This is the first article in a superbly in-depth two-part look at the Real Madrid side of the 1980s by Michele Tossani. Featuring interviews with the members of the famed ‘Quinta del Buitre’ , the first instalment charts the rise of the five young prodigies from Castilla hopefuls to first-team regulars.  

by Michele Tossani

The 1980s are remarkably not always remembered as one of the most successful decades in the history of Real Madrid, although it was a period during which the club won five league titles, two Copa del Reys and two UEFA Cups as well as reaching a Cup Winners’ Cup final. With that in mind, how is it that the Los Merengues side of the eighties isn’t remembered more fondly in the annals of Europe’s most successful club?

Arguably one of the major reasons behind the aura of slight disappointment which surrounds the team of thirty years ago is the double failure of 1981. That year Madrid, led by Yugoslavian coach Vujadin Boskov (the man who would go on to be the last to break Italy’s Milan-Turin duopoly by guiding Sampdoria to the Serie A title in 1990/91), were beaten 1-0 by Bob Paisley’s Liverpool in the final of the European Cup, Kenny Dalglish winning the competition for the third time as Alan Kennedy’s goal secured victory for the Anfield side. To make matters worse, Madrid lost the domestic championship on the final day of the season, Real Sociedad (a club, like Athletic Bilbao, with a tradition of favouring Basque players) ultimately triumphing on goal difference.

The following season, 1981/82 being the last campaign before Spain was due to host the World Cup for the first time, represented another bitter disappointment for Madrid as Sociedead won their second consecutive title, Los Blancos languishing in third place. Indeed, desperate to return to winning ways, the Madrid leadership decided to relieve Boskov of his duties, replacing him with one of the most iconic figures in the club’s history and a born winner, Alfredo Di Stefano.

Di Stefano, a keen observer of the academy, shunned the approach of many of his predecessors and, seeing the great ball-playing ability of many of the club’s young players, believed many of them to be ready to make the step up from Real Madrid Castilla to the first team proper. Now known as Real Madrid ‘B’ after being forced to change its name in 1991, Madrid’s satellite team was founded in 1930 and, also playing in the famous white shirt, has developed world-class talents such as Julio Llorente, Raul, Samuel Eto’o, Iker Casillas, Esteban Cambiasso and Jose Caminero down the years. However, it was between the late seventies and early eighties that Castilla experienced its most golden of periods.

In 1979/80 the young Castilla side has reached the final of the Copa del Rey after eliminating a number of highly-rated opponents including Extremadura, Alcorcon, Racing Santader, Hercules, Sporting Gijon, Athletic Bilbao and Real Sociedad, four of which were top-flight sides. Indeed, the Gijon side which Castilla overcame featured the great Quini, one of the most prolific strikers in Spanish history having claimed the Pichichi on five separate occasions with over twenty goals each time.

In the final Castilla faced its parent club, a game which, for Real Madrid, turned out to be something of a walk in the park. An encounter which demonstrated a vast gap in class and, in the opinion of some observers, commitment, the senior side ran out 6-1 winners. The match, viewed as a ‘family reunion’ by the club, was played on June 4th 1980 in front of King Juan Carlos who praised the enterprise of Castille, acknowledging the scale of the achievement for such an unfancied club to reach the final. Real’s goals came from Juanito, who scored a brace, Santillana, Sabido, Del Bosque and Garcia Hernandez; Alvarez scoring a consolation for Castilla.

“Despite the fact that we beat teams from the Primera Division before the final, it was clear that, however hard we tried, victory was impossible,” said Ricardo Gallego. “Also, the fact that we had reached the final meant that Real Madrid were guaranteed to take us very seriously. The reality is that the 6-1 result was a reflection of the distance between us and them.”

Five of the youngest players in the Castilla side which reached the Copa del Rey final played so well that season that they became established as some of the most exciting talents in Spain. Emilio Butragueño, Martin Vasquez, Miguel Pardeza, Jose Miguel ‘Michel’ Gonzalez and Manuel Sanchis (whose father had played for Madrid in the 1966 European Cup) began to be talked about in the press as the future of the club, the group quickly gaining the moniker La Quinta del Buitre (The Vulture Squadron).

