In September 2012, Wilder Medina reached his lowest ebb. With a year long ban for marijuana use reaching its conclusion he tested positive for cocaine during an internal check at his club, Deportes Tolima. On the pitch he was a prolific scorer, but his off-field indiscretions had rendered his position at the club untenable and they sacked him on the spot.
Only a brave club would be willing to take on Medina and his problems. As he contemplated his future, the 31-year-old could hardly have imagined that it would be one of Colombia’s biggest who would come to his rescue. But then he received a phone call from Santa Fe president Cesar Pastrana, who, having discussed the situation with coach Wilson Gutierrez, told him the club were willing to take a chance on him.
Pastrana had to contend with negative voices from inside and outside the club but he had faith that Medina would grasp the opportunity with both hands. “There was a lot of opposition, but unpopular measures often end up being successful”, he commented after Medina’s debut double against Alianza Petrolero “It is nice to have a player of his class defending the colours of Santa Fe.”
Medina, for his part, was clearly happy that Pastrana and the club had given him a chance to bury his demons. "I will always be grateful to this club for what they did for me”, he explained. “I made a commitment to myself to take advantage of the opportunity. [These goals] are the fruit of hard work, not only mine but that of all the people who have helped me.”
Medina followed his impressive debut with nine goals in his next 11 starts, reaching the target of 11 goals set for him by Pastrana in just 12 matches. He scored less frequently in the Copa Libertadores, managing just one goal in five group stage matches, but over the last couple of weeks he has stepped up to the plate and scored two vital goals that have taken the club to within touching distance of the semi-finals.
Santa Fe were staring elimination in the face with 10 minutes left to play in the second leg of their Round of 16 tie at home to Gremio of Brazil. But then Medina intervened, bundling his way past two challenges on the edge of the area and prodding the ball past the goalkeeper. His goal brought the aggregate scores back to 2-2 and sent Los Cardenales through to the last eight by virtue of the away goals rule.
Then, on Wednesday, he scored the second goal as Santa Fe opened up a commanding 3-1 first leg advantage away to the Peruvian side Real Garcilaso, receiving Jefferson Cuero’s neat back-heeled pass and clipping a calm finish over the advancing goalkeeper. Santa Fe can afford to lose 2-0 in Bogota next week and still progress to the last four for the first time since 1961.
In truth it was not Medina’s most impressive performance. He missed two further presentable chances and his strike partner Cuero caused more problems for the disorganised Garcilaso defence. But he produced an important goal and continues to look content at the head of a neat, well-drilled Santa Fe side, who, provided they progress, would fancy their chances against Fluminense or Olimpia in the semi-finals.
With Carlos Valdes performing with great assurance in the centre of defence, Daniel Torres and John Valencia providing solidity in midfield, and the outstanding Omar Perez producing a consistent supply of impossibly precise through balls to the forwards, coach Gutierrez has formed an impressive side who have managed to maintain strong domestic form whilst progressing in the Copa Libertadores.
There can, however, be no doubt that Medina’s is the most enthralling story in the Santa Fe squad and that his continued ability to find the back of the net is key to their hopes of becoming only the third Colombian team in history to lift the Copa Libertadores trophy. "It is a difficult issue because addiction is a lifelong disease”, Pastrana cautioned recently. “Every day we must maintain and strengthen him. But I am satisfied that we are on track in that regard and I am sure Wilder will give a lot more joy to the Santa Fe family."
Goal of the Week
Alfredo Ramua (26) – Real Garcilaso vs Santa Fe
Ramua’s goal proved to be little more than a consolation, but that cannot take away from the quality of the strike. Picking the ball up more than 30 yards out, he unleashed an unstoppable drive that flew into the top corner of the net.
Player of the Week
Omar Perez (32) – Santa Fe
The Santa Fe captain was in sparkling form on Wednesday, cutting the Garcilaso defence to shreds with a number of perfectly weighted through balls that would have yielded more goals had his team-mates shown a more clinical touch in front of goal. His ability and experience are vital to the club’s hopes of progressing further in competition.
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