Photography by Shamil Tanna

Hernán Darío Gómez

Panama, 2014-Present

“Don’t go out drinking, the atmosphere is very tense and something might happen to you.”

Panama’s head coach Hernán Darío Gómez was assistant to Colombia manager Pacho Maturana at the World Cup in 1990 and 1994, before taking over as manager himself.

Colombia’s impressive qualification campaign for the latter tournament – featuring  a momentous 5-0 victory over two-time World Cup winners Argentina – meant expectations were high at USA 94. But after recording a solitary victory and finishing bottom of their group Colombia made an early exit.

In this exclusive piece with The Coaches’ Voice, the Panama head coach describes the atmosphere that greeted the team on their return home and recalls the moment he discovered one of his players had lost his life in an apparent revenge attack for his role in Colombia’s World Cup failings.

“That was the worst, and still is for me. One of the hardest things in my life. A lad that we picked from the lower divisions. Also, he became like family. For example, at home with my son, with my brother, with Santiago (Escobar). Even when he was killed, my brother was on holiday with his family in Las Vegas, with Santiago, his brother. I got a call from Pamela, his girlfriend, at around three in the morning at home and she told me that Andrés had been killed. My wife took the phone because I was speechless.

That was the hardest time I could have gone through. I loved him very much and I had spoken to him because during the World Cup (in 1994) I had already been appointed to carry on to the World Cup in France.

I had spoken to Andrés, telling him that we had to lift the lads. That we had to go back to the World Cup. It was really hard. When we went to take the bus, he told me he had an offer to work for a radio and TV company on the World Cup. I told him: “Andrés, you have always been a guy who has always shown your face, in the good times and the bad times you have given interviews. I think the best thing is for you to come back to Colombia, face the music and then go back.” He said yes, and we went to Colombia. And what happened, happened. On the return flight there was me sitting here, Faustino (Asprilla) and Andrés who told Faustino: “Don’t go out drinking, the atmosphere is very tense and something might happen to you.” But it was him that went out to have fun and it did happen, to Andrés. It is one of the worst things that has happened in my life. Still hurts my soul.

Afterwards we restarted with a lot of pain, but also with that love of football, because it’s in your blood. You love your country, I loved the players of that era a lot. We were family.

I think to have lifted ourselves and got to the World Cup in France after that… That is to have a lot of fighting spirit, manhood, self-esteem and pride. And in 1997 we were already on the way down even because it was a team that had played the qualifying rounds for ‘90, ‘94 and ‘98. A lot of journalists, a lot of people were asking me to drop the icons, but I said that I wasn’t going to get rid of the country’s icons. We went to the World Cup and we got destroyed, as ever. We went to three World Cups and in the three, when we got back home, we were mistreated. They said that we were failures. Everything they could say, they said. But history is there. We went to three World Cups.”

Hernán Darío Gómez

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Hernán Darío Gómez

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