Where are they now: Emilio Butragueno
These days Emilio Butragueno is a very busy man, constantly ducking in and out of meetings in the offices of Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu stadium with the same sense of purpose he once displayed out on the pitch.
Just as he did when he pulled on the famous white jersey in his playing days, Butragueno has one thing on his mind as he plans the club's future: to stock up bulging trophy cabinets with yet more silverware.
FIFAworldcup.com met up with El Buitre (The Vulture) to talk about his memories of the two FIFA World Cups he starred in. For a man who is calmness personified, he surprisingly makes no attempt to hide his passion for the game.
Butragueno's time at the Bernabeu coincided with a renaissance at Real Madrid. He lent his name to a new, exciting generation of stars the Quinta del Buitre, a team that would scoop five consecutive league titles between 1986 and 1990. He later left the capital to play out the last three years of a distinguished career at Mexico's Atletico Celaya before heading north to the United States to take a masters in sports management.
In January 2001, Butragueno returned to Spain to take up an executive position alongside his ex-team mate Jorge Valdano in Madrid's backroom team. Twenty-two years after making his debut in Spain's Primera Division, El Buitre is now vice-president and director of sport at the club that gave him his break in professional football. "My day-to-day life is a little unpredictable," he explained.
"I spend most of my time here at the club, although I sometimes go to the Ciudad Deportiva (Madrid's training complex) to watch the players train. Fortunately, my job is pretty varied. As well as the sporting side of things, I also supervise other areas. My wife always used to tell me that I would have more time for my family when I stopped playing, but the fact is I have a lot less time now."
Butragueno enjoyed a trophy-strewn 11-year stint with the Spanish giants and also racked up 69 caps and 26 goals for his country. "I made my debut for Spain in a 3-0 win over Wales and scored in virtually the last minute when (Rafael) Gordillo put me through on a counterattack," he recalled. "It's a magical experience to make your international debut.
"There is no bigger honour for a player than representing your country, and if you have the good fortune to go to a World Cup, well, nothing can top that. It's a unique experience and a great privilege. Obviously, it's quite difficult to get there. It's only held every four years, your country has to qualify in the first place, you've got to win a place in the squad, be fit, be selected..."
The hero of Queretaro
Butragueno graced the FIFA World Cup on two occasions, at Mexico 86 and Italia 90, and it was in the Mexican heat that the lethal penalty-box predator earned a place in the game's history books. "It was the highpoint of my career," he said. "In the last 16 we faced a Denmark side that was, without any doubt, one of the best teams around. They were everyone's favourites to go through and had the better of the first half before they made a mistake that allowed us to equalise.
"The Danes then took the initiative and we were able to hit them on the break. I scored four goals which was amazing," he added with a genuine look of astonishment at the memory. "To score four goals in a World Cup game is not something I'd ever pictured in my mind as achieving one day. Things turned out much better than my wildest childhood dreams!"
It was a feat that Butragueno would repeat once more for Spain, scoring four in a friendly against Albania six years later. "I felt a little strange to be honest. I wasn't a great goal scorer but I got lucky that day in Mexico and we were awarded two penalties for fouls against me. I saw it as a bit of luck, nothing else. I swapped shirts with (Michael) Laudrup after the game and I've still got his jersey at home. I didn't think that I had done anything that important. My father, who was in the crowd with my wife, was ecstatic and had a huge smile on his face, but I was fairly relaxed."
Read more about Mexico 86
Butragueno has always exuded an air of serenity, so much so that in 12 years in top-flight football he picked up just five bookings. "I was a forward and my job was to create not destroy. I strongly believe that a player should always think about the best way of helping his team, and fighting with an opposing player or the referee was not mine. My aim was to use a little wit and invention to beat my opponent."
The euphoria of that magical night in Queretaro was quickly dampened, however. After being held 1-1 by Belgium in the quarter-final, the Spaniards lost the resulting penalty shoot-out 5-4 and were eliminated from the tournament. "The journey home was very sad. When the final whistle went I knew we had missed a once-in-a-lifetime chance that Spain would probably never have again."
The drama of that defeat was heightened by the atmosphere in the stands. "Puebla had the highest Spanish population of any city in Mexico. During the World Cup they sold lots of red shirts with the Spanish flag on the back, and that day the entire stadium was a sea of red. When we went out to warm up, I said to Michel, 'This is incredible. It's like being in Seville. We can't lose.' We were on top, we created lots of chances, but in the end we lost."
At the 1990 FIFA World Cup, El Buitre was unable to recreate the magic of Mexico and failed to score a single goal as Spain were knocked out in the last 16. "I wasn't fit and it was a very different experience. I would have liked to have helped the team a lot more. We got better as the tournament wore on and Yugoslavia beat us (2-1 after extra time) in a game that really we should have won. I could have put us 1-0 up, I was gifted a free header but it crashed against the post."
Read more about Italia 90
Long after hanging up his boots Butragueno still experiences all the joy and suffering that goes with the game. Football is his job with Real Madrid, his hobby alongside the club's veterans, with whom he trains on a regular basis, a source of relaxation whenever he watches his son play, and his passion as a fan. Not surprisingly, he is also planning a trip to Germany to cheer his country on.
View on Spain's prospects
"I'd like to be optimistic because we've got some exceptional players in the team. I don't think it's realistic to put Spain among the favourites, though. All the usual teams will be there, like Brazil, Argentina, Italy and England. So will Germany, despite what everyone is saying. The hosts are always difficult to beat when there's a World Cup at stake," he explained.
"Spain have definitely got a chance, but we've got to play. I think we'll get through the group phase because we're a better side than our three rivals. We'll just have to see who we get in the knock-out stages. There's no point in making predictions now. Let's just see how the players feel, what injuries we've got, the bookings situation, injuries to our opponents. We've got to be cautious and take it one step at a time."
Butragueno has every faith in the current national coach. "I have always been a fan of Luis Aragones. He is a coach with a lot of personality and very sound judgment, two qualities I see as vital in a coach."
Go to the Spain team page
Not that he has ever been tempted to follow in his footsteps or those of countless other former colleagues who went into management after calling time on their playing careers. "Never!" he said emphatically. "It's a fascinating job, but it can be cruel too. It's a constant challenge to reach limits that few other professions demand. I have a lot of respect for the job, more so every day because I can see how hard it is."
And so, following half an hour of relaxed conversation, Butragueno heads back to his office with deceptive speed to continue with his hectic workload. Who knows, perhaps he is working on bringing another star to the white galaxy.
Surnames: Butragueno Santos
First name: Emilio
Date of birth: 22 July 1963
Place of birth: Madrid, Spain
Playing career: Real Madrid, Atletico Celaya (Mexico)
International caps: 69
Internacional goals: 26
FIFA World Cup
- Quarter-finals in 1986
- Last 16 in 1990
UEFA European Championship
- Runners-up in 1984 (Butragueno did not make any appearances during the tournament) - First round in 1988
- 6 Spanish league titles
- 2 UEFA Cups
- 2 Spanish Cups
- 3 Spanish Super Cups
- 1 Pichichi Trophy (for Spain's top scorer)
- 1 Spanish League Cup
- 1 Copa Iberia
- 1 Division 2B title with Castilla (Real Madrid's B team)