The greatest stories often begin with seemingly insignificant details and it was no different in the Ramon de Carranza stadium on 5 February 1984. Real Madrid were losing 2-0 against lowly Cadiz when Los Blancos’ coach Alfredo Di Stefano issued an order: “Kid, go warm up.”
His words were directed at Emilio Butragueno, a striker from the youth team who would go on to make a debut most players can only dream about. Butragueno hit the target twice to help his side to a 3-2 victory and with it start one of the most successful eras in the club’s history: that of the Quinta del Buitre (The Vulture’s Cohort).
Other members of that trophy-laden team, including defender Manolo Sanchis - whom Butragueno replaced that day - Martin Vazquez and Miguel Pardeza, had already taken their first-team bows months earlier. Yet it was Butragueno’s sheer force of character, coupled with the fact that his debut - 30 years ago today - was one of the most memorable debuts in the club’s history, that made him the true flag bearer of that crop of youth-team products.
Years later, Butragueno, whose father signed him up as a club member at birth and was present at his maiden appearance, recalled the day vividly: “The fact that I had been called up to the first team made me think I might make my debut so I said to my father, ‘Go along, because I think I’m going to play’.
"I remember that he was in the stands with my brother-in-law and with us losing 2-0 my father said, ‘What can the boy do about the scoreline? It’s not going to be much of a debut…’ It turned out to be quite the opposite.”
As good as it gets
Butragueno, who had earned the nickname El Buitre - ‘The Vulture’ - in the Madrid youth teams due to his penalty-box prowess, needed just 15 minutes to make his mark, beating Cadiz goalkeeper Andoni Cedrun with a shot across goal. He was swift to further demonstrate his abilities, hitting the crossbar with an overhead kick, before writing his name in the history books.
Ricardo Gallego grabbed an 87th-minute equaliser from Juanito’s corner and just two minutes later, with the match seemingly heading for a draw, El Buitre lived up to his name, preying on the rebound from a Cedrun save to score the winner for Real Madrid.
“If I’d have sat down with God to plan my perfect debut I don’t think even I’d have asked for quite as much,” recalled Butragueno. “It couldn’t have gone any better.”
Di Stefano’s side finished as runners-up to Barcelona in the league that season, but it was in that 1983/84 campaign that the foundations for the Quinta del Buitre era were laid. Led by the diminutive blonde striker and ably assisted by winger Michel, the group would go on to dominate Spanish football from the end of the 1980s into the mid-1990s, winning five league titles in a row and six in total.
The silverware did not stop there as the side also lifted two Copa del Rey trophies, three Spanish Super Cups, a League Cup and two UEFA Cups. There was only one thing missing from Butragueno’s trophy cabinet: the European Cup.
“That’s still a thorn in our side,” said Butragueno, who is now the club’s head of public relations. “We didn’t win the European Cup because we just lacked the little bit of luck you need to do so. PSV [Eindhoven] and Bayern [Munich] knocked us out of two semi-finals, even though we were the better team.”
Not that Butragueno is one to dwell on past disappointments: “When I was 18 I was playing football in school and by the time I was 20 I’d made my debut for the Real Madrid first team. There have certainly been some miracles in my life.”
And it all began 30 years ago today, thanks in part to Di Stefano, who would later define Butragueno as “a guy with goals in his blood”.