Narcoball: When The Drug Cartels Owned Football

Narcoball: When The Drug Cartels Owned Football


So much of the recent history of Colombia
has been the history of the stranglehold of cocainetrafficking
drug cartels on its politics and on its culture. After a series of civil wars in the mid 20th
Century, and a politically unstable compromise between liberals and conservative to rotate
in and out of government, it was under the presidency
of Julio Turbay that the Colombian drug cartels began to
flourish in the late 1970s. By the 1980s, cocaine was a multi-billion
dollar enterprise, pulling over $4 billion into the Colombian
economy. Cocaine had become Colombia’s most marketable export, a development attributable
to two groups: the Cali cartel led by Miguel and
Gilberto Orejuela, and the Medellín cartel headed by Pablo
Escobar. 1973 saw the first investment by a drug cartel
into Colombian football, with marijuana trafficker Eduardo Enrique Dávila buying out recent
national champions Unión Magdalena in the city of Santa
Marta. But Cocaine money would soon change the face of Colombian football forever. The
Orejuela brothers poured millions into club América
de Cali at the end of the 1970s despite being fanatical
supporters of their local rivals Deportivo. America had been been relative unknowns up
until the end of the decade. Deportivo, meanwhile, had won
five Colombian titles between 1965 and 1974, and in
1978 became the first Colombian side to reach the Copa Libertadores final, losing to the
famous Boca Juniors.
With Deportivo turning down the Orejuela’s advances, the balance of power in Cali soon
shifted. Drug money assembled Colombia’s best club
side. A host of major players came through the door,
including Argentine forward Ricardo Gareca from River Plate, Paraguayan star Roberto
Cabañas and Peruvian midfielder Julio Uribe. The football
club was the perfect depository for laundered drug
money. Cartels could inflate transfer fees and gate receipts to legitimise their earnings.
Football clubs were given a taste of success for as long
as they allowed cartel cash to flow through the coffers. The
Cali cartel bought themselves five straight Colombian championships, as well as a place
in three consecutive Libertadores finals.
Rodrigo Lara, the Colombian justice minister who denounced cartel involvement in Colombian
football clubs in 1983, was gunned down the year after by hitmen working on behalf of
Pablo Escobar. The football-fanatical drug kingpin
and mass murderer took advantage of the positive PR
the sport could bring him. In the early 1980s the Medellín cartel invested in various football
clubs, including Atlético Nacional, and Bogotá’s
Millonarios. Football became the proxy by which cartels
played out their rivalry. The more successful the team,
the richer and more successful the cartel looked. Football gave them public legitimacy,
and pointed to the all-powerful reach of the cartel owners.
Escobar henchman José Rodríguez, better known as
Gacha, bankrolled Millonarios from 1986 and they stormed their way to two consecutive
titles in ’87 and ’88 thanks to a series of major signings
from Argentina. But it was the Escobar name which left the
indelible mark on Colombian football. Pablo Escobar saw
his local team Atlético Nacional as an important opportunity to sanitise his public profile.
At one point the seventh-richest man on the planet,
Escobar used his wealth to buy himself public favour.
Portraying himself as a modern-day Robin Hood, he invested the proceeds from his drug empire
into social housing, schools and even football
pitches in his native Medellín. With Escobar a key backer,
Atlético Nacional won only their fourth Colombian championship in 1981, but after the death
of manager Osvaldo Zubeldía a year later, América’s
rise to five consecutive championships saw Nacional fade. Cali had stolen a march on
Medellín. It was only through the signing of Colombian
team coach and former star player Francisco Maturana in 1987 that Nacional announced Colombian
football to the world. The international prestige of Colombian football
rose alongside the country’s reputation for drug
warfare. The two were inextricably connected. Nacional was an extension of Escobar’s all-powerful
influence on Colombian life, with his millions pushing Nacional all the way to the 1989 Libertadores
