Sat, 26 Sep 2020

Bogota - Former Newcastle United forward Faustino Asprilla has claimed a drug trafficker offered to murder ex-Paraguay goalkeeper Jose Luis Chilavert after an on-field clash between the South American pair.

Speaking in a documentary about his life, due to be screened at the end of the week, the former Colombia international said the extraordinary offer came in 1997.

That was just three years after defender Andres Escobar was gunned down in his home city of Medellin by suspected drug cartel members after scoring an own goal at the World Cup that year.

"But you're mad! What will happen to Colombian football? It's not possible. No, no, no!" was Asprilla's response, the 50-year-old told the documentary makers.

Asprilla and Chilavert had both been sent off during a World Cup qualifier in Asuncion - won 2-1 by Paraguay - ahead of the 1998 tournament.

Afterwards, Asprilla says he received a phone call from Julio Fierro, described by Colombia's attorney general's office as a drug trafficker.

Fierro invited him to a hotel in Asuncion along with fellow former Colombia international Victor Hugo Aristizabal.

There, Fierro was waiting for them "with 10 people, drunk, and with pure Paraguayan women."

"We were annoyed because we'd lost when the man arrived (and said) 'we need you to authorize these two guys to stay here in Paraguay, Asuncion, they want to go and kill that fatty Chilavert'," said Asprilla.

He told them that what happens on the pitch stays there and that the issue was over.

But the "hitmen" insisted and asked him, "give us the order."

Fierro's body was discovered in 2004 in what authorities believed to have been a settling of scores.

The 1990s was a sorry period in Colombian football.

Several teams, including America, Millonarios and Envigado received mafia funding and were duly punished for it.

Before even Escobar was assassinated, the Colombian team had been threatened during the 1994 World Cup.

Midfielder Gabriel Gomez left the tournament after playing one match because threats were made against him and his family should he play in the second game against hosts the United States.

The coach Francisco Maturana also received a death threat should he pick Gomez.

The team's spokesman at the time said there was nothing uncommon about players receiving threats.

Asprilla, known affectionately as "Tino," made his name in Europe for Italians Parma, winning the now-defunct European Cup Winners' Cup in 1993.

Three years later he moved to Newcastle, who were flying in the English Premier League and looking set for a first championship title in nearly 70 years.

But the Colombian's arrival seemed to unsettle the team, despite his obvious talents, and they were pipped to the trophy by Manchester United, inspired by their own mercurial forward Eric Cantona.

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