Not all goalkeepers can claim to be the subject of a ‘Top 6 Goals’ highlight reel on YouTube, but then 1990's star Jorge Campos was nothing like all goalkeepers. In fact, watching the aforementioned tribute video, the immediate impression formed is that he was something of a predatory finisher with quick feet and quicker thinking.
Inside his ‘Top 6’ are some majestic finishes. There’s a penalty kick which he shapes to kick with his left foot, deceives the opposition goalkeeper and calmly slots home with the outside of his right. There’s a lobbed strike that he executes immediately after being tackled to the ground. There’s also a magnificent scissor kick, which is the hallmark of only the truly innovative footballing hitmen.
Goalkeeper Turned Striker
Time for some crucial context for the confused: Campos was, at various points throughout his career, a striker. No, he didn’t just go up for the odd corner kick when his team were losing and only seconds remained; he was an actual, bona
fide striker. When he was making his way in Mexico with Pumas, he found the No.1 jersey difficult to gain possession of. So, instead of sitting around twiddling his thumbs and waiting for the jersey’s incumbent, Adolfo Rios, to step aside, he asked if he could play outfield. His request was granted, and in his maiden campaign he found the net 22 times in all competitions.
After one season that saw Campos compete with his country’s most prolific scorers, he went back between the sticks. However, his scoring days were not done with. In each of the following five seasons, he got his name on the scoresheet at least once. This was because, while now the first-choice goalkeeper, he was still occasionally shifted up front when his side were in need of goals.
His attacking tendencies led to him being labelled as ‘crazy’ or ‘eccentric’ by onlookers who couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea of a goalkeeper being just as capable of finding the net as he was of denying opposition strikers that very privilege. And the pejorative labels were only further ingrained by his quirky choices of kit.
Jorge Campos Kit Designer
Campos designed his own gear, which often showcased a total disdain for convention. At the time, goalkeepers tended to wear plain outfits, perhaps hoping to attract as little attention as possible. Campos, however, went an entirely different route. His kits were ridiculously baggy and multi-coloured and contained various strange shapes. There were diagonal lines, triangles, arrows, all in pink or yellow or green or purple. He quite willingly stood out.
When asked about his choice of kit, he told FOXSoccer.com: “It was a special era and I always enjoyed wearing them at the beach. I loved and used those colours growing up in Acapulco. They were unique so I decided to wear them while playing. They took a life of their own and fans loved them.”
The garishness of Campos’ kits lent him the air of a maverick. Playing in what has historically been perhaps the most serious position on a football pitch – goalkeepers had, and have, the huge responsibility of not making a single error, lest they concede and doom their team to potential defeat – he took on the appearance of an extrovert, someone who didn’t care much, if at all, about what others thought. This was a risky decision, but given he went on to make 130 appearances for Mexico at international level, it evidently did not stunt his career prospects.
Fast and Athletic Qualities
Irrespective of his choice of kit, he was impossible to ignore. Firstly, there was his physique. Standing at around 5ft 7ins, he didn’t have the classic proportions of a goalkeeper. He was unable to cover the net in the way a Peter Schmeichel did, so he relied on incredible athleticism instead. His agility and reactions – perhaps honed during his surfing days as a youngster growing up in Acapulco – became the basis for his flying saves.
He was also exceptionally quick for a goalkeeper, and he was not afraid to showcase this when coming off his line. Time after time he would propel himself out of his six-yard box, throwing his body at the feet of forwards. His raiding rushes,
just like his kits, were not always easy on the eye – they were jerky, and sometimes he would stop and start in a deliberate attempt to foil his opponent.
Campos brought fun to the football pitch not just with his look, but with his style. He was probably closer to the ‘Arquero Libero’ (Libero Goalkeeper) of old, who brought the ball out of defence themselves, than to the modern-day sweeper-keeper, who are primarily used for sweeping up long balls behind high defensive lines. Indeed, Campos would regularly create his own counter-attacks having caught the ball, running at speed out of his box and driving into the opposition half. “It was a special position,” he told Sports Illustrated in 2016.
Highlights of the Jorge Campos Era
At the time, these runs were seen as being dangerously whimsical, but nowadays they would probably be assigned more tactical merit. With opponents unprepared and disorganised after a failed attack, Campos was able to eliminate defenders with ease and take his team up the pitch within a matter of seconds, utilising the dribbling qualities he demonstrated in his striking days.
There was something impulsive about the way he tended his goal. That made for difficult viewing for fans of the teams he played for, but it also made life difficult for the strikers who faced him down. If they weren’t put off by his brightly coloured kit, they would have been unsettled by his seemingly rash movements. Given his ability to consistently distract and unnerve, it’s not too much of a reach to suggest that Campos’ formative years up front gave him vital insight into the psychology of the striker – insight that may then have informed his anarchistic, but effective, goalkeeping method.
It is apt, then, that his international career was defined not by some magnificent overhead kick, but by his shot-stopping ability. Campos never scored for Mexico, but he did help them to the second round of the 1994 World Cup, saving a Krasimir Balakov penalty in defeat to Bulgaria. That save was Campos in a nutshell, as he leapt wholeheartedly to the right to palm the spot-kick away. Yet, dressed as he was in some wild combination of pink and green and yellow, it remained impossible not to be transfixed by what he was wearing.
This article was written by Blair Newman for Soccer Box, shop with us for your Mexico football shirts ahead of the 2018 World Cup.