This is the second 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 second instalment documents the later years of the ‘Quinta’ era and their desperate attempts to win Los Blancos’ seventh European Cup. Part I can be found here.

by Michele Tossani

As has been said, despite their La Liga successes, Real Madrid and the Quinta del Buitre were constantly thwarted in their pursuit of a seventh European Cup during Ramon Mendoza’s tenure as president. Two UEFA Cups may have appeased a fan base anxious for a return to the prestige that only winning the continent’s biggest prize could bring, but the pursuit of the ‘trophy with big ears’ had become a tortuous nightmare. It was to become Mendoza’s obsession.

The 1986/87 season provided Madrid with their first shot at European glory of the Mendoza era. Young Boys of Bern were comprehensively beaten 5-1 on aggregate in the First Round, but the daunting prospect of the Juventus of Giovanni Trapattoni and Michel Platini awaited them in the Second.

The first leg of the tie was played at the Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid’s Quinta taking centre stage as they attempted to unpick Juventus’ resolute catenaccio. Stefano Tacconi, the Bianconeri goalkeeper, did his best to limit the damage, but Butragueño tipped the balance in the home side’s favour with a first-half goal having also been denied what is generally thought to have been a clear-cut penalty.

In the return leg an early Antonio Cabrini goal saw the match tied 1-1 on aggregate, Juventus having pushed hard for outright victory but been thwarted by a frantic Los Blancos rearguard. The game went to penalties and, with Brio, Manfredonia and Favero losing their nerve in the shoot-out, Madrid progressed to the quarter-finals.

An away-goals victory over Red Star Belgrade set up a clash with Bayern Munich in the last four, the excellent Germans effectively killing the tie in the first leg with a 4-1 win, Lothar Matthäus scoring a brace of penalties. Despite a 1-0 second-leg triumph in the cauldron of the Bernabeu, Real were unable to reverse the damage caused in Munich and saw their dreams of European domination evaporate before them.

The following season, 1987/88, was a tale of what could have been, Mendoza describing it as “The year [Real] went close to winning so much more.” Despite eliminating Diego Maradona’s Napoli, defending champions FC Porto and their conquerors of the previous year, Bayern Munich, Madrid were undone in the last four by the tournament’s surprise package, PSV Eindhoven.

A match played behind closed doors after some trouble against Bayern the previous year, the First Round clash with Napoli at the Bernabeu showcased some of the Quinta’s (despite, after the departure of Pardeza to Real Zaragoza, there being only four remaining members) finest football. Indeed, it is often argued that the first leg saw Butragueño produce his finest ever performance in a Madrid shirt. Although the first game came courtesy of the penalty spot – Michel converting, the move which led to the Neapolitan defensive error was a beautifully flowing passing combination which displayed the innate knowledge of each others’ play which the remaining members of the Quinta possessed.

“We were the best, by far. I remember bathing after the game and all of us agreeing that it had been a perfect performance” remarked Butragueño. “It was nice to play against Maradona, Diego was the best. Napoli won the Italian championship and their teams always aspire to win the European Cup. The first game, no audience, behind closed doors, was perhaps difficult for Maradona who was accustomed to a lot of people coming to see him. In Naples [the second leg] the atmosphere was tremendous, they had very passionate fans. It was a difficult match, Napoli scored early and were able to double their lead, but my goal on the break stopped their resurgence. I have great memories of those challenges.”

After eliminating Naples, Porto were next for Madrid. The first leg, held in Valencia due to the temporary closure of the Bernabeu, saw the “home” side come away with a narrow 2-1 win. Los Blancos went on to win by the same scoreline in Portugal, the victory coming courtesy of goals from Michel and Francisco ‘Paco’ Llorente. Dutch coach Leo Beenhakker had reason to thank Llorente (nephew of the great Francisco Gento) for turning the tide of the game, Porto having looked dominant for swathes of the encounter and making his side look vulnerable at times.

In the next round, facing Bayern, the Germans went into a seemingly unassailable 3-0 lead, but late goals from Butrageuño and Hugo Sanchez silenced the Munich crowd and saw Madrid escape from the first leg only 3-2 down. Beenhakker’s men carried the confidence of their late rally into the return fixture, comfortably running out 2-0 winners and progressing to the semi-finals where they would face PSV.

During the first leg the Dutch curbed the attacking instincts of Los Merengues, taking a well-earned 1-1 draw away from Madrid. In Eindhoven, Madrid created a wave of opportunities but were continually thwarted by the sensational Hans van Breukelen (who would go on to be the hero of the final) in the home goal. The European Cup had again slipped from Madrid’s grasp at the penultimate hurdle, Los Blancos taking some solace in claiming that season’s La Liga title, Sanchez scoring 29 goals.

1989 again saw Real embark on a European Cup campaign with a fan base expecting victory. After serene progress through the first two rounds, the first major obstacle Madrid came up against was PSV in the quarter-finals. After two 1-1 draws, the tie went to extra-time where Rafael Martin Vazquez sending Los Blancos through with a 105th minute goal.

Only Milan stood between the people of Madrid and the final, but it was an exceptional Milan team enjoying their very best years under Arrigo Sacchi. A side which re-invented pressing for the modern game and played to an exquisite tactical plan which was, more often than not, carried out to the letter. The Italians dominated the first leg in Spain, some brave last-ditch defending seeing the home side fortunate to escape with a 1-1 draw.

However, Milan were favourites going into the game at the San Siro and duly humiliated their illustrious opponents. First Carlo Ancelotti, then Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit, Marco Van Basten and Roberto Donadoni got themselves on the score sheet to deliver a perfect 5-0 victory. Real Madrid had been demolished by Europe’s best.

The following year again saw Milan eliminate Madrid, the last realistic shot at continental success the Quinta generation had. In 1990/91 Los Blancos were beaten by Spartak Moscow in the quarter-finals, a defeat which seemed to signal the end of this most fascinating of eras in the Spanish capital.

“[Spartak] were a level above us” Butragueno says of that particular game. “They played very well and deserved to progress, what more is there to say? It was clear our era was over. We should have won the European Cup in 1987/88, we were unlucky to lose the semi-final to PSV. From the following season we could not win because there was a better team: AC Milan.”

“That night was terrible because Eindhoven were not the best team we had played in Europe that season. We had eliminated the Napoli of Maradona, defending champions Porto, and Bayern Munich. In those days there was only one representative per country,” Butragueño recalls, “it was a tremendous competition. We drew the first game at home one each, but we were unable to score away and were eliminated.”

“We did everything well,” says Michel, “but we did not get the result we wanted. Injustice fuels sport and that was an opportunity which inexplicably eluded us. Although we did our best it was not good enough for the trophy.”

“The dressing room,” say Butragueño, “was very sad, especially the veterans who saw what was probably their final chance to win the trophy slipping through their fingers. In fact, at the airport in Amsterdam on the way home I told Sanchis: “Manolo, I do not know if we will have another opportunity like this.”

“Sacchi’s Milan was a better team than ours, I have no objection to that,” Butragueño admits. “But I think we were better than PSV.”

“After those two UEFA Cups,” said Jorge Valdano, “some of the best players went away and this probably altered the balance a little. There was also the Milan of Sacchi and Madrid became the victim of that incredible team. However, if you really deserve a trophy then you win it. Many say the Dutch side of 1974 deserved to win the World Cup, but it was Germany who won the final. Maybe Brazil ’82 deserved it, but they did not reach the final. We were not able to win games that we had to win. However, it is amazing how, even without winning, to this day people remember players from that generation very strongly. Perhaps that was their triumph.”

Indeed, perhaps it was an impact on the game which went far beyond individual games and results that represented the true power of the Quinta.

“People really enjoyed the football we played,” Vazquez reminisces, “and that is still satisfying for us, even after so many years.”

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