Goalkeeping in the 1990s was a bit weird. And Jorge Campos is exactly why this weirdness was so spectacular.
Peter Schmeichel, Oliver Kahn and David Seaman earmarked themselves as some of football’s greatest goalkeepers throughout the decade, with their breathtaking performances becoming key to their respective sides’ successes. While they felt revolutionary with their expansive and aggressive play style in Europe, this was absolutely nothing in comparison to the antics going on across the pond.
The likes of Rene Higuita, Jose Luis Chilavert and Jorge Campos were in North and South America, ignoring all key principles of what it meant to be a goalkeeper, were busy finding how to innovate the position in the most unique ways possible. It wasn’t uncommon to see them retrieve the ball and take on the opposition with audacious dribbles up the pitch, or operate outside of their area for most of a game.
While Higuita was pulling off ridiculous scorpion kicks and Chilavert was scoring hat-tricks of penalties, Mexican international Campos was forging his own, unique legacy. Arguably the most impressive of all.
Born in Acapulco, Campos signed with Mexican side UNAM in 1988 as a goalkeeper, despite playing as a striker throughout his youth and wanting to make a career as a forward. With UNAM already having a first choice goalkeeper, Campos played second fiddle, but asked to be deployed as a striker in a bid for more regular game time instead of rotting away on the bench.
A unique request for a young goalkeeper, but it was one that paid off. Campos 14 goals in his debut season with the Mexican side, tussling for league top scorer despite just missing out. Before long, though, Campos was moved down to the back of the field as he became first choice keeper in the 1990/91 campaign. UNAM would win the league that season, and Campos – standing in at just five foot six – quickly became one of the game’s most unique and technically proficient players.
His agility and speed, combined with his understanding of the game, is ultimately what allowed Campos to be a success in two completely opposite positions. Many had doubts over him as a goalkeeper, but what he lacked in height, he made up for with incredible reflexes and an innovative, attacking style that saw him charge down attackers when they least expected it.
Before long, ‘El Brody’ became a star. His erratic style and versatility was a spectacle to watch, and was heightened by seeing him play in such wild jerseys. Designed by himself, Campos would wear brightly-coloured goalkeeper shirts, filled with designs that he says were inspired by his hometown.
After playing with UNAM until 1995, Campos transferred to fellow Mexican side Atlante where he played for one season. It was with Atlante, however, that Campos scored arguably his most famous goal ever. In a match versus Cruz Azul, Campos had started in goal, but his side were struggling to find an equaliser. Rather than Atlante’s manager sending on another striker, the backup keeper was subbed on and Campos moved up front.
The decision was a risk, but it was met with reward. Campos scored in spectacular fashion, poking home a bicycle kick goal from a cross to make it 1-1. A complete summary of his immensely eccentric career.
While the Mexican never made it across the Atlantic, he still enjoyed fine success and forced his way to the top of the footballing ladder. He signed with LA Galaxy in 1996 ahead of the inaugural MLS season and became one of the league’s first high-profile, foreign signings. He was immediately a cult figure due to his on-field antics, which saw his popularity sky-rocket even more. After 49 appearances for the Galaxy, he would move to Chicago Fire, but returned to Mexico with UNAM in 1998 after struggling for regular game time.
He impressed on the world stage, too. Despite his height, Campos was ranked the third-best goalkeeper in the world in 1994 by FIFA and enjoyed an excellent career with the Mexico national team, earning 130 caps.
Campos represented a number of clubs throughout his home nation upon his return. And while the goals would unfortunately dry up, his legacy would live on. Another two spells with UNAM and a second spell with Atlante beckoned, before he finished his career with Puebla, retiring in 2004.
Campos was the first Mexican footballer to secure a sponsorship with Nike, and has forever been recognised as one of football’s friendliest faces, on and off the pitch. It’s a shame we never saw him get a crack in Europe, but that doesn’t take anything away from the legacy he’s left in the game worldwide.
His all-or-nothing approach was allowed to flourish in the unrestricted realms of football in the USA and Mexico of the 1990s, and his style has influenced that of the modern goalkeeper today, where being a sweeper-keeper has become essential.
While it’s easy to remember Jorge Campos for his outrageous bespoke jerseys, that were somehow short-sleeve and long-sleeve simultaneously, we must also respect his impact on the game as one of the best goalkeepers and most complete, pure footballers ever to do it.