The Spanish national team receives the gold from the hands of Samarach Agustí Carbonell
Surprisingly, the corner kick was taken by Chapi Ferrer because regulation time was already up, otherwise they would go into overtime and there was a hurry. Kiko tried a Chilean and missed, but the ball reached Luis Enrique, who hit it with his left foot. Capriciously, the ball bounced off a rival and now fell at the feet of Kiko, who controlled and jabbed it before the keeper came out to land it in the net. It was the crowning glory, the ecstasy, the last game of the game – once Poland was taken off center by the referee so indicated – and the Olympic gold medal on August 8, 1992 for a Spanish team that had to overcome many adversities. With everything against it and only football for it, Spain has achieved the unthinkable.
Trouble started three months before the tournament when the Spanish Football Federation called the team captains (Roberto Solozábal, Pitu Abelardo and Luis Enrique) to negotiate the bonus. Not born by the federation themselves because they scrapped the ADO plan and the team had no company to sponsor him in the rest of the sport. “They said we were professionals. But the tennis players, the handball players, the basketball players… they were too,” says Solozábal, who believes they asked for adjusted amounts and targets. A number they rejected because they claimed there was no money, while leaking a sentence from the captain to journalist José María García to cover their backs. “I told them if they didn’t have any money they should sell a building, but that was a joke,” says the captain; “and everywhere sticks fell on me”. So the captains decided to dismantle the federal arguments and refused to charge a premium for playing because everyone wanted to do it for an experience they could never enjoy again. “We said no out of dignity,” said goalkeeper Toni Jiménez, now Pochettino’s assistant. “It is that the relationship with the association was very bad. They didn’t trust us, we didn’t have an official photo until we took one at the hotel, they didn’t give us any facilities…” adds Alfonso Pérez, then a striker. The tension was palpable.
It was for coach Vicente Miera, who knew in advance he would be sacked after the tournament and had to see senior coach Javier Clemente come into the group from time to time. And it was for the players who noticed the lack of support from the federation because after a concentration in Cervera de Pisuerga (Palencia) they were taken to a three-star NH hotel in central Valencia for a month when they asked for it to go to El Saler, where the national team used to live. “We had no space, it wasn’t an open space, we didn’t feel comfortable,” Alfonso recalls. “Every day we had to endure an hour and a half of traffic to go to Paterna to train because we were doing doubles sessions,” adds Solozábal, who soon had another burn. It was the day after the 4-0 win against Colombia when the opening ceremony took place and the federation banned them from attending because they had another game two days later. “Being in Valencia, far from everything, we wanted to experience the parade. If not, what tournament were we in?”, debunks the captain, who held his pulse with the bandages until they put a plane on them, despite the fact that they were stuck 16 hours in the journey because they took the cheapest. “The other day I saw a photo from that day with a full stadium and it gave me goosebumps. There we are. Roberto was at the peak of a great leader,” adds Toni Jiménez. “All these setbacks made us come together, form a great group,” concludes Alfonso.
That and the affable character of the technician who didn’t make big speeches but was an exceptional group leader, ably assisted by the famous Ladislao Kubala. He innovated with the system of three central defenders for the national team and dealt with an aspect that was frowned upon or at least viewed with suspicion at the time; included a psychologist in the expedition, the late Jesús García Barrero. “He entered as one more, without wanting to impose anything on us, since he knew us. He was very smart and beat us all,” admits Solozábal. “He was a phenomenon. He taught us how to deal with emotions, how to imagine what’s going to happen…” says Alfonso. “It was very productive because he not only listened to you but also helped you,” adds Toni Jiménez. And the ball kept going because they also beat Egypt (2-0) and Qatar (2-0) to find themselves in the quarter-finals against Italy (1-0), the first game in which fans went to Mestalla for An nobody believed the possibility of medals until today. “That game, that win with a goal from Kiko, was key,” explain the three; “Because he was a great rival and we realized that we can beat anyone.” They also beat Ghana (2-0) in the semifinals and fought for the gold against Poland, a team made for the moment because it was two years without changes and with the impossibility of leaving the country, because the sponsorship of the employer required patron Boris Korbel. But Spain, the team of Toni, Lasa, Ferrer, Abelardo, Guardiola, Luis Enrique, Solozábal, Manjarín and Co., won 3-2 at the Camp Nou with a goal from Kiko on Summer.
There was no premium from the Federation, but they took a Seat Toledo for the whole group, which they gave to an NGO and also the Champions Book, a pension plan from La Caixa, which they all received when they turned 50. Because despite all the worries, all the disappointments and adversities, Spain has won Olympic gold. And yes, they all attended the closing ceremony because although it didn’t look like it, it was their tournament too.
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