactly stacked with talent at this time, and Angel went through five managers in his six seasons there. In the end, he left a lasting impression on the club, and it’s supporters and is Villa’s third-highest goalscorer in the Premier League era behind Dwight Yorke and Gabriel Agbonlahor.
When the Colombian striker left England, he moved to MLS where he would sign for New York Red Bulls in 2007. He became New York’s second designated player and immediately won the fans over with his playing style and commitment. In 2007, he managed to score in six straight games and was voted the MLS Player of the Month in May 2007. He got into double figures on the scoring charts during each of his four seasons at the club. In 2011, he joined Los Angeles Galaxy for a season, before spending two years at Chivas USA.
After his successes abroad, Angel opted to end his career with a stint back home, returning to Atletico Nacional in 2013. And this proved to be a highly successful stint as well as he took three straight league titles with his hometown team before hanging up his boots.
Juan Pablo Angel made his debut for Colombia in 1995 and his first goal came the following year in a friendly against Honduras. He did not make the Colombia team for the 1998 World Cup in France, but found himself back in the squad for 2002 World Cup qualifiers. He managed to score three times in the qualifiers, but Colombia did not qualify for the main tournament in Japan and South Korea.
He did even better in the build-up to the 2006 World Cup, scoring four times in the qualifiers. But once again, Colombia did not qualify. Angel never pulled on the Colombia shirt after that and finished his stint with nine goals from 33 games.
Where is Juan Pablo Ángel now?
After retirement, Angel stayed involved in football and signed with MLS side Los Angeles FC as a technical consultant. He is also involved in helping youngsters from South America pursue careers in MLS.
Did you know?
– Angel was a teammate of Colombian defender Andres Escobar at Atletico Nacional when the latter was shot dead in 1994. Angel recollects how he was told the news by Rene Higuita and went to the morgue to see Escobar’s body.
– He has an interesting story to tell about his signature long hair from the time playing in England. Apparently, he did not speak English very well and was unable to tell the barber how he wanted it cut. In the end, he just let it grow.