Debuts Part 2: Emilio Butragueño

MATT EVANS remembers the debut of homegrown Real Madrid legend Emilio Butragueño, who helped usher in a new period of dominance for the capital club

“It’s amazing”, the red-cheeked young man said to the camera; “it’s as if somebody up in heaven decided this”. His cherubic looks and neat side parting gave the unassuming appearance of a choirboy, yet this baby-faced assassin had just scored the first of 171 goals and helped kick-start an era of success in the Spanish capital.

Emilio Butragueño was born and raised in Madrid in a middle-class family. His father, Emilio Senior, ran a perfume shop in the affluent part of the city and afforded his son the opportunity to attend the prestigious private school Calasancio. The youngster was a keen sportsman, excelling in both basketball and football. He was amongst hundreds of youngsters to attend trials with Real Madrid, but their initial interest turned to nothing, much to his father’s disappointment having signed his son up as a club member since birth.

As happened a decade later with fellow club legend Raúl Gonzalez, city rivals Atlético, made a serious offer to him following a successful audition in 1981. Butragueño was on the verge of signing at the Estadio Vicente Calderon when his desperate father stepped in and frantically pulled some strings to secure the young Emilio a second trial with his beloved club.

This time there was no hesitation and Butragueño headed a famed group of youngsters that helped turn the tide for the Spanish giants who were suddenly counting the cost from years of financial frivolity. Along with fellow cantera stars Manolo Sanchís, Michel, Martin Vazquez and Miguel Pardeza they formed the basis of La Quinta del Buitre, so named by Spanish journalist Julio Cesar Iglesias. Butragueño was the jewel of the five, the group named after his nickname – El Buitre, the Vulture – in recognition of his deadly ability in front of goal.

The 19-year-old Butragueño set the Madrid B side, Castilla, alight with 37 goals in 65 games. As interest in the reserves grew, attendances even trumped the senior side for some games. Eighteen months into his reserve career the call came and Butragueño was on his way to Estadio Santiago Bernabeú where embattled club legend Alfredo di Stéfano looked to give his beleaguered side a shot in the arm.


El Buitre’s debut came at the Ramon de Carranza stadium, home of Andalusian side Cádiz on 5 February 1984. Madrid headed to the south-west of the country on the back of two scoreless draws, with their hosts eager to avenge the 6-2 hammering they sustained in the capital the previous October.

The Andalusian’s sensed blood and raced into a two-goal lead through goals from Elias Benito and Jose ‘Pepe’ Mejias. The first fumbled into the net by goalkeeper Miguel Angel, the second an incisive counter-attack that left a disjointed Los Merengues reeling. Coach di Stéfano turned to the bench and said to the young striker: “Kid, warm up”. With little to lose Butragueño replaced Manolo Sanchís as Madrid threw on an extra attacker in search of their first goal in three games.

The substitution was inspired, within 15 minutes of his entrance, Butragueño was off the mark as he rifled low past Andoni Cedrun into the corner following a one-two with Michel. Buoyed by the goal, Madrid roared forward, Butragueño at the forefront of the action again, his volley rattling the Cádiz bar in search of an equaliser. With 88 minutes on the clock, it was defensive midfielder Ricardo Gallego who looked to have secured a point for the visitors, his powerful header from a corner snuck in off the unmanned back post. Madrid tasted blood and one minute later Juanito fired through a crowded penalty area with Cedrun only able to parry it to the feet of El Buitre who poked home to secure the win for his side.

Butragueño went on to make nine more appearances that season as Madrid finished runners-up to Barcelona in the league, where he scored two further goals to go with the 21 he notched for Castilla. Butragueño helped transform Madrid, along with La Quinta del Buitre he helped lay the foundations for the capital club to dominate Spanish football from the late ‘80s through to the mid ‘90s. El Buitre pocketed the Pichichi for La Liga top scorer in 1991 as well as six La Liga titles, two Copa del Reys and back-to-back UEFA Cups.

In all the head of the La Quinta del Buitre scored 171 goals in 463 games before ending his career in Mexico when he passed the torch onto Raúl at the Bernabeú. He went on to be Director of Football and Vice President for the club he loved from birth, a man described by the manager who gave him his debut, Alfredo di Stéfano, as having “goals in his blood”.

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