This summer during the transfer window, So Foot returns every day of the week to a transfer that marked its time in its own way. For this 42nd episode, honor to José Luis Chilavert and his surprising landing near Strasbourg in 2000. Recruited for the tidy sum of 50 million francs by a club in difficulty in the rankings, the emblematic goalkeeper-scorer arouses as much enthusiasm of the supporters than the skepticism of his teammates, who quickly notice his extra pounds. If he is not decisive enough to prevent Racing from descending to D2, the Paraguayan nevertheless saves his record by winning the Coupe de France.
We had not seen him in France since June 28, 1998. That day, under a blazing sun and in a packed Bollaert stadium, José Luis Chilavert was an insurmountable obstacle for a long time. The 1.88 m goalkeeper perfectly embodied the spirit of resistance of the Paraguayan eleven, arched in defense and determined to derail the France team from the round of 16 of their World Cup, but a shot from the right by Laurent Blanc, at the 113e minute, relieved a whole country and ruined the hopes of a Albirroja heroic. Its captain remains somewhere in the memories of the general public, caught up in his magnetic charisma, amazed by his countless saves and fascinated by his ability to score goals, a talent oh so rare among the last ramparts. So, inevitably, when RC Strasbourg announced in November 2000 the arrival of Chila in its ranks, the surprise was in order. Especially since the Alsatian club is then languishing in the penultimate place of the D1 ranking and its owner, the American group IMG Mc Cormack, has just slammed an estimated sum of 50 million francs to secure its services.
“When we were playing small games and you had Chila on your team, you knew you had lost. Because he didn’t want to dive, just shoot. » Stephane Roda
Media stunt and distrust of the locker room
President Patrick Proisy and coach Claude Le Roy are delighted with this prestigious transfer, which is supposed to allow the RCSA to get back on track. In the locker room, the enthusiasm is much more measured. “Nobody knew about it, the info had been very well hidden until the day of his arrival, replays Stéphane Roda, Strasbourg midfielder at the time. The president had alienated the supporters and he wanted to strike a big media blow by recruiting a monument. Well, the problem is that it upset the balance of the goalkeepers. We understood that Thierry Debès was going to pay for the broken pots, it put a shitty atmosphere in the group. » The arrival of Chilavert does not please everyone. Patrick Proisy does not take long to realize this. “The somewhat fresh way in which he was received seems to me inadmissible, unacceptable and contrary to the interests of the players” is indignant the finalist of Roland-Garros 1972 in the columns of Release. Accused of having stayed in his car so as not to have to shake hands with his new teammate, Teddy Bertin saw his captain’s armband taken away from him. « Honestly, I don’t remember that at all, sweeps Roda. It’s true that it was tense between Teddy and Chila because the latter wanted to take all the penalties and free kicks. » Before adding: « We were expecting a phenomenon, but we weren’t pleasantly surprised when he started training… »
No less than 500 Strasbourg supporters flocked to the training center to attend the South American goalkeeper’s first session. Except that this one must assume, in addition to the weight of age (35 years), a few extra pounds on the scale. Officially, he weighs 93 kilos. In fact, a dozen more. « He really wasn’t sharp, what, euphemised Stéphane Roda. Afterwards, we learned that he had undergone cortisone treatment to treat his injuries, which caused swelling. It sure didn’t help, but anyway, it wasn’t the Chilavert of the 98 World Cup anymore. » Chilled by the way in which this transfer was tied up, the Alsatian players are therefore hardly reassured by what shows the former glory of Vélez Sarsfield on the meadow. « He had trouble training, he didn’t dive too much anymore, it was complicated, ex-mid blows. When we were playing little games and you had Chila on your team, you knew you had lost. He didn’t want to dive, just shoot at goal. » It doesn’t take long to see it. From his first league game against Bordeaux, the Paraguayan shows his shortcomings and is not free from any reproach on the two opposing goals (0-2).
“Even if he didn’t speak the language well, when he had things to say, he made himself understood. » Stephane Roda
The Cup to smile again
The native of Luque is not reluctant to take on a role in the locker room – « Even if he didn’t speak the language well, when he had things to say, he made himself understood » , specifies Roda – but, on the ground, his too often disappointing performances do not stem the fall of Racing. After conceding nine pawns in six games, José Luis Chilavert even temporarily lost his starting spot. A terrible affront that the person concerned tastes little. He thus refuses to make the trip to Bastia to prevent photos of him sitting on the bench from reaching South America. His remarkable mental strength and the demanding sessions imposed by Michel Ettorre, the goalkeeping coach, allowed him to climb the slope despite everything. It is certainly not enough to prevent Strasbourg, in difficulty from the start to the end of the season, from finishing last and being relegated to D2, but the troops of Yvon Pouliquen – who replaced Le Roy in November – offers a nice brightening in the middle of the darkness by winning the Coupe de France. It was during this competition that Chila scored his only French goal, on a penalty, during the semi-final against Nantes (4-1). In the final, he pulled out all the stops during the penalty shootout, diverted an attempt from Amiens and succeeded in his own, decisive, in stride (0-0, 5-4 on pens). “The Cup, we would probably also have won it without him, and frankly, when you win a trophy but you go down behind, you are not proud” nevertheless tempers Stéphane Roda, who had much better celebrated the title won in the Coupe de la Ligue a year earlier with Gueugnon.
“I no longer want to play in Strasbourg, I will no longer wear the jersey. » Jose Luis Chilavert, angry
Despite the descent, the emblem of the Leones does not leave the blue and white ship. He plays for almost the entire season and therefore participates in the immediate rise of the Bas-Rhin club in the elite. The doorman with 62 career goals will not last forever in France. He returns from the Asian World Cup “with a weight of 106 kilos, exceeding his ideal weight by eleven kilos” , deplores President Proisy. Having become a substitute, the Paraguayan veteran was laid off at the end of August, after refusing to play in place of the injured Vincent Fernandez. « I no longer want to play in Strasbourg, I will no longer wear the jersey » says Chilavert to Alsacealso ensuring that the RCSA has » lack of respect » and that he owes her » a lot of money » . In question: a sum of 2.4 million dollars, which the player is claiming in the name of a private agreement which would have been signed at the time of his arrival and which Racing categorically refuses to pay him, arguing that it is of a forged document. Seized, the legal commission of the LFP sanctions the two parties. Dismissed, José Luis Chilavert returned to the other side of the Atlantic, where he hung up his gloves in 2004. Now involved in politics, he is a candidate for the Paraguayan presidential election of 2023. Stéphane Roda, for his part, keeps the memory of a “super human guy, who was parachuted into a group in great difficulty and who did not bring what he should have brought. » Nicely summarized.
By Raphael Brosse
Comments by Stéphane Roda recorded by RB.