Jorge Campos: Goalkeeper, maverick, kit designer…

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To say that Jorge Campos was one of football’s mavericks would be a serious understatement.

A goalscoring goalkeeper who designed his own kits and racked up 130 international appearances despite being only 5ft 7in, the Mexican icon certainly liked to do things a little differently.

In some ways it’s a shame a goalkeeper so eccentric isn’t more well-known in Europe – Campos is a cult hero to football fans of a certain age who watched the 1994 and 1998 FIFA World Cups, but he’s hardly a household name outside of Mexico and North America.

Perhaps that’s to be expected for a player who spent his entire career with clubs in Liga MX and MLS. In many ways, a move to Europe would probably have curbed some of Campos’ unconventional ways. Latin America is the home of goalkeeping mavericks like the freescoring Rogério Ceni and René Higuita, while fellow custodian-turned-marksman José Luis Chilavert had to reign in his striking instincts following a move to Spanish side Real Zaragoza.

Unlike Chilavert, Campos never scored for his national team – reserving all but one of his goals for Mexico City giants Pumas over two spells with Los Auriazules. In fact, the vast majority of those strikes came early in the stopper’s career, as he burst onto the scene in rather unusual circumstances.

Faced with the prospect of a season on the bench as a reserve goalkeeper, Campos volunteered his services as a striker to get more minutes on the pitch. The results surpassed everyone’s expectations – he scored 14 league goals during the 1989/90 season, putting the man from Acapulco in a distinctly different category to keepers who only score penalties or free kicks.

Returning to his primary position between the sticks the following year, Campos’ goalscoring contributions became less frequent as he made the Pumas No.1 shirt his own. But his ability with the ball at his feet became a key part of his goalkeeping style.

The Mexican international made a mockery of his diminutive status through a combination of first-class reflexes, speed off his line and being comfortable in possession. In many ways he was the definition of a modern day ‘sweeper keeper’ before it became the norm in elite football.

It’s easy to forget amongst all the focus on Campos’ quirks that he enjoyed a successful career on the pitch, winning the FIFA Confederations Cup and two CONCACAF Gold Cups with Mexico, as well as a handful of domestic honours and the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup.

Jorge Campos: Goalkeeper, maverick, kit designer…

But despite making close to 600 professional appearances in all competitions, it’s impossible to talk about him without mentioning the colourful attire that has come to define his international reputation.

It wasn’t uncommon for goalkeepers to wear brightly coloured kits in the 1990s, but few took it to the same extremes as El Tri’s man between the posts. Reportedly inspired by his childhood in Acapulco, Campos designed a collection of garish strips over the course of his career – mostly involving neon yellows, greens and pinks, alongside patterns based around triangles and other geometric shapes.

Under the brand name ACA Sport, he then partnered with companies like Nike and Umbro to arrange a deal where he could add their logos to the kits in question, enabling him to wear them while appearing for the national team.

1994 was a vintage year for Campos as far as his kits were concerned. He wore two variants of his designs at the FIFA World Cup in the USA – the first was neon yellow with various multicoloured triangles, while the second was a more even spread of colours, covered in bright arrows and chevrons.

The kits were derided in some quarters, but in an era where individuality is fast becoming the metric that defines whether a football shirt is good or not, perhaps time has been kind to Campos’ creations.

Jorge Campos: Goalkeeper, maverick, kit designer…

Are they among the greatest goalkeeper kits of all time or are they some of the worst? That’s a matter for individual taste perhaps. But the strips certainly catapulted Campos into the international spotlight, as Mexico reached the knockout stages in the USA before losing to eventual semi-finalists Bulgaria.

It would be wrong to simply remember Campos for his kits though. A goalscoring goalkeeper who rose to the top despite convention dictating he was too short to play in goal, more than a century of international appearances is testament to his qualities on the pitch. The colourful stopper is undoubtedly one of football’s greatest mavericks.