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Del Bosque: “In ‘81 we were given a bonus despite losing the final”

Vicente del Bosque recalls the 1981 final in Paris which Real Madrid lost to Liverpool - the last time Madrid lost a European final.


The 1980-81 campaign was Vicente del Bosque’s eighth consecutive season with Real Madrid. By that time, he’d won five league titles and three Copas del Rey – he would go on to win a fourth but that generation of players didn’t reap much success in Europe - particularly in the European Cup. That Madrid side reached the semi-finals twice (1976 and 1980), only to be knocked out by Bayern Munich then Kevin Keegan’s Hamburg. In 1978, for the first and only time in the club’s history, they failed to take part in any of the three continental cup competitions.

Del Bosque was 30 years old when Madrid booked their place in the 1981 European Cup final, dodging bottles, coins and all kinds of other missiles on the final whistle at a hostile San Siro after the team held out against a strong Inter side with the likes of Bergomi, Prohaska, Beccalossi and Altobelli

“At last we were going to play a European Cup final - in Paris. We looked at each other in amazement, we couldn’t believe it. At the time, Real Madrid were going through a tough time financially and the economic situation had an affect on the team. It was Madrid’s’ first final since ‘66, the Yeyé team - 15 years since we had last been in a final. It was a feeling of immense happiness”.

Where shall we start?

Right at the beginning… It was a huge achievement for that team to reach the European Cup final. It was a really stark, grey time for the club, very difficult… For the club, making it to that final was the best thing ever. It was a time when the club couldn’t afford to make many new signings, it had to bring players up from the youth categories. But we got a bonus even though we lost. I can’t remember how much it was, but I do remember Luis de Carlos telling us we’d receive a bonus when we got back to the dressing room after the final whistle. They realised how well we had done with the team we had. The bonus was for getting as far as we did and some kind of compensation for playing the final.

A home-made Real Madrid...

The squad was built with home-grown players and a few from elsewhere like Juanito, Santillana, Ángel, who came from Salamanca, García Navajas, from Burgos... Very different to the current side - nine of the starting XI are foreign players. Back then, we had nine Spanish players plus Uli (Stielike) and Laurie (Cunningham) - the complete opposite compared to today’s team. We were known as The Garcías… (García Remón, García Navajas, García Cortés, Pérez García, García Hernández…) It was an honour for us. The starting XI in Paris had five players who had come up from the youth teams - Agustín, Sabido, García Cortés, Camacho and myself. [Francisco] Pineda came on as a sub towards the end. También en la plantilla estaban García Remón, Gallego, Pérez García, Isidro…

On route to the final, Madrid eliminated Limerick, Honvéd, Spartak Moscow and Inter...

I remember both legs of the semi-final against Inter. We played brilliantly at San Siro. We suffered a lot, but the team gave the best we had and resisted. At the Bernabéu we beat them well, 2-0 with Santillana and Juanito. Of course!

Four decades have passed since then, can you still visualise the game in your own mind?

I think we showed them too much respect. We changed our usual style of play to suit them. Normally, we would go on the attack, open up spaces on both wings. We always set out to win, even during those years. Uli would usually play on the right, me through the middle and Ángel slightly to the left, but also through the middle… That day we changed everything. Camacho was moved into midfield to mark Souness and that disrupted everything. I was almost playing at right-back marking Ray Kennedy, a player with similar characteristics to mine - very technically-gifted, strong and not very fast… Uli was marking Sammy Lee, who later signed for Osasuna… Or maybe it was Liverpool who put Lee on Stielike because they knew he was the motor of our team.

What a mess!

Yes, a right mess… And there were other things as well. Ángel, who I think was on McDermott. At the back García Cortés was following Dalglish everywhere. He didn’t let him get a sniff of the ball. But that was a little more normal -a defender on a forward, and their best player. We didn’t usually man-mark our rivals, but we would adapt our game a little based on who we were playing against, but that day, more than usual…

And it was Camacho who had the best chance of the game…

That’s right, he won the ball back in the centre of the pitch, sprinted up-field and chipped just over. It went over the bar by not very much. Now he says that he should have continued with the ball a little further… but he saw his chance. It was a bad game, really poor, it has to be said. It would have ended goalless if they hadn’t scored… scored by the player you would least have expected to - their left-back Alan Kennedy. But that’s football. There were very few goal-scoring chances. The pitch was really bad, it was full of little mounds of grass - they had played a rugby game there a couple of days before. The ball bounced erratically.

What was [Real Madrid coach, Vujadin] Boskov thinking? He wasn’t known for being defensively-minded.

No, no he wasn’t, but that’s how he saw the game going. He was a good coach and a good person. He was Yugoslavian but nothing like [Miljan] Miljanic, our coach a few years before. I can still picture Boskov in his suit, the blackboard and chalk in his hand, instructing Camacho who he had to mark and what he had to do.

Liverpool were the favourites, but they weren’t as strong as the sides that won the trophy in the late 70s. They finished fifth in the league that season...

Yes, that’s how we viewed it back then and now with the perspective of hindsight. They had very good midfielders - Souness, McDermott, Ray Kennedy… and then Dalglish.

Let’s move forward to the present. I know you are not too keen to talk about Saturday’s final to avoid being misquoted/misunderstood and you don’t like guessing a possible score, but how do you see it turning out?

All finals have a bit of the unknown about them, the ‘81 final, last year’s, this one… That’s why I prefer not to talk too much before games. Talking, a priori, of favourites, and there’s been so many… is talking for talking’s sake. It’s just speculating and I don’t like that. The only thing I can say is that everybody has seen and knows that both finalists have enjoyed a great season. It might seem that, during the toughest moments, Real Madrid have responded better, but Liverpool have domne it too when they have been under pressure - like we saw against Villarreal, who brought out the best in them… I watched them against Southampton, they suffered but knew how to suffer with just two of their regular players in the line-up. That says a lot about them and their squad. I don’t think we can start talking about favourites. But If I had to choose one…


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