Debuts Part 13: Gary Lineker

STU HORSFIELD on Gary Lineker’s perfect start to life in the Catalan capital

Peter Reid takes a touch, looks up and drives a 50-yard pass, deep into the Liverpool half. Alan Hansen is caught the wrong side, the Everton number eight glides over the Wembley turf and strikes the ball left-footed towards goal. Bruce Grobbelaar dives to his left and parries the ball away from goal, but the man in blue has already scored 39 goals during the season. Anticipating the path of the ball, he runs around the back of Hansen and tucks away the rebound with monotonous inevitability. Gary Lineker puts Everton 1-0 up in the FA Cup final and scores his 40th, and final, goal for the Toffees.

Lineker would ultimately suffer cup final defeat at the hands of Liverpool. However, even before Gary Lineker embarked on his 1986 World Cup journey with England, rumours of his possible departure were already circulating. Barcelona, under the management of everybody’s favourite ‘chirpy chappy’ from Dagenham, Terry Venables, had already led the Catalan side to a La Liga title and a first European Cup final in 25 years. El Tel was shrewd enough to enquire about the availability of England’s leading goal scorer prior to the World Cup, knowing that an eye-catching showing in Mexico would attract further interest.

Lineker did what Lineker did best in Mexico, scoring six goals inside the six-yard-box. A contentious quarter-final defeat at the hands of Diego Maradona’s Argentina was not enough to stop the Leicester-born man from winning the golden boot as the tournament’s top-scorer. Venables worst nightmare had come true.

His pursuit of Lineker took a rather intrusive and awkward turn on live television. Match of the Day’s World Cup final programme had a panel consisting of Terry Venables, Gary Lineker, and the staid Lawrie McMenemy joining the suave enigmatic host Des Lynam. Shamelessly the topic of conversation turned to the man still employed by Everton football club.

The England striker duly signed for Barcelona for £2.8million, a then British record. With a huge price tag, golden boot in his hand and a fervent Catalonian fan base that demanded success, Lineker could have been excused for feeling under pressure as he made his competitive debut against Racing Santander in the cauldron of the Camp Nou.

As Lineker took to the field, the cathedral of Spanish football rose as one to welcome their new signing. The British revolution was well under way in the Spanish City. El Tel had convinced Mark Hughes and Gary Lineker to join Steve Archibald. Goals win games and for Barça they would rely on an Englishman, Welshman and Scotsman. It was like the beginning of a bad joke.

After 120 seconds of his debut, a cross came in from the right-hand side. Darting between two defenders and arriving just before the keeper, Lineker stretched out a left foot and guided the ball into the Racing net from six yards out. Classic Lineker.

25-minutes later a pass to Lineker on the edge of the ‘D’ was instantly controlled. A dummied pass to an overlapping team-mate, Lineker took one more touch and scuffed a shot into the bottom corner to make it 2-0. Game over. In terms of incident, perhaps not the most memorable debut, but when a British record transfer fee is paid for your services, and you leave the comfort of your domestic league for foreign lands, a two-goal return in the first 25 minutes demonstrates the reliability of a technique and instinct honed over a number years.

Lineker couldn’t add a third and was substituted after 78 minutes to a standing ovation. Venables’ record outlay was immediately vindicated. Lineker would go on to score a hat trick in his debut season. Three goals at the Camp Nou, in a 3-2 victory against Barça’s bitterest rivals, Real Madrid, a game that would seal an eternal love affair between player and club.

Lineker scored 21 goals in 41 games including 20 in the league, finishing runner-up to Madrid’s Hugo Sanchez in the battle for the Pichichi. It was to be a season of second places as Barça finished runner-up to Real Madrid in La Liga and Lineker finished runner-up to Igor Belanov for the 1986 Ballon d’Or.

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