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Remembering Manuel Velázquez

 

Manuel Velázquez Villaverde was a madrileño, hailing from the heart of the city's Chamartíndistrict, a stone's throw from Real Madrid’s ground. A club member from an early age, he turned out for local sides before graduating to the youth ranks at the Ciudad Deportiva training complex. A champion of Spain with Real’s amateurs (beating Barça in the final), he had loan spells at Rayo and then Málaga, where he’d been sent for his military service, enjoying top-flight promotion there… On completing his service and with the 65-66 season underway, he returned to a Madrid undergoing a changing of the guard – and things weren’t going well. Alfredo Di Stéfano had left, and José Santamaría and Ferenc Puskas were coming to the end of their careers.

After sparkling in friendlies against second-tier teams that Madrid used to organise for their fringe players, he made his debut at Mallorca midway through the league campaign. Real won 5-2, he scored twice, and kept his place from there on in. With him in the side, the new Madrid – the ‘ye-yé’ team – clicked into gear, and went on to win the European Cup that same year. His intelligent, pinpoint passing made him the midfield mastermind. He breathed life back into Paco Gento, with his trademark outside-of-the-boot balls around the full-back meeting the run of the great winger, who thanks to Velázquez earned a Spain recall, having been displaced by Carlos Lapetra.

By no means a member of the awkward squad, he was no soft touch either. He gained banking qualifications, learned English and had a well-known fondness for British music, and while hardly a ground-breaker, ended up proving a little too ‘progressive’ for his president Santiago Bernabéu. He didn’t like his hair, or that he wore a moustache. And he liked being contradicted by him even less. So, when the ban on foreign signings was lifted in 73-74, he bought Günter Netzer and handed him the number 10 shirt. Many of us were up in arms. But Velázquez held on to his starting spot, Netzer lasted just three years and he regained his shirt number. Everything back in its rightful place. Today, the Bernabéu will offer him a fantastic tribute. It was a privilege to watch him play.