final, defeating Paraguayan outfit Olimpia 1-0 over two legs. Colombia finally had its
first South American champion.
Nacional didn’t rely on importing star players from abroad like América and Millonarios.
Instead, Nacional’s methods were more typical of
the man whose motto silver or lead, money or death, had
hung over Colombian life for almost two decades. In 1990 Uruguayan referee Daniel Cardellino
confessed to having been the subject of death threats in case he failed to favour Nacional
in their quarter final tie against Vasco da Gama. In
November 1989, after Deportivo Medellín failed to get the
better of rivals América de Cali in a must-win game, the referee Álvaro Ortega was found
murdered and the league championship discontinued.
Escobar henchman John Velásquez claimed the murder
on the part of the Medellín cartel. Four of the six teams in the title race at that
point were under cartel control.
A generation of players who had grown up in Escobar’s Colombia, and played on his pitches,
qualified for the 1994 World Cup among the favourites. A star-studded spine including
Tino Asprilla, Freddy Rincón and Carlos Valderrama, who
recorded a thumping 5-0 qualifying victory in Argentina,
had the cafeteros daring to dream. But fate was not on Colombia’s side. With Higuita
banned from the tournament for involvement in a cartel-ordered
kidnapping, and the spectre of drug warfare at
home looming, the Colombian bid soon fell apart. A 3-1 defeat to Hagi’s Romania in
their opening game sent them into a crunch tie with their
American hosts. With Colombia on the brink, the cartels made
their most direct interference into the national game,
delivering a message on national television that there would be fatal consequences if
Nacional midfielder Gabriel Gómez played in the next
game. Coach Francisco Maturana saw no choice but to
leave him out, and Colombia sank to a 2-1 defeat and an early exit. The face Colombia
showed to the world was blemished by the rivalry between
cartels back home. Colombia, the USA’s chief source of
cocaine, brought the drug war right back to America’s doorstep.
Star defender Andrés Escobar had been in the process of finalising a move to European
Champions AC Milan. Fate tragically intervened, as his
own goal helped condemn Colombia to the defeat that
would eliminate them from the tournament. Weeks later, he was confronted and killed
by a gunman outside a Medellín nightclub shouting ‘goal’
with each pull of the trigger. Bodyguard Humberto Muñoz was eventually sentenced to 45 years
in prison and was released after 11 for good behaviour. A
court ordered multi-million peso compensation for Escobar’s family was never paid.
Despite the cartels’ decreased power, their influence on Colombian football can still
be felt. Striker Antony de Ávila dedicated the goal that took
Colombia to the ’98 World Cup to the leaders of the Cali
cartel. Colombian attorney general Alfonso Valdivieso saw his presidential campaign in
tatters after publicly criticising the gesture.
Although the end of cartel ownership has returned Colombian club football to a more humble level,
it’s hard to know where the story ends. When Colombia were awarded the 2001 Copa América,
Argentina and invitees Canada withdrew citing death threats. The reconstruction of Colombian
football went alongside the reconstruction of Colombia itself. The presidencies of Antanas
Mockus and Álvaro Uribe have reinvigorated Colombia’s
public image and the nation’s football clubs are
starting to follow suit. In 2012, Millonarios offered to return the two titles they won
under cartel ownership. But a year later home fans unfurled
a banner in memory of Gacha’s contribution to their
success in a game against Atlético Junior. And five of the last ten Colombian championships
have been won by clubs who were once under the
control of the drug cartels. The shadow of the drug wars and the ‘narco
soccer’ age still hangs over the country’s favourite
pastime. This is not just the story of a small group of drug traffickers. This is the story
of how a lack of political control provided the perfect
soil for cartels to flourish and extend their power to all corners
of people’s lives. Echoes of the Colombian cartels can still be felt in its society,
and its football teams, to this day.

About the Author: Garret Beatty

100 Comments

  1. At 7:39 you say Atlètico Junior and show the crest of Argentinos Juniors from Argentina, birthplace of Maradona, Riquelme, Redondo among others, as well as Libertadores champions in 86. It's also my own team, and has nothing to do with Colombian cartels (obviously). Please correct this, with an annotation at the very least.

    (Otherwise I liked the video, very interesting and informational)

  2. As a Colombian who was watched football for as long as I remember, I am OBLIGED to say, with all due respect to Tifo of course, that this video is just packed full of errors. The list gets bigger and bigger as the video continues (and ends with pretty naive mistakes around the last minute-from 7:20 on).

    But believe me, I do NOT mean to criticize and start insulting Tifo or other people like most other YouTube comment "discussions" seem to go. I would probably screw up a lot if I had to, not only explain HUGE political-socioeconomic issues (like Brexit or the crisis in Venezuela) but also draw sensible, thoughtful connections from these issues to the beautiful game of football, ALL IN 8 MINUTES. It's just practically impossible.

    Sadly enough, the history of my country in the last 60 years or so (that is, only the recent history) has been, in fact, deeply stained with drug trafficking and guerrillas, along with other complicated political stuff. However, like I said, I want this comment to end on a high note:

    Ever since the 2014 World Cup qualifiers and the cup in Brazil itself, football has united Colombia. Simple as that. But NOT because we're all still being affected by the influence of narcos in football, like this video seems to imply. Quite the opposite, really. It's because football has become a worthy banner of Colombia, a flag that symbolizes the overcoming of a dark past and the looking towards a bright future. (Sounds poetic and all, but visit Colombia while the "Selección" is playing and you'll see what I'm talking about).

    Anyway, I still love Tifo, great informative videos on other things I have no clue about. This one just isn't that easy to digest because of its strong social/political ties (perhaps it'd be better to stay out of that for the most part…).

    And one last thing, this has nothing to do with that England vs. Colombia round of 16 match in Russia last summer, right 🙂 ?

  3. hi.. nice video, few inaccurate things in the cartoons:
    -the president of Colombia was Juan Manual Santos, (not Antanas Mockus)
    -you are using Argentinos Juniors (Arg) logo for Junior de Barranquilla (Col).
    – you are also mixing America with Cali, they are rivals.
    -the Rodriguez brothers were America fans since they were kids.

  4. As a colombian I have to say this is very well done. Some minor issues as others have pointed out. I do would like to say that the shadow of drugs over colombian football is almost insignificant nowadays, América spent 5 years on 2nd division, and Nacional got a 2nd Libertadores, this all because of really good and really bad managing. Nothing else.

  5. This video should be taken down. Americans and eurpeans dont realize the harm of this drug war in my country. The conclussions, plus the more "modern" part of the video, are badly mistaken and atributes the shift in colombian football clubs economy to the incorrect people. This is a sensitive matter and should not be taken ligthly without checking facts. It's not hard to google a president list and read a coulpe, of both right and left wing possition, about our modern conection to narcotraffic and inner war.

  6. As a Colombian, thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You guys really keep outdoing yourselves with every latest video. I wish you the greatest success

  7. I love your channel but I can't help but find many inconsistencies and inaccuracies in this video. As a Colombian myself, I know that I'm being more nitpicky but I know if I wasn't Colombian then I probably wouldn't have known the real facts. When you talk about the presidencies you cite Antanas Muckus who was runner up to Juan Manuel Santos. You also said Millonarios, a Bogota club, was owned by Pablo Escobar. During this time, the cartels decided to launder their money into their respective city's clubs. Millonarios were owned by Gacha nicknamed "the Mexican." Also as far as visual inconsistencies go in Atletico Nacional's Libertadores final you have them losing the game 4-5 on pens instead of vice versa and in the 1994 World Cup you have the US Crest next to Romania's when talking about Colombia's 3-1 loss. As I said I know I'm being nitpicky here but I just want to help you guys since I noticed those few things. Keep up the good work and sorry for being so uptight.

  8. Great Job Tifo! Please could you do a video on any African Legend like Okocha, Weah, Etoo or Kanu I've been asking for a while now

  9. I suggest you guys check out ”Two Escobar’s” espn documentary …I’m sure that documentary about Pablo aka drug cartels and football inspired this content. But watch the documentary. It shows how the cartels held private matches worth millions pay players to fly in for matches 11v 11. They been spending billions before Russians or Arab money on football.

  10. Atleast Colombian football club Once Caldas won the Copa Libertadores fair and square in 2004 with no ties to drug cartels.

  11. Finally. Atletico Nacional, Independiente Medellin,America de Cali, Millonarios all bought titles. The only major team not to have narco money was Junior de Barranquilla. Which at the height of the power of the cartels beat America de Cali. Funny part is these teams think they won titles. They are thieves and should forfeit titles won during the narco period.