The distinctive nickname originated on 14th November 1983 when an article written by journalist Julio Cesar Iglesias appeared in El Pais entitled ‘Amancio y la Quinta del Buitre’. A pun on Butragueño’s name, Iglesias used the phrase to refer to Amancio (the coach of Castilla) and his five young progidies after the team had gone on a superb run of form which had begun with the destruction of Elche 4-1 at the Bernabeu, Butragueño scoring a superb hat-trick. Indeed, in the issue of El Pais released on 11th November 1983, an Iglesias article is printed alongside a picture of Amancio and his Castilla team at Real Madrid’s training complex, Ciudad Deportiva.

“El Pais instructed me to do a story and I said that I wanted to write about the Real Madrid youth team,” recalls Iglesias. “The article was an unexpected success, so much so that shortly after I was asked to do a second piece for inclusion in the Sunday edition of the newspaper. Just two months after publication four of the five players which I featured were already stars.”

Of course, it was not straightforward getting a national newspaper like El Pais to accept a feature on an unkown group of young footballers. “Initially, the person who hired me told me to write something about Real Madrid. It was a time when German football was in vogue, their national team having finished second at the 1982 World Cup and Bayern Munich being the runners-up in the European Cup of the same year. There were many Germans playing in Madrid, but it was very mechanical football, no imagination, physical and techincal, but I found the creativity of the young Spaniards far more interesting.”

“We had players who complemented each other,” remembers Butragueño, “and happened to find themselves on the same team at the same time. Then there was Alfredo Di Stefano, who had the courage to play all of us, a rarity in those days. But we were at the highest level for ten years and we all became internationals. The fans were very proud of how things happened.”

Rafael Martin Vazquez was arguably the most technically gifted of the five players. He used both feet very well, eventually becoming the beating heart of the senior Madrid side. “I remember when I was told that the next day I would train with the first team. I did not sleep that night. I wondered how it would go in the dressing room as they welcomed Manolo and I. I did not think it would be forever. I had arrived at Real at the age of fourteen, and, at eighteen, I started in the first team. Four years of hard work in the Cantera had paid off.”

“It is exciting for a guy who, used to seeing his idols from a distance, finds himself sharing a dressing room with them. It was exciting,” Vazquez repeats, “to join that team as a young player. And what a team!”

“We had several players who came from the youth sector and the senior guys welcomed us very well and helped us to settle. Our dreams had become a reality. We were playing in a Real side with so many great players.”

On 31st January 1984 Butragueño was called to train with the first team by Di Stefano. A few days later, on 5th February, the young forward made his debut away at Cadiz.

“I remember everything now as though it were yesterday. I trained with the first team on Tuesday and Wednesday, but on Thursday it was  not so. On Friday I returned to the team and discovered that I had been summoned for the Cadiz game when I saw that I was not in the Castilla squad that weekend. I knew then that I would be making my debut.”

With Butragueño promoted, Michel was the last of the Quinta to make the leap into the first team. His debut would come at the Bernabeu against arch-rivals Barcelona, Michel taking the number seven shirt in one of the biggest games of the season.

“Amancio gave me my debut against Barça at the Bernabeu. Barça were managed by Terry Venables and would win the title that year, but we won well, 3-0. What impressed me most was how I felt the roar of the stadium from the dressing room. Amancio was the coach who had faith in me and my future. He took a gamble on me.”

Towards the end of the year, as the hype around the Quinta began to grow, Butragueño had one of his best games for Madrid on the sixtieth anniversary of the opening of the Bernabeu. “It was December 12th 1984, the second leg of a UEFA Cup game against Anderlecht. We had lost 3-0 away but won 6-1 at home. I scored three goals that night. It was the first big night of our era.”

“In Spain, for sure, it was our first big European night. That night I realised what it meant to play for Real Madrid and why the club has won all that it has. At that moment began the legend of European comebacks. That evening was decisive for my career. Until that time I played, but not continuously. From that moment I became the owner of my shirt.”

“After the second goal against Anderlecht the Bernabeu crowd began to chant my name for the first time.”

The legend of the Quinta del Buitre had begun.

Michele is a historian and the author of ‘The other magician: Mourinho after Herrera‘. He blogs at ‘From West to East‘ and you can follow him on Twitter