There is one date in particular which has a special significance in Pedja Mijatovic's career in football: on 20 May 1998, he scored the winning goal to hand Real Madrid their first European Cup in 32 years in a tense final against Juventus in Amsterdam. The club will receive a special award in recognition of that famous triumph in next month's AS awards ceremony, as we celebrate our 50th anniversary and we sat down with Pedja to look back on that night at the Amstredam Arena.
What does this AS award mean to you?
It's a very nice, thoughtful gesture. It's something which makes me feel very proud. I'll be receiving the award but it is for a whole generation of players, and when I go up to collect it, I will be thinking about my old team mates. Even we could not really believe that we had won that Champions League, 32 years after the last one.
Mijatovic and the school of '98
What was so special about that team?
It had a lot of positive things. Apart from the football quality, there was a real human side to that team. We were great friends. We formed a united group and we knew that could make football history. We were hungry for it and we did it.
Is it still exciting for you to talk about that goal?
I never get tired of talking about it, never… And the funny thing is that it was the only goal I scored in the whole of the tournament - and I played every single game!
Is it true that you played injured?
We travelled to Amsterdam a couple of days before the final. When we arrived, in our first training session - a really light workout which Heynckes had prepared for us, I fell a pull to my calf muscle. I couldn't believe it!
What did you do?
I didn't mention it to anyone. Only to [physiotherapist] Pedro Chueca. I said: “Hey Pedro, look this has happened and you have to help me recover because if you don't, I'll kill you!” (laughs). And I recovered.
And he didn't tell anyone?
A couple of my team mates knew and the team doctor but not the coach. If he had known, he would have left me out of the team.
Heynckes and Madrid's secret meetings
What was it like working under Heynckes?
He was, and still is, a great coach. We all learned a lot from him. But we were players with a lot of character. So much so that we'd hold meetings and there were a lot of different opinions… But that aside, independently of the final, Jupp knew that he wasn't going to continue in the job.
Was he aware that the players were holding meetings?
He knew that we were a very strong-minded group, with a lot of personality and with a huge desire to win. I'm sure that he didn't think it was such a bad thing that we met up every so often to chat about what was going on. For him, winning that Champions League was very special too.
Wednesday 20th May 1998, Amsterdam
Where did the team stay?
In a very modest hotel, in Zeist, where the Holland team usually stays. I wouldn't say that we were afraid when we got there, but after the horrible league campaign we'd just had, we knew that if we lost that final, it would be better not to return to Spain.
Who was your roommate?
Suker, I always roomed with Davor.
And in that room you held that famous meeting?
Well it was quite lack-back, casual. It was normal that little groups of five or six would get together to chat.
How it that meeting come about?
I think it was the typical thing you do on a night like that when you just cannot get to sleep, for nerves. So you look to others for a bit of support, some advice, and that's what happened. We'd been talking all day about the fine details of the game. We'd speak about this Juve player, that player, about tactics… We'd also been given a lot of information on Juventus from Heynckes.
How did that meeting evole?
First there was just three or four of us, then a couple more would come in, then more until it was almost full. But it all happened very naturally. We laughed to ease our nerves and we agreed that this was a chance not to be missed to make history.
Who spoke the most?
I don't know… Hierro was always the leader. Manolo Sanchís, Raúl, Davor, and me… all of us! It wasn't one of those kinds of meetings where one person speaks and everyone else listens.
Journey to the stadium for the final
What do you remember of the journey to the stadium?
We were quite far away from the stadium. It was about an hour's journey but it seemed to last forever. The first thing I really noticed was Juve's team bus. It was massive! And with all these details like the club crest on the side and their motto… That was quite new back then. ¡Madre mía!
And let me tell you about when we saw them getting off the bus - all perfectly attired in their Italian tailored suits, they looked so elegant, like Julius Cesars! (laughs). But let me tell you, afterwards they were very generous with us, because they had brought crates of champagne to celebrate if they won. We didn't want to do that because it might bring bad luck. So when we won, they said you may as well have our champagne.
Juve were so gracious in defeat - Mijatovic
Was there a good atmosphere between the two teams?
Juventus were real gentlemen with us. In the dressing room there was a player who was a friend of Davor's and one of mine too - even Peruzzi offered to take a photo of us after the game. I don't know if any of us would have done the same if we had lost...
Did you have time to think about anything when you scored?
The ball came to be from a rebound. I was facing the keeper and I didn't think too much. Once I saw the ball over the line, my reaction was instinctive, natural. I just did the first thing came into my head. I only had enough time to think I should lift the ball up a little because a player could have cleared it off the line.
And you scored that with your weaker foot...
It just seemed a very normal move to me, it wasn't so difficult. Back in the dressing room, everyone was saying what a brilliant goal it was, that it was a difficult strike. Years later, Raúl said to me: “Madre mía, I watched that goal dozens of times and I always get the sensation that the ball's not going to go in. It was so precise, to the millimetre…!”.
How did you feel when you saw the ball cross the line?
It's a funny feeling, like your career has just ended. You know you cannot do anything better than that. And you don't know where to turn. I remember Fernando Sanz, who had said he had a feeling that I was going to score, so he was the first person I went looking for to celebrate. It was just amazing.
Does it annoy you that some people still claim it was offside?
No one from Juve protested. It was legal.
Reunion with Di Livio
Did you speak to any Juventus players on the pitch?
I was never the kind of player to do much talking when I was playing. But I remember Di Livio was wearing a wristband with “1.0” painted on it. Later on I coincided with him at Fiorentina and I asked him about it. He called me every name you can think of! (laughs). “I lost a million lire because of you!”. That was the bonus he would have got for winning.
Why do you think that Champions League so important?
I don't want to say that it was the most important one but it was one of them. Because people had waited so long for it, it was the trophy which signalled the transition of Real Madrid from black and white to full colour. There were a lot of very good generations of players who couldn't win it - like the Quinta del Buitre for instance. La Séptima tasted special for those 32 years madridistas spent waiting for it, which was a very long time.