Paulo Wanchope: Costa Rican Enigma

costa rican striker paulo wanchope

Player Profile: Paulo Wanchope

Date of Birth: 31/07/1976

Height: 1.93 m

Position: Striker

National Team: Costa Rica

International Caps: 73

International Goals: 45

Club Career

What’s the best way to start your career at a new club? An electrifying appearance off the bench like Cristiano Ronaldo did at Manchester United? A Man of the Match performance and a win? Setting up a goal, or maybe even scoring one? Paulo Wanchope had a much grander answer to that question. He went ahead and scored, what was to be later voted the greatest goal in his club’s history, on his debut.

The Costa Rican had been an unknown when he first came to England. Born in Heredia, just 10km away from the Costa Rican capital San Jose, Wanchope began his career at his local club FC Herediano. He remained there until he was 21 and his stats there were impressive – 20 goals in 14 games. That caught the eye of Derby County manager Jim Smith, who had just won promotion to the Premier League and he had ambitions to keep them there.

Wanchope made his debut towards the end of the 1996-97 season. The Costa Rican couldn’t have faced a harder test for his first match – a star-studded Manchester United at Old Trafford. However, the 6’4 striker was up for the challenge. His impact was immediate – his cross was headed in by Ashley Ward for Derby’s opener. But the best was yet to come.

After picking up the ball inside his own half, Wanchope dribbled past a defence that included the likes of Gary Pallister and Gary Neville who tried in vain to take the ball off him. Once in range, he simply side-footed it past Peter Schmeichel. That was Derby’s second in a game that they won 3-2. Later in 2012, that would be voted the greatest goal in Derby County’s 125-year history. Wanchope was an instant fan-favourite.

Paulo Wanchope scores on debut for Derby County.

The striker continued his fine form throughout the next season, scoring 13 goals in the league. He helped Derby finish an improbable ninth. The following season, his goalscoring stats slightly dipped – only eight came in the league. But Derby prospered, finishing eighth. 

His displays were catching the eye of fellow English clubs, and it was West Ham that came in with a big-money offer. Signed for just £600,000, a few years earlier, Derby sold him to West Ham for £3.5 million, their supporters pacified by the healthy profit that they had just made.

Wanchope carried on scoring goals for West Ham, but his gangly awkward style didn’t endear him to the club’s fans. He formed a deadly partnership with Paulo Di Canio as the Hammers finished ninth that season. Between the two of them, they scored a combined total of 31 Premier League goals. Wanchope contributed 12 of them.

Despite his exploits, manager Harry Redknapp opted to bring Davor Šuker and Freddy Kanoute. That put his place in the first-team in jeopardy, and he was soon on his way to his third English club, Manchester City. This time the transfer fee exchanged was £3.65 million – West Ham had made a marginal profit.

Just like he did at Derby, Wanchope made an instant impact at Manchester City. On his City debut, he scored a hat-trick in a 4-2 victory over Sunderland. However, his City career did not exactly go to plan. Despite scoring nine Premier League goals in his first season with the club, it was not enough to save them from relegation.

The next season, as City battled to get back among the big boys, Wanchope battled multiple injuries. He still managed 12 goals in the 15 games that he played as City managed to win promotion. However, injury reared its ugly head again the following season, as Wanchope missed the entire year.

The big Costa Rican returned towards the end of the 2003-04 season to score a number of important goals for City. This included one against Newcastle United that ensure the clubs Premier League survival. His time in England was coming to an end, and his next destination would be sunny Spain. 

La Liga outfit Málaga took a punt on Wanchope, signing him for £600,000 in 2004. He scored six goals for them in the La Liga that season, including one against Numancia that would be voted the league’s goal of the season. This wasn’t enough to prolong his stay in Spain, and he left Málaga at the end of the season.

Wanchope had a somewhat nomadic spell after leaving Spain. He played for Al-Gharaffa in Qatar, his hometown club Herediano and Argentinean outfit Rosario Central. Then he made the switch to Japan for a short sting with J-League side FC Tokyo. His final destination was the be MLS side Chicago Fire. With injuries troubles beginning to take their toll and goals becoming harder to come by, Wanchope decided to call time on his career in 2007. He was just 31-years-old at the time.

International Career

Paulo Wanchope is regarded as one of Costa Rica’s greatest-ever players. He started off playing for Costa Rica’s youth side in the 1995 FIFA World Youth Championship in Qatar before making his senior debut in 1996 against Venezuela. 

Wanchope quickly established himself as one of the team’s leading players. He represented his country in the 2002 World Cup, scoring against eventual champions Brazil and by 2005 he was his country’s all-time leading scorer.

In the build-up to the 2006 World Cup, Wanchope had one of his most memorable matches, scoring as Costa Rica beat the United States at home to secure a ticket to Germany. He was also impressive at the tournament proper. The striker scored twice against Germany, a feat that made him the first Costa Rican ever to score twice in a World Cup match.

Wanchope played his last game for Costa Rica in 2008. In his 12 year international career he scored 45 goals in 73 games. To this day, Wanchope remains Costa Rica’s second-highest goalscorer of all-time.

Where is Paulo Wanchope now?

After retirement as a player, Paulo Wanchope tried his hand at management, taking over his first club Herediano. He spent only a single season there and moved on to manage another Costa Rican side in Uruguay de Coronado. While there, he received an offer to join the backroom staff at Costa Rica national team, as an assistant manager, which he accepted.

When Costa Rica manager Jorge Luis Pinto left after the 2014 World Cup, Wanchope took over as the national team manager. He achieved immediate success, winning the Copa Centroamericana in 2014. However, his stint as national team coach ended in controversial circumstances. After a scuffle with a security guard during a U-23 game, his position became untenable and he tendered his resignation.

Did you know? Interesting facts about Paulo Wanchope

 – Paulo Wanchope comes from a family of footballers. His father Vincent played for the national team, as did his brothers Javier and Carlos.

– He is one of only two Costa Ricans to have scored more than one World Cup goal.