“We Played for Three Million Pesetas”

Bebeto Deportivo 1994
Deportivo’s Bebeto puts his head in his hands in shame.

Deportivo A Coruña 0 – 0 Valencia CF
“We Played for Three Million Pesetas”
Valencia’s players relate how, after tying with Deportivo in the Riazor in 1994, they received presents from Barcelona
El País: “Tocamos a tres millones de pesetas”
Cayetano Ros reporting from Valencia May 20, 2011

[NOTE: This is the story of a smart investment by 1994 Spanish champion Barcelona. The European soccer season is a double round-robin tournament. Since schedules are made before the season, at the end teams on the top contending for a championship and at the bottom trying not to be demoted end up facing mid-table teams with nothing to play for. The other teams in contention sometimes inspire the middling teams to play hard by secretly sending them suitcases of money [maletines].

There are few moments as dramatic and intense in Spanish football’s collective imagination. On the 14th of May, 1994, Deportivo A Coruña had a penalty shot which, if converted, would give it the first league championship in its history. Djukic took it, but González, the Valencian keeper, made the save, and Deportivos’ fans wept while the trophy went on a journey from their stadium to Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona. The write Julio Llamazares tried to capture the moment in a delicious story, The Penalty of Djukic. Liaño, Depor’s goalkeeper, promised vengeance (“We are mule drivers..”) which was consummated a year later, when the white-and-blues defeated Valencia in the King’s Cup Final. Tomorrow, Saturday, the two will meet in the Riazor again, this time with Deportivo on the verge of relegation and Valencia third, with nothing to play for, as in 1994.

González, a Guipuzcoano from Real Sociedad territory, was 29 years old when he intercepted the penalty shot that would mark his career. That season, 1993-1994, he had played little until the starter, Sempere, was sent off in the penultimate week; González came in cold and stopped a penalty shot by Valladolid. One week later, he returned and delivered another death sentence. In a legendary moment, he raised a finger in vindication of his performance and ignited Deportivo’s anger. He deigned not to renew his contract with Valencia, instead signing with Valladolid and eventually retiring with Xerez in 2001 to dedicate himself to coaching goalkeepers. His most recent job was with Hércules, which he left in April along with the head coach, Esteban Vigo, leaving a spot on the bench there open for…Djukic.

Some months ago, González visited Riazor [Deportivo’s home field] with Hércules and suffered booing from fans 17 years removed from the match. “I don’t understand how there can still be such ill will. It’s part of the game. You hurt them, and they hurt you,” said González yesterday, though he remembers that that was a “very rare” season. Valencia began the season as leaders under Coach Guus Hiddink, who was fired after scandalous failure in a UEFA Cup match against Karlsruher (7-0). Paco Real and Héctor Núñez passed through until Hiddink finally returned. In the meantime, Arturo Tuzón left the presidency, and Paco Roig took his place.

Gift-giving to third parties was prohibited by the federation in 1994, and since December 2010 the Penal Code has considered it fraud, or the adulteration of competition. The practice, nevertheless, remains in force. Fernando Giner, midfielder for that Valencia and current Vice President of the club, admitted in El Confidencial in 2008 that he received “a substantial gift from Barcelona [for that game], although he, as a friend of Deportivo players Voro and Nando, would have preferred that A Coruña win the league. “It was bitter money,” he confessed. Three other players on Hiddink’s club now confirm Giner’s story, although they prefer to maintain anonymity. This is one of their stories:

“One week before, we knew what we would receive. The money [some 50 million pesetas, or 300,000 euros in current money] would come to us the following week. We picked it up on the highway halfway between Valencia and Barcelona. One of our players and one of theirs met there. We brought it to a player’s house and divided it there. It came out to about three million pesetas (18,000 euros) for everyone on the team, less for those who had played less, like Diego Ribera. Hiddink didn’t take any. He said that would do.” Upon his entrance, Penev, convalescing from testicular cancer, proclaimed: “Just three million! A Liga is worth more than ten!”

According to this player, one game later, the players on Deportivo received a large prize for thrashing Albacete (2-8) in an attempt to condemn the Manchego (Castilla-La Mancha) club to demotion and save another club. “There’s nothing wrong with being rewarded for doing your job well,” he said; “that’s the law of football.”

Valencia flew to A Coruña on May 13 after boarding in Barcelona, where they met Juan Carlos, an azulgrana (Barça) forward by pure coincidence. On the trip, Hiddink’s pupils played a joke on their forward, Juan Cruz Sol, putting a conspicuous 5000-peseta bill in his suitcase. They found A Coruña decked out to celebrate a title: a goat was dressed in Deportivo’s colors, a mule in Barcelona’s. They stayed in the María Pita hotel next to the beach.

When the game began, the Valencianistas noticed that Arsenio Iglesias’s blanquiazules were “pale,” “blocked up,” overcome with anxiety. Fran, Bebeto, Claudio, and Manjarín, due for a present of 6 million (36,000) euros per head from the club if they won the league, didn’t take advantage of their scoring chances. The Valencia of Quique, Fernando, Arroyo, and Mijatovic were much more fluid and closer to victory. Until the 89th minute. The defense rejected a corner kick from Bebeto. Nando entered the area and swerved past Serer, who hooked him. The midfielder fell to his knees. “Everything was in their favor: at home, in the last minute, with a penalty shot…” the Valencian recalled. “But where was Bebeto [their penality specialist]? He was hiding. Djukic, a true knight, was brave enough. But it wasn’t that moment that cost them the league; it was their home-field ties against Rayo Vallecano and Valladolid [which were both relegated that season],” they added.

After the game, Fernando went from the visitors’ dressing room to another section of the Riazor for a press conference. He passed by many people crying in the grandstands. The bus which had brought the team there had suffered an avalanche of blows. The windows were shattered, and the players, to protect themselves, sat in the aisle. The looks of hatred on the faces of famous Deportivo fans, journalists, and politicians in their hotel are burned in the Valencians’ memories.

The following season, Valencia expected and received palpable hostility in Riazor: a rain of false 10,000 bills inundated the playing field. An envelope with 11 pesetas arrived at the Mestalla [Valencia’s stadium] from A Coruña. A fierce rivalry was born, another chapter of which will be written on May 21 in the Riazor.

Box Score: Deportivo 0 – 0 Valencia
Deportivo: Liaño; Voro, Djukic, Ribera; López Rekarte, Mauro Silva, Donato (Alfredo, m. 70), Fran, Nando; Manjarín, Bebeto.

Valencia: González; Quique, Camarasa, Giner; Serrer, Arroyo, Mendieta, Fernando, Álvaro; Mijatovic, Gálvez (Diego, m. 80).

Referee: López Nieto. Yellow Cards to Donato, Mendieta y Voro; Red Card to Álvaro.

Sellout crowd in Deportivo’s home stadium, Riazor (35.000 spectators). It rained before the game and again before halftime. At the end, some fans took to the field enraged by Djukic’s penalty miss.

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