  12. OMG…..Here 5 other things you can talk about instead of making a Colombian football coke video AGAIN. I say this because as a Colombian is really annoying seeing how Hollywood and the American Media refuse to recognise Colombia for anything else but its drugged past. This is the same as if the Videos about Americans and Europeans were all about Nazis. We don't think you guys are all Nazis but how can I believe you don't think we all drug barons when all you guys talk about its drugs. FUCK.
    – El Dorado (Yes, it's not in Mexico)
    – More Animals than North American in an area smaller than Texas
    – Simon Bolivar liberated never Conquered
    – Even though we are one of the smallest nations we were the pioneers of Aviation in Latin america.
    – Football like MANY nations in South America Plays a huge part of our culture, its not just about drugs.

    I undestand you did not do this with those intentions. But I must say Every 3 months someone makes a video about Pablo and his soccer team, then Narcos, then Movies and then I get white people going "well you can't Change the fact that is all we know about Colombia" ACTUAL QUOTE

  13. Hey guys. Great video. There's two small mistakes, though. Antanas Mockus was never elected President. He did great things as the Mayor of Bogota but lost to Juan Manuel Santos in the 2010 Presidential Race. Also, that's Argentinos Juniors' crest instead of Atlético Junior's at 7:42. Thanks for telling the story. Hopefully, Colombian football will never return to those dark, sad times.

  14. I am colombian living in london.

    Trust me when i tell anyone who reads this. That YOU NEED to travel to colombia. Dont be scared..its a completely different world to europe america or asia…the women the drugs the party life the laid back relaxed culture. Colombian people are super friendly. Make it to colombia one day and enjoy it. It will change your life

  15. Antanas Mockus didn´t win the presidency. It was Juan Manuel Santos who was president from 2010 to 2018. He usherd in th FARC peace process /although with some troubles) and eventually won the Nobel peace price

  16. Yeah, let's pretend that teams such as PSG and Manchester City do everything with legal money and that there's no money laundering there lol

  17. It wasn't a lack of control that allowed cartels to rise it was a corrupt political and justice system that is very prevalent in second and third world countries, which is usually down to governments having quite a lot of power. Laissez faire nations can still have strong law and order systems. Look aylt Switzerland.

  18. 7:20 Mockus was never president, sadly. And you're wrong Tifo, if anything Colombia is exporting more cocaine than never before.

  19. The emblem of Atlético Junior is mistaken, the squad shown is Argentinos Juniors. If you are going to address such a delicate subject at least do a serious investigation. 2 several mistakes in an 8-minute video. It's a shame.

  20. Small detail, at 7:40 you put an Argentinos Junior and not an Atletico Junior (from colombia) shield when talking about the Gacha tifo

  21. Good video but other than the mistake of Antanas Mokus not being president, the 2012 crest of Junior (Millonarios vs Junior) is wrong, that's the crest of Argentinos Juniors, not Atletico Junior just fyi

  22. Today, all the mexican’s football teams are owned by narcos PS: Dude, where u come from? I really find disgusting that english accent, but not all english talk like that, its weird. 🤔🤔🤔

  23. I know you’re still triggered because that Colombian-England match (and the fact England had to pay a referee to tie with a Colombia without its best players). BUT, take in consideration that if the Colombian football teams would be influenced by the Careteles they would be extremely rich, and, they arent. Our National football team isn’t influenced by narcos in these moments, how could u say that? what are your proofs? and this video is full of no-accurate facts. (Antanas mockus? Atlético Argentinos juniors?

  24. Several mistakes and inaccuracies, along with enlarging the (insignificant) role past ownerships have on today's football.

  25. I guess drug money is still money, so you can't really blame the fans of the clubs for wanting to honor the people who invested so much money into them. It's unfortunate that the contrast in motives between the cartels and the fans resulted in match-fixing.

  26. This is why a lot of Colombian fútbol fans don’t like Millonario and Nacional because most of the cups they won weren’t earned they were bought. As of the World Cup it’s a shame too because the teams we had in the early 90’s were magical and Narcos ruined that too.

