Can Colombian football launder its past?
Veteran Colombian midfielder Gerardo Bedoya came up with something special for his record-breaking 41st sending off.
Playing for Santa Fe in the big Bogota derby against Millonarios, first, in full view of the referee, he flattened Jhonny Ramirez with an elbow.
The red card had been already brandished, but Bedoya was not finished. Before taking his leave, to his own subsequent mortification, he stuck a boot into the face of his prone opponent.
Some of the predecessors of Ramirez in the blue shirt of Millonarios are feeling similarly violated. Last week Felipe Gaitan, the club's new president, floated the idea of giving up the league titles won by Millonarios in 1987 and 88, the last two championship wins in their history. It has provoked a furious reaction from the coach and some of the players of that team. Elsewhere, though, the idea has met with a positive response, since the motives behind it are clearly noble.
Escobar paid the ultimate price for his own goal against the USA. Photo; AFP
At the time the chief shareholder of Millonarios was Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha, known as 'el Mexicano,' one of the leading figures in the drug trade that was so ostentatiously powerful in Colombia at the time.
With a new shareholder structure and under fresh administration, it is admirable that Millonarios are keen to dissociate themselves from such a turbulent time in their country's history. The problem is, though, that the involvement of the major drug cartels was so widespread that the damage cannot be limited to one club.
Football had a huge appeal for the drug trade, for a number of reasons. Investing in clubs was good public relations, and also a big ego boost for the bosses. It also provided plenty of opportunities for laundering money - and for making some in betting scams. And some of the bosses were fans of the game living out a fantasy.
Millonarios, then, were probably not the worst offenders. America of Cali became the plaything of the local cartel. So rich that they became a kind of South American Real Madrid, signing big name players from all over the continent, they won the title for five years in a row before Millonarios interrupted their run in '87 and '88.
America bounced back, winning the next title in 1990 - the 1989 season had been scrapped after a referee was assassinated. Later America were placed on the so-called 'Clinton List,' drawn up by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control, which as a result of their links with the drug trade prevented them from having contact with financial institutions. This has been a factor in the club's slide into the second division.
The title that eluded America was the Copa Libertadores, South America's Champions League. They were beaten finalists three years in a row between 1985 and '87, and had to watch from the sidelines two years later when Atletico Nacional of Medellin, with links to their local drug cartel, became the first Colombian club to win the trophy. League champions in 1991 and '94, Nacional have already said that they are proud of the titles they won at the time and have no intention of relinquishing them.
It does not stop there. In the 1980s and 90s plenty of other Colombian clubs had ties with the drug trade. So much cash was sloshing around and so many quality foreigners were being brought in that for a while the Colombian league may have been as strong as any on the continent.
The Millonarios players of 87 and 88 are well aware that, however the whole thing was financed, they had to overcome some good opponents in order to win those league titles.
Perhaps here lies the problem with the current proposal - and at the moment it is no more than a proposal - to relinquish the titles. The golden age of boxing in the United States was marred by massive mafia manipulation, but the greatness of the fighters has not been called into question. Similarly, in strictly sporting terms, something interesting took place in Colombian football at that time.
The drug money brought an influx of foreign players who raised the standard of the domestic league. Nacional, who at the time fielded only Colombian players, found a home-based solution.
Under coach Francisco Maturana they forged something new; a mix of the short passing Argentine style and a touch of Brazilian flair that had always been part of the Colombian game, along with a high defensive line and a "sweeper-keeper" borrowed from the Holland side of the 1970s. When Maturana took charge of the national team he was able to add Carlos Valderrama to the mix, and the frizzy-haired playmaker became the fulcrum of the team, dictating a hypnotic, salsa-inspired rhythm from centrefield.
The team is mainly remembered for its failure in the 1994 World Cup, and the tragic assassination soon afterwards of defender Andres Escobar, who had scored an own goal in the tournament - an incident which brought to global attention the cartel-inspired chaos that Colombia was living at the time.
Those same pressures had caused the team to implode during USA 94. Outside the goldfish bowl of the World Cup, though, that Colombian side was a wonderful unit, capable of beating anyone. In 1993 they inflicted Argentina's first ever home defeat in World Cup qualification with an extraordinary 5-0 win, and they went to the United States 18 years ago having suffered just one defeat in their previous 34 matches.
It is entirely laudable that some in Colombian football seek to distance their clubs from the dark rule of the drug lords. But if all titles are relinquished, it is almost as if the Colombian game did not exist at this time - which is unfair on those who played it so well that they still stand as a reference for subsequent generations.
One of them is Andres Escobar. Removing from the history books the titles he won with Atletico Nacional would not seem to be an adequate memorial for someone who deserves to be remembered.
Comments on the piece in the space provided. Questions on South American football to firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll pick out a couple for next week.
From last week's postbag;
I'd be fascinated to hear your thoughts on the deterioration of the Paraguayan national team. Having been quarter-finalists two years ago in South Africa, La Albirroja now look highly unlikely even to feature at the Brazil 2014 World Cup. Can you pinpoint exactly where it has gone wrong for them?
I think their current problems are entirely predictable. It was an incredible achievement for them to qualify for four consecutive World Cups. They've been punching above their weight for a while, and given the ultra-competitive nature of World Cup qualification in South America, they were riding for a fall this time.
The signs were there during last year's Copa America, when they reached the final without winning a single game. Coach Gerardo Martino jumped straight afterwards. He realised he'd taken them as far as he could. Changes were needed, but his replacement Francisco Arce betrayed his own lack of experience trying to make them too quickly. He was giving out international caps as if they were invites to his daughter's wedding. New coach Gerardo Pelusso has brought the old guard back, and will try to find a better blend between them and the youngsters, but he will have to do something special to get them back in contention for a place in Brazil, especially as the defensive unit really looks to be creaking.