Faustino Asprilla: Unbeaten Run ‘Killa’

Tamhas Woods

If you hate Manchester United, then you should also hate Faustino Asprilla – and by extension, Kevin Keegan.

Of course, it would be unfair to single out Faustino Asprilla as a Premier League flop. Many South American imports have come and gone from the Premier League, and Colombians (such as Angel, Cuadrado and Falcao) seem to have particular previous for disappointment.

However, it takes a special kind of managerial stupid to blow a twelve-point lead in the Premier League. With just nine goals in 48 appearances for Newcastle, Asprilla was very much a square peg in a round hole. Perhaps most disappointing is the fact that Asprilla knew what it took to gain silverware in Europe.

As such, far from being a gamble, he appeared to be everything Newcastle needed.

Faustino Asprilla was inconsistent for Newcastle.
Asprilla was inconsistent for Newcastle. The old saying goes: “if it aint broke, don’t fix it”. Picture source: We Are Hooligans

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Faustino Asprilla – Best of the Best

Born in Tulua, Asprilla’s upbringing in the crime-ridden region required him to become a man before his time. For most Colombian boys of that era, the choice was simple – football and a relatively long life, or crime and an early death. Asprilla was no exception, and the fight to survive through playing football continued well into his teens.

In Cali, just 57 miles away, lay his salvation.

Tulua, Colombia. This crime hotspot with eternally warring paramilitary gangs is where it all began for Faustino Asprilla. Picture Source: Andres Garzon

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Cali is a city that has always produced footballing talent. The city’s only notable football school, Carlos Sarmiento Lora, is the primary reason for this reputation.

Since forming in 1983, the school has taken in only the best of the best over the past three decades. Judged by the standards of that time, this school was remarkably advanced in its approach to training young players, since it also offered opportunities for students to become psychologically stronger.

Faustino Asprilla is arguably remembered as the finest graduate of the school there has ever been. He began his professional career in 1988 with Cúcuta Deportivo, before moving to Atlético Nacional.

Over a 16-year career, Asprilla became a true journeyman. Picture source: El Cinco Cero

A European calling

Over a period of four years, Asprilla scored 49 goals in 111 appearances. It was a remarkable return for a player becoming increasingly known as more of a support striker and winger. Inevitably, in 1992, a pitched battle would erupt (mainly between Italian clubs) for the 22-year old Asprilla’s signature.

Parma eventually won that battle, heralding a new era of promise for the club from northern Italy.

Asprilla’s mental toughness and stern resolve under pressure, combined with blistering pace, made him an instant hit at Parma. The personal highlight of his playing days in Europe would not wait for long. His solitary strike in a 1-0 win over AC Milan in the spring of 1993 ended La Rossoneri’s 58-match unbeaten run.

It was a magical moment that earmarked him as a potential club great – before his first season was even over!

Asprilla played for Parma between 1992 and 1995, alongside Juan Sebastian Veron and Hernan Crespo. It was a golden era for a club that would, just ten years later, be declared insolvent. Picture Source: La Republica

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Parma would go on to lift the Cup Winners’ Cup that year in front of a packed Wembley. Some might assert that it was Wembley’s unique atmosphere that prompted Asprilla to make the bold move to England. He did so two years and 84 appearances later.

Fog on the whine

Asprilla signed for Newcastle on a subarctic day in February 1996, at a time when Newcastle’s lead was still in double figures. Sadly for Asprilla, his arrival directly coincided with the Magpies’ downturn in form. Ultimately it was this downturn, combined with Manchester United’s unstoppable winning streak, which cost Keegan’s men the title.

Worse was yet to come. By the time Asprilla left the club in 1998, much of the squad built by Keegan had disbanded or aged badly. With Kenny Dalglish at the helm, Newcastle delved into the unthinkable depths of the Premier League’s bottom half. It was Asprilla’s cue to leave and return to his rightful home in Parma.

A washed-up Faustino Asprilla, pictured in 2001 playing for Atlante
A washed-up Asprilla, pictured in 2001 playing for Atlante. Picture source: El Cinco Cero

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Just one goal in twelve appearances represented a sorry return for Asprilla. As the new millennium approached, Asprilla’s stock in Europe was plummeting, and in 1999 he departed back to South America to ply his trade for Palmeiras of Brazil.

From that time, until his long-overdue retirement in 2004, Asprilla would make sporadic appearances for a number of clubs across South America.

Was it Faustino Asprilla’s fault that things turned sour in the second half of the 1990s? Was it bad luck, or just ‘old father time’ catching up? Leave a comment, or take a look at Newcastle’s best all-time Premier League players.

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