  27. The year is 2050. Tifo has uploaded similar video showing involvment of oil money. Sadly they won't do it right now.

  28. Dude, i'm from Colombia, Escobar wasn't a fan el atlético nacional, he was a fan of el deportivo independiente medellin

  29. Antanas Mockus was never a president of Colombia. If he had been this country would be a lot better and would not be stagnated in years of development delay. When WWII ended, Germany and Japan where almost completely destroyed, South Korea was a 3rd world country involved in a bloody civil war and lets not mention Singapore. They are super developed countries and all major powers on the world's table today. What has kept Colombia from doing the same? Lack of political control as Tifo said, Corruption, That fuckin "Narco" culture inbred in people since they are kids as the "good thing" and most importantly and above of them all: Lack of education. All of these things i just said are still going on to this day after almost 50 years. People keep electing the politicians that fuck them all over again. I hope i see better days for my country. I love my country but its bloody history and everything that you just said still makes me pretty sad and hopeless. Good Video regardless i love this channel.

  30. No, it's not a "lack of political control". It's called corruption, i.e. when those in control collude with fucked up criminals.

  31. It's Argentinos Juniors, not 'Atletico Juniors'. You only had one job – to read the words written down.

  32. America de Cali in the 80s and early 90s had one of the best squads in the world, nearly signed Maradona in 79. Top players from all over over South America. pre bosman law.

  33. Well, as a colombian, the video is great, just got some things wrong and some are just to specific to a local sensibility to understand so simply with a foreigner´s gaze so, all and all, good effort and very cool graffics! I would just mention or clarify one important thing.
    Already saw that you corrected that Antanas Mokus was not president and that that was not Junior´s but Argentino´s crest bellow so, that´s that. It would only be left to say that, in my opinion, Uribe did no reinvigorate colombia´s public image or, maybe he did but by serving North America´s economic interest´s in the region above local needs and, creating a politic´s of war and land accumulation that, by manipulating and assasinating the opposition, has tried by all means to arrease any evidence of him being envolved with the Medellin Cartel in the 80´s, assides from him personally promoting and funding the paramilitary movements in Colombia. Movements that have slaugthered and empoverished entire communities and that are assosiated with drug trafficking. So, to further complex the story, is not a lack of political control that has permited the cartels to flourish, it is that the political power of the country, witch it´s also a cultural and racial elite, is deeply involved in the diverse process of corruption of all it´s activities and institutions, one of them being soccer. I think this is crucial to understand the current state of affairs in the country, being that our current pressident is basically his bitch. "Funny" how soccer is so involved in politic´s and neoliberalism, but then again, that´s the whole point of your channel! Once again, cool vid, and sorry about my spelling.

  34. "Drug consumption is a victimless crime" said the consumer.
    "Drugs must be banned for public safety and avoid taxable income thus increase government curruption" said the politian.
    "The cartels are cool and that badass guy is hype!" said the millenial.

  35. Uribe was a narco president who has a stronghold on Colombian society. Except he is so ingrained in the culture and economy, and idolized by conservatives that his ties to these dark forces, including death squads, has unfortunately been normalized in society. He is currently a senator who pulls the strings of the administration and the judicial system, and sadly we are seeing the effects today of this corruption as a huge number of activist are being assasinated. I say this because you briefly mentioned him as a sidenote and as someone who improved the circumstances. But he is much more sinister and evil than Escobar ever was, who was indeed also a monster but an amature one, but Uribe is an evil genius who maybe didnt take part in something as crass and blatant as narco football. He is a very controversial and polarizing figure in Colombian politics today, and dubbed the puppetmaster, and the world shouldn't white wash him.

  36. Please make videos about the Copa Libertadores!
    If possible, make one about the Brazilian team Sport Club Internacional, which won the cup in 2006 and went on to win FIFA's Club World Cup in the same year over Barcelona!
    I don't think Europeans care much about the Mundial, as we call it, but it's a great honor to win it for South American teams.

  37. Bruh? “Narcoball”? Colombian football has never been good. Its known for Valderramas crazy hair, and the defender that got got for scoring an own goal. Thats Colombian football.

  38. As a fanatic of Santa Fe most colombian fanatics know this. My parents and most of my family and probably all of the Colombians hate that this is connected to our clubs.

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