Wednesday, November 29

Gary Lineker: ‘Diego was a confusing mess, but what a lovely boy’ | Barcelona

GRAMAry Lineker never thought he was a great footballer until fifteen days in Spain changed everything. The way he tells his story, it happened suddenly and in slow motion: 34 years later he sees himself watching the ball fall into the net, wondering what was going on. It was the last day of January 1987 and he had just scored his third against Real Madrid at the Camp Nou, his first classic hat-trick in 24 years. Eighteen days later, he got four against Spain at the Bernabéu. “And that,” he says, “is when I realized I was good at this.”

Wait a minute. You have just been the top scorer in the first division for the second year in a row. He scored in the FA Cup final. You had joined Barcelona for £ 2.8 million. Only one player had cost him more and that was Diego Maradona. Oh, and you had won the World Cup Golden Boot. “Yes,” says Lineker, “but I thought it was a fluke: I had a lