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Hugo Sanchez: The Real Madrid legend who defied physics and the norm

Hugo Sanchez scored 208 goals in 283 appearances for Real Madrid. Factor in too a decent haul for Atletico, down the road, and a prosperous period at Rayo Vallecano as his career wound down and it means only three players have ever scored more La Liga goals. Two you will be very familiar with – Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The third was Telmo Zarra, a CR7 of the Fifties. 

Between 1985 and 1990, Sanchez was the league’s leading goalscorer for four consecutive campaigns and such prolificacy inspired a great Los Blancos side packed with homegrown talent to reclaim supremacy in Spain, winning five league titles in a row, as well as two UEFA Cups for good measure. On an individual footing, the Mexican striker won the Don Balon Award twice-over, given to the best foreign player in La Liga, and then in 1990, two years before he briefly moved back to his homeland, Sanchez blasted an astonishing 38 goals, gaining him a European Golden Shoe.

All of this is highly impressive stuff. These are numbers that denote a legend.

 

Yet still, it doesn’t come close to properly celebrating his exuberant ability, nor his admirable dedication, that bordered on obsession, to scoring spectacular goals. Indeed, distilling one of the most explosive, entertaining, and extravagant players in living memory down to mere stats and achievements is akin to detailing the dimensions of the Sistine Chapel.

It’s 134 feet by 44 in case you were wondering. The Sistine Chapel. Only then you look up, and gawp open-mouthed at the frescoes, rich in texture and each stunningly beautiful and who gives a fig about figures, right?

So many of Sanchez’s goals were masterpieces, he being the doyen of the ‘chilena’, or ‘bicycle kick’ as we know them. Time and again, a delivery would be floated over, and any other player would hold back a little, to ensure some power could be extracted from their header. Only Sanchez would do the precise opposite, drifting slightly ahead of the cross, before flinging himself airborne and twisting his torso, relying on a physicality honed from his early years as a budding gymnast. His sister, Herlinda, pursued that path to the end, representing Mexico at the Montreal Olympics.

There would follow pure, unadulterated poetry in motion, in the flash of an eye, as the forward contorted his body, his legs a whir of intricate machinery. It was a sight to see.

In researching this article I have watched a good many clips of the great man and his great goals and in plenty the goalkeeper doesn’t even move when the chilena is executed. Instead, the explosion of the crowd awakens him from a fleeting stupor, hypnotized by the defying of physics occurring before him, the audacity of it all. And as he turns around to witness a ball nestled into the corner of the net, Sanchez is off, performing another gymnastic feat, this time pulling off a trademark back-flip in celebration. 

One chilena above all others stands out, but not from its brilliance, as brilliant as it was. Rather, it was a quote that came later, a remark that wonderfully sums up the player and what he was capable of. In 1988, Logrones were the latest victim of Sanchez’s acrobatics, and when Real Madrid’s manager Leo Beenhakker was asked about it, he said: “”When a player scores a goal like that, play should be suspended and a glass of champagne offered to the 80,000 fans that witnessed it.”

They were sights to see.

There were of course tap-ins too. Naturally, there were lots of those, but also free-kicks, that swerved and dipped, and developed a personality of their own a full few seconds after leaving his boot. 

Indeed, when revisiting this remarkable man, it truly astounds that someone who so often delighted in the improbable should also be so prolific. That’s not how it typically works. That goes against the norm. Because a striker with Hugo Sanchez’s considerable goal-haul is by their very nature clinical and efficient; they play the percentages and take the shortest route to success. They are Gerd Muller or, from the Mexican’s era, Gary Lineker, loitering with intent inside the six-yard box, looking to finish things off. 

Whereas Sanchez created and furthermore he aimed for high-art and though there have been players like this before and thankfully there will be those of his ilk again, their genius is sporadic, with a rare glimpse of it here and a rare glimpse there, exhibited twice a season if we’re very lucky. 

And ultimately, that is why ‘Hugol’ – his nickname then and now in the Spanish capital – is still so revered by the Bernabeu faithful, a horde of zealots who frankly have been treated to countless megastars in their lifetime. It’s because not only did the boy from Mexico City offer up magic. He did so, somehow and uniquely, on an almost weekly basis.  

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