Hugo Rodallega: The man who made Wigan big... in Colombia!

20 November 2010 12:58
So what if Wigan aren't the most supported club in the Barclays Premier League? They are in Colombia.

Ever since Hugo Rodallega arrived at the DW Stadium just under two years ago, Wigan's adventures - and there have been many - have been beamed across the South American country. And the growing army of Colombian Wigan fans are no different from their Lancastrian counterparts - they are confused.

Looking up: Wigan's Hugo Rodallega

'Wigan have become very popular in Colombia because I'm playing here and all the matches are shown on TV,' says Rodallega. 'People walk around in Wigan shirts . . . I have absolutely no idea where they get them from.

'People think we're a strange team because one minute we are losing 4-0 at home to Blackpool and the next we're winning at Tottenham. People ask me, "What's going on with Wigan?" '

It's a question Sir Alex Ferguson might want to be aware of as Roberto Martinez's men arrive at Old Trafford today. United may be strong favourites, but Wigan are the most unpredictable team in the Premier League.

In the past two seasons they have beaten Chelsea 3-1 and lost to them 6-0 and 8-0; beaten Tottenham 1-0 away and lost there 9-1; beaten Liverpool and Arsenal at the DW but lost to Blackpool, Wolves and Birmingham at home. A win at United is unlikely but far from impossible - and Rodallega is a man on a mission.

His 17 goals in English football include two against Liverpool, one each against Chelsea, Spurs and United. He is now three goals short of joining Henri Camara as Wigan's leading alltime Premier League goalscorer, with a hat-trick today the ideal way to meet his target.

Man of a mission: Rodallega (left)

'You never know what could happen,' laughs the 25-year-old, who has settled happily in the North West with wife Carolina and one-year-old son Hugo. 'Yes, it's Manchester United at Old Trafford but we have good players too. We are going to look for a win. I don't know about getting a hat-trick but it would be good to win because we've never taken a point off them.'

Rodallega's confidence going into such a tough match may come from his efforts to emulate the man he grew up idolising - Faustino Asprilla - who is now a friend, and responsible for him joining Wigan.

'My hero was Asprilla. He still is. I celebrated like him when I scored, I wore the No 11 like him and he was the hope I had that I could make it. Now he's my friend and we speak on the phone. In fact he helped me decide to come here. He talked to me about the league here, living in Newcastle and he told me I would be happy here. Without his advice, I wouldn't have thought for a second about coming here.'

Rodallega is still getting used to life in Wigan. It's an overused cliche, but life here is a million miles from that in El Carmelo, the village in the south of Colombia where he is from.

'It's a quiet, humble place. I wouldn't call it poor. I lived with my parents and my two older sisters. Unfortunately, Colombia is seen as somewhere where you will get kidnapped, robbed and killed - and that used to be the case. It was very dangerous.

'But in the last five years or so, it is a completely different country. There are a lot of tourists from Europe; they come to the beach and people are starting to say nice things about us. They have got rid of a lot of the drug trafficking, they have controlled the police and the army and it's a safer place now. Luckily nothing bad ever happened to me or my family.'

A lot of the violent images associated with Colombia are linked to the shooting of Colombian World Cup star Andres Escobar in 1994. Blamed for scoring an own goal which saw Colombia knocked out, Escobar was murdered when he returned home.

'I was very young (nine) when he was killed but I remember everything. Andres was a great person and a great player. As a public figure you are always prepared for people criticising you, shouting things at you but he was upset by something and the consequences led to his death. It was so hard for the country as a whole to deal with.'

Fortunately, Rodallega has no such serious worries - he just has to deal with his future and a part of English life that has driven him crazy.

'I hope I've learned a lot, improved a lot. If I'm here, I hope we're challenging for a European place and I'm setting goalscoring records. If I'm not here, I'll be at another club in England. In five years, I hope I'll have played at the World Cup and that I'm playing at one of the big clubs in Europe.'

Maybe by then he will understand his new hobby. 'I watch quite a lot of cricket. I like it and it's always on TV but I don't have a clue what's going on. But I sit there and watch it, trying to understand it - but I can't. I found it weird when I arrived seeing people in the streets playing it. I had no idea what was going on.' Much like those confused Wigan fans in Colombia.

Hugo Rodallega was speaking to mark the launch of an initiative between 188BET and Top Up TV, who are offering British fans three months of free top-class sports action on ESPN. For more information please go to:

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Source: Daily_Mail