Having taken over the mantle of legendary Spain goalkeeper
Luis Arconada, Andoni Zubizarreta made
La Furia Roja's No1 jersey his own for more than ten
years. In June this year it will have been a decade since the
charismatic shot-stopper put away his gloves, but few have
forgotten his stellar performances in the red of Spain or as part
of Johan Cruyff's fantastic Barcelona side.
Nowadays, Zubi lives his life far away from the spotlight. His post-football career has led him into partnership with fellow former sportsmen Jorge Valdano and Juan Antonio Corbalan in a company dedicated to management training and consulting.
Zubizarreta retired in 1998 after a career that included 12
domestic and three European trophies, as well as innumerable
treasured memories. "Whenever I go near a football pitch I
still miss being in the thick of the action, being able to get
closer to the ball," he tells
And even ten years later, he finds himself watching the game with a less than detached eye. " ," he says. "But it's not because I want to criticise them, it's because I know what they're going through."
As Zubizarreta knows better than most, a goalkeeper's role can be a thankless one, with many fine custodians better remembered for high-profiles mistakes than years of solid displays. To illustrate this point, many fans' clearest memory of the Basque is an own-goal against Nigeria during Spain's disappointing 1998 FIFA World Cup France™ campaign. An incident which is not his worst memory for his country.
"I can recall some very bad times, and the most painful are being knocked out by Italy at USA 94 and by England at EURO 96. We had a team that was good enough to have won those tournaments and we didn't deserve to lose, it was incredibly hard to swallow."
But there were also plenty of positives in a career that included appearances at four FIFA World Cups (1986, 1990, 1994 and 1998) and three UEFA European Championships (1984, 1986 and 1996). Does he have a favourite memory from all those events? "The first match of Mexico 86 against Brazil in the Estadio Jalisco in Guadalajara," he recalls.
"It was my World Cup debut and I still had visions of the 1970 Brazil side of Pele, Tostao, Rivelino and Co who'd played at that very stadium. It was like a myth that suddenly became reality. It really made an impact on me."
Yet after a staggering 126 games for La Selección, during which he conceded just 99 goals, the former captain still has one regret: "We didn't win any trophies. Between 1994 and 1996 we had an extraordinarily strong national team, which was physically very good as well as technically gifted."
Silverware would prove less elusive at club level, however. After cutting his teeth at Deportivo Alaves in the late 1970s, Zubizarreta moved to Athletic Bilbao, with whom he won two league titles, one Copa del Rey and a Spanish Super Cup in a six-year spell.
His trophy haul would continue to grow during an eight-year
stint at Barcelona from 1986. The appointment of Dutchman Cryuff as
Azulgrana coach triggered one of the most glorious periods
in the club's history, Zubizarreta playing a full part in four
consecutive league title wins and the first European Cup success in
"You had to prove your worth in every training session with that team. You had the very best forwards trying to score past you. When you trained against players like that it was hard to be taken by surprise in a real match situation."
For a goalkeeper, of course, having the world's finest strikers on your team must be quite a relief. Asked to choose the finest goal-getters he encountered during his long career, Zubi has few doubts. "Early on it was Hugo Sanchez and Gary Lineker. Later on came Ronaldo, who was lethal, and Romario, a player who was capable of doing the most outrageous things inside the box."
" . Together we made up a very special group, there were no stars or prima donnas," underlines a man who played alongside such luminaries as Romario, Ronaldo, Michael Laudrup, Hristo Stoichkov and Ronald Koeman.
Many of his former team-mates, disciples of Cryuff's total
footballing philosophy, have since moved into coaching positions.
Would Zubizarreta like to follow their lead? "Being in the
dugout seems exciting, but it doesn't appeal to me.
"Since I was a player I've always felt that I was more suited to the organizational side of things: taking care of everything so that the players and coaches only had to worry about playing," he explains. Having already performed that role at his beloved Athletic, he says half-jokingly that he is open to similar offers.
Given the difficulties many footballers seem to experience after hanging up their boots, could that be why so many stay involved with the beautiful game? "When you're used to living at the fast pace of footballing life, it's not easy to go back to a normal life," he says. "At first you enjoy the peace and quiet, but soon after you find yourself needing to feel that adrenaline again, and it's not easy finding something to fill the gap. I'm sure that's why footballers get involved with activities that are very closely linked to football."
And after such a long and illustrious career, how would he like to be remembered? "First of all, I'd just like to be remembered!" he says, with a chuckle. "It does surprise you that people still remember you after so long. I'd like to have given the impression that I was a good keeper, and that I was a safe pair of hands for my teams." Of that, there is little doubt.