Real Madrid’s Miracle Comebacks
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Real Madrid’s team of the mid to late 80s is often described as its best since the 1950s glory days.
The obvious reason is because of its five consecutive League titles from 1986 through 1990.
However, this team is mostly remembered for its European Cup ties and its specialty of overturning seemingly lost matches in the second or return leg of a series.
The beginnings of this team can be traced back to the 1983/84 season, when then manager and former Legend Alfredo Di Stefano promoted players from the nursery team, Castilla, that eventually were dubbed as “El Quinta del buitre.”
The five players in question were Emilio Butragueno, Michel, Manuel Sanchis, Rafael Martin Vasquez and Miguel Pardeza.
“El Buitre” (The Vulture) was the nickname given to Butragueno, the most hyped and prolific of the five.
These players would form the backbone of Real Madrid’s team for the rest of the successful decade, though Miguel Pardeza left in 1987, frustrated by the lack of first team action.
Photo From: Onze, June 1986
(Emilio Butragueno, the local symbol of Real Madrid)
The European Miracles started the following season of 1984/85.
In November and December of 1984, Real encountered RSC Anderlecht of Belgium in the Third Round of the UEFA Cup. Anderlecht was then a powerful side having won the 1983 edition and been the losing finalist of that competition the previous season. They boasted international players such as Enzo Scifo, Vercauteren, Vandenbergh and a host of Danish stars such as Morten Olsen and Frank Arnesen.
The Belgians convincingly won the first leg 3-0 and the second leg appeared to be a formality.
Besides the result, Real Madrid’s domestic form that season had been erratic and were having one of their poorest season in decades.
Therefore, no one gave them a chance of advancing.
Real against all odds won the return leg 6-1 and demolished one of the best teams in Europe.
Emilio Butragueno, who was now a full international, scored a hat trick and new Argentinean striker Jorge Valdano chipped in with two.
Real advanced on after defeating Tottenham Hotspurs in the Quarterfinals to defeat Italians of Internazionale FC Milano. Once again Real was defeated 0-2 in the first leg against a defensive minded Italian side and once again they defied the odds by winning 3-0 in the return leg.
After that the Final was against Hungary’s Videoton and Real Madrid won comfortably to claim its first European trophy since 1966.
While there was jubilation over this triumph, the league form had left a lot to be desired and they finished a disgraceful (by their standards) fifth place.
By now (1985), Real’s last title had been in 1980, one of its longest droughts between titles.
A new President was elected named Ramon Mendoza and he sought to strengthen the team.
He purchased Spanish Internationals Antonio Maceda and Rafael Gordillo and prolific Mexican goalscorer Hugo Sanchez from neighbors Atletico Madrid.
Long serving West German Uli Stielieke was offloaded along with little used Belgian/Spanish midfielder Juan Lozano.
Photo From: Onze, May 1986(Rafael Gordillo, a key signing for Real)
The following Season, 1985/86, was simply fantastic as Real Madrid finally won the league title and repeated as UEFA Cup champions by defeating West Germans FC Koln in the Final. By now Michel and Butragueno were established members of the national team and Sanchez scored freely and was once again top goalscorer in the league. A feat he would repeat for a total of 5 times (1985, 1986,1987, 1988, 1990).
Photo From: Onze, June 1986(Mexican goalscoring machine, Hugo Sanchez)
Once again in the UEFA Cup, Real overcame seemingly lost causes. First in fall of 1985 vs. West Germany’s Borussia Moenchengladbach, it lost the first leg 1-5 and seemed out and again they overcame the deficit in the second leg by winning 4-0 and advancing on away goals rule.
Just like the previous season, they were paired with Italy’s Internazionale in the semifinals and once again they overcame a deficit, this time 1-3 loss in the first leg and 5-1 win in the second leg.
Photo From: Onze, June 1986(Real Madrid squad on April 30, 1986, UEFA Cup, Real 5-FC Koln 1)
For 1986/87 season, a new manager was introduced, Dutchman Leo Beenhakker but results remained the same.
Once again Real triumphed in the league but reached the semifinals of the Champions Cup. In the Champions Cup they eliminated Platini’s Juventus on penalty kicks after once again winning 1-0 at home but losing by the same score away.
They pulled one of their European specials by eliminating Red Star of Belgrade, they lost 2-4 away but won 2-0 at home and advanced on away goals rule.
The semifinals vs. West Germans Bayern Munich became one obstacle too many. After losing heavily 1-4 away, they bombarded the Bayern goal in the second leg, but could only muster a 1-0 win and were eliminated.
This marked their first elimination in European competition stretching back as far as the fall of 1983.
The Bayern ties were also famous for the ill temper shown by the Real Madrid players.
They had two players sent off in the first leg, plus in the second leg Hugo Sanchez’s play acting earned Bayern’s Klaus Aughentaler a red card.
These behaviors along with crowd trouble forced UEFA to stamp down on Real Madrid. For the following season, they were forced to play the first round in an empty home stadium and the in the second round, they were forced to play in Valencia instead of their home stadium.
Also midway through this season, Argentinean Jorge Valdano had to retire due to Hepatitis and was replaced by Yugoslav midfielder Milan Jankovic.
The next season 1987/88, once again a comfortable league win and once again semifinal elimination in the Champions Cup.
After defeating Diego Maradona’s Napoli in an empty Bernabeu stadium, they defeated defending Champions Portugal’s FC Porto 2-1 at “home” in Valencia.
Real’s very narrow win and Porto’s solid performance had most predicting a Porto win, however, in the second leg at Porto, Real played one its best ever matches in Europe and won 2-1 with two Michel goals.
In the Quarterfinals they met Bayern Munich, but this time they were stronger and advanced.
In the Semi-Finals they met PSV Eindhoven and were unluckily eliminated by the away goals rule (one-one tie at home and scoreless tie away).
For the next season, 1988/89, Barcelona’s West German midfielder Bernd Schuster came on board as Milan Jankovic exited.
Real once again triumphed in the league and also the Copa del Rey but once again fell at the Semi-Final hurdle of the Champions Cup for the third year in a row.
After defeating defending Champions PSV Eindhoven at the Quarterfinals, they were paired with in the Semi-Finals with the AC Milan and its Dutch contingent of Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard.
After a one-one tie at Madrid, Real was demolished 0-5 at Milan.
Photo From: France Football, March 7, 1989
(Real’s Michel and PSV’s Romario, March 1, 1989, Champions Cup, PSV Eindhoven 1-Real Madrid 1)
This seemed to be the beginning of the decline of the great Real Madrid. Leo Beenhakker resigned and Welsh Manger John Toshack was appointed.
Despite winning the league title again (5th time) the following season, they were eliminated in the second round of Champions Cup by AC Milan again.
By 1990/91 season, despite the addition of Romanian star Gheorge Hagi, the great team of “El Quinta del buitre” was all but a memory and was in crisis.
The lagged behind in the league to Johann Cruyff’s Barcelona who were to become the new dominant team of the new decade.
Rafael martin Vasquez had departed to the Italian Serie A’s Torino, while Hugo Sanchez was mostly injured and rarely played.
They were no longer a force in Europe and the specialty of overturning deficits was a thing of the past.
By now Butragueno, Michel and the rest seemed to be burnt out and were living on past glories. Even their place in the National team seemed to be based on their past and not present performances.
Hugo Sanchez went on to say that the reason for the slump was due to boredom of having won so many titles.
Club President Ramon Mendoza should be credited for holding on to the players for as long as he did.
He had to give the players Italian Serie A level wages to keep them.
The interesting aspect of this Real Madrid team was how, in the European Competitions, they would almost always lose the away tie even to modest opposition, such as Rijeka (1984), AEK Athens (1985), Young Boys Bern (1986) but were confident with the knowledge that at Bernabeu they would win by a large margin.
Real would not win a league title until 1995 with Jorge Valdano back as manager. By then the local jewel in the crown was Raul.
Butragueno and Martin Vasquez became peripheral figures and left in 1995, Michel left a year later.
Manuel Sanchis would be the sole holdout of this era and would Captain Real until 2001.
In the post Bosman era, Real Madrid would win the Champions League three times in 1998, 2000 and 2002 with global stars such as Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Pedrag Mijatovic and Roberto Carlos.But no new trophies could replace the memories of repeatedly performing miracles in the European Cups.