The power of Kiricocho

Argentine penalty tradition making waves in empty stadia

Erling Haaland steps up to take a penalty in a crucial Champions League tie for Borussia Dortmund. His opponent, Sevilla goalkeeper Bono, exclaims just before Haaland strikes; he dives to his left and makes the save. Before he has time to celebrate, VAR spots an encroachment and the penalty is retaken. This time, Haaland scores.

After scoring, Haaland runs up to Bono and shouts in his face. What does he shout? “I don’t know what it means but I said what he said after I missed the first one,” Haaland explains.

Thanks to video footage, and this thread by Spanish reporter Juan Sebastian Perez, we have the whole story. As Haaland takes the first kick, Bono (who scored this superb last-minute equaliser for Sevilla this weekend) shouts ‘Kiricocho!’ just as he dives to save it. See here:

What’s going on here? It turns out that Kiricocho was a super-fan of Argentine first division club Estudiantes in the 1970s. Whenever he came to watch training sessions, an Estudiantes player seemed to get injured. Estudiantes’s ultra-superstitious coach Carlos Bilardo turned it to his advantage: he hired Kiricocho - that is his nickname, no-one knows his real name - to welcome opposition players to the Estudiantes stadium on match-day with a pat on the back. Estudiantes went on a great run of form that culminated in winning the 1982 Argentine title. The only match they lost, against Boca Juniors, was one in which Kiricocho was absent. Bilardo confirmed:

“Kiricocho was a poor boy from La Plata who was always with us and since that year we were champions, we adopted him as a good luck charm.”

By the time Bilardo was coaching Sevilla in 1992, Spanish football was aware of the Kiricocho legend. Diego Simeone played for Sevilla that year, and had kept the superstition going, according to his former player Filipe Luis.

Players and fans would shout, ‘Kiricocho!’ before an opposition scoring chance to wish misfortune on the kicker. Spain defender Joan Capdevila even shouted ‘Kiricocho!’ at Arjen Robben as he bore down on Iker Casillas in the 2010 World Cup final. Casillas saved. “I only used it once in my career, I was desperate and it was the first thing that came into my head,” Capdevila said.

River Plate striker Leo Pisculichi said he shouted ‘Kiricocho!’ one thousand times before Boca Juniors striker Emmanuel Gigliotti had his penalty saved in a dramatic 2014 Copa Sudamericana semi-final tie. There is footage of French players shouting ‘Kiricocho!’ at Antoine Griezmann during training practice.

I’m sure there are plenty of examples of ‘Kiricocho!’ shouts before scored penalties. I particularly enjoyed this one which failed to work on Klaas-Jan Huntelaar from a Mexican commentator, while Paolo Dybala had a go, shouting ‘Kiricocho!’ at Arturo Vidal before he scored a penalty for Chile in July 2019.

Last October, Boca Juniors won a penalty shoot-out after Inter de Porto Alegre player Rodrigo Lindoso had his penalty saved. A clear shout of ‘Kirichoro!’ is audible before he hits the ball:

The video below, produced by CONMEBOL to promote the Copa Libertadores, shows just how many penalties in South America have been saved recently after a ‘Kiricocho!’ shout:

The myth of Kirococho has extended into a fashion brand, set up by professional players for fans who want to ‘express their knowledge and fanaticism for football’.

We mourn the loss of fans at matches; but it’s only their absence that has allowed us to see (and hear) the presence of Kirococho at these games. His myth lives on.