What ever happened to? Jhon Viáfara

Viáfara playing for Portsmouth
against Middlesbrough in 2005.
In June 2005 Portsmouth FC manager Alan Perrin signed Colombia international midfielder Jhon Viáfara from Once Caldas for a fee of £800,000 as he rebuilt the team for the 2005-06 Premier League season.

Viáfara had started his playing career in 1999 with Deportivo Pasto where he played until 2003 sandwiching a brief stint with América de Cali. He came to international attention as part of the Once Caldas team that stunned South America by winning 2004 Copa Libertadores. Their triumph against the holders Boca Juniors in the final was one of the biggest shocks in the history of the tournament because Once Caldas had only ever won two Colombian league titles at the time and Boca Juniors were undoubtedly the strongest team in South America having utterly dominated the Copa Libertadores winning the tournament in 2000, 2001 & 2003. Viáfara was one of the most easily identifiable stars of the Once Caldas team having scored this wonderful long range goal only eight minutes into the second leg of the final.

He also attracted more attention playing for the Colombia national team that reached the semi-finals of the 2004 Copa América tournament and took to the world stage again to play for Once Caldas in the last ever Intercontinental Cup final against Porto.

Viáfara played quite regularly for Portsmouth in the early part of the 2005-06 season however after the sacking of Perrin and his replacement by Harry Redknapp Viáfara was farmed out on loan to Real Sociedad. Viáfara played a total of 15 games for Portsmouth, (14 in the league and 1 in the League Cup). He headed his only goal for Pompey in a 2-1 defeat against Manchester City.

After completing the 2005-06 season with Real Sociedad he returned to England and was transferred to Portsmouth's fierce local rivals Southampton FC for a reported fee of £750,000. He had a solid 2006-07 season with the club but there was an unfortunate end to the season for him. He put in a great performance scoring two goals in the Championship playoff semi-final against Derby County but saw his team eliminated on penalties. To make matters worse Derby went on to secure promotion but suffered a record-breakingly bad season only winning one of their 38 top flight games.

In the summer break he represented the Colombia national team at Copa América 2007. There was no repeat of Colombia's run to the semi-final, due mainly to a devestating 5-0 defeat to Paraguay in the opening game.

Viáfara in Southampton Colours

Viáfara continued to play for the Saints until the summer of 2008 when he was allowed to leave by short lived Dutch manager Jan Poortvliet who stated that he did not want anyone who was not completely committed to the club to remain. The official reason given for his departure was that he was homesick, however the turmoil at the club and his public falling out with Poortvliet must also be taken into consideration.

It is no surprise that Viáfara did decide to leave Southampton to return to Once Caldas. he had played under four different Saints managers within a six month period, the club were struggling at the wrong end of the table in the 2nd tier of English football, he was having a tough time but instead of offering support Poortvliet  resorted to banning him from training and dishing out public criticism. All a far cry from his experiences in the Copa Libertadores final, the semi-finals of Copa América and the Intercontinental Cup final. He made a total of 83 appearances for the Saints, scoring 7 goals.

Viáfara scored a vital goal for Once Caldas in the
2004 Copa Libertadores final, he returned to the club in 2008.
Viáfara's return to Once Caldas coincided with a huge improvement in fortune for the team They went from struggling along near the bottom of the table to winning the Apertura 2009 tournament, a stunning achievement given that they only scraped into the playoffs in the last of the eight available positions.

In 2010 he joined La Equidad and helped them to reach the final of the 2010 Apertura where they lost on penalties to Junior. They also reached the playoffs in the Clausura 2010 tournament. After this highly successful year with one of Colombia's smaller teams he was signed by Atlético Junior for the 2011 season and their 2011 Copa Libertadores campaign.

Viáfara's career with Junior has got off to a great start, he scored vital goals in both of their opening games of the Copa Libertadores Group 2 games. The first was the opening goal in a decent 1-2 away win against tournament debutants León de Huánuco and the second was the winner in a 2-1 home win against Brazilian giants and group favourites Gremio.

Viáfara celebrating his goal for Junior against León
in the 2011 Copa Libertadores group stages.
It seems that after several difficult years in English football Viáfara has managed to resurrect his playing career and is enjoying his return to the international stage. He has played a total of 32 games for his country, scoring 1 goal. 2008 was a particularly bad year for him, not only was he stuck in the middle of the Southampton débâcle for much of it, it was also is the only year since 2003 that he failed to make any appearances for the Colombia national team.  At the age of 32 and having rediscovered his form he can still keep his hopes alive of playing Copa América this summer or perhaps even the World Cup in 2014.

Portsmouth fans memories of Viáfara will understandably be clouded by his association with the disastrous Perrin era that nearly resulted in relegation, however few would put the blame directly on Viáfara's shoulders. He will be more fondly remembered by Southampton fans. Even though at the time they were experiencing their first few seasons outside the top flight in 27 years he was one of their more reliable players and things have got much worse for them since his departure back in 2008.

Viáfara can also count himself as one of a select band of players to have crossed the south coast rivalry which includes players such as C.B. Fry, Bill Rochford, Mick Mills, Mick Channon, Dave Beasant, John Beresford, Antii Niemi, Eyal Berkovic, Vincent Péricard, Peter Crouch and Ricardo Fuller.

Part of the What ever happened to? series.

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