“Andres grew up to become the most beloved player in the history of Columbian soccer, and Pablo rose through the ranks of the criminal underworld and was also arguably the secret weapon in the unprecedented rise in Columbian Soccer.” – Michael Zimbalist (Co-Director, The Two Escobars)
Andres Escobar is well known as the defender killed ten days after scoring a devastating own goal that eliminated a talented Columbian national team considered a dark horse candidate going into the 1994 World Cup. What is not well known is that his story intertwined with a more infamous Escobar, one who helped give rise to the squad tabbed to challenge for honors.
Years prior to the 1994 World Cup, Andres Escobar was a reserve player at Nacional in the right place at the right time years later when another big player, Norberto Molina, was at odds with his club (and future national team) coach Francisco Maturana. Maturana spotted him with the reserves and tabbed him to replace Molina, prompting Andres’ rise to stardom. Columbian soccer was not on the map in the 80s, but Nacional was one of the few clubs that could challenge for titles because they had the money to pay to keep their players. Though there was no proof, people rumbled that Nacional was backed by their biggest fan, drug lord Pablo Escobar.
Pablo was considered the world’s richest criminal in his prime. Pablo’s cousin and right hand man noted how Pablo’s cartel used the club’s earnings to falsify sales and launder drug money. Maturana explains how the introduction of drug money allows Nacional to vie for titles, with this statement followed by a video montage of Nacional scoring some beautiful goals, particularly by Andres Escobar.
While Pablo was not the only drug lord who invested his money into soccer, he was considered the most ruthless, and ensured his club vied for the biggest titles available. Pablo’s ruthlessness in one arena was staged by his generosity in another arena, as he donated fields and equipment to impoverished communities so kids could play. Though Pablo was criticized for the source of his wealth, the kids in those neighborhoods were just thankful they had a place to play and to forget about the problems in the slums. It is at this point that several former players note the Columbian national team would come from these slums.
This generosity is not selfless, however; Pablo uses his goodwill with the common people to ensure he does not get extradited, and he uses every method at his disposal to pass an extradition ban amendment to the Columbian Constitution, leaving him safe in his kingdom.
Lost in the drug war, the film make you forget there is still soccer going on, and Maturana is now national team coach, guiding the Columbians through World Cup qualifying. The national team helped the people forget about their problems at home and put their hopes and dreams on the players representing their country. The players embraced the pressure and conceded only two goals during qualifying, qualifying to the World Cup. (Note: South American qualifying is amongst the toughest qualification processes for the World Cup. All ten member nations play in a mini league, playing each opponent twice in a qualification process that starts three years before the actual tournament. The process is long and hard, so for Columbia to have only conceded only two goals was a feat in and of itself.)
In the meantime, Pablo’s empire falls apart, with violence escalating on all sides leading to an all out brawl until he is killed on December 2nd, 1993. It is at this point that things truly come apart as Medellin and Columbia spirals out of control and no one is safe, not even the players, with video showing the mayhem on the streets. The players are still doing their best to hold up the spirit of the Columbian people, but the pressure finally becomes too much as the team capitulates and loses its opening match at the World Cup against Romania. National unity at home is broken as different barons threaten the players, throwing the Columbian national team into chaos against the US. The Columbian team returns home after the US loss, with Maturana resigning as national team coach and several players retiring from international soccer or soccer altogether.
The early morning of July 2nd, 1994, Andres is killed outside a nightclub in Medellin, prompting a sense of loss in Columbia, eerily similar to the loss of Pablo Escobar. The pain of the loss still hurts his teammates and family, as they all fight back tears when describing the events of that day. Pablo’s right hand man describes the tentacles of the drug trade behind Andres’ death while Andres’ family describes the justice, or lack of it, behind the prosecution of Andres’ killer.
Pablo’s cousin then makes a notable statement, but I cannot spoil it here. You’ll have to watch to see the aftermath of the deaths of Pablo and Andres, the two Escobars.
We give The Two Escobars a perfect 5 out of 5 stars, and recommend it to anyone, spots fan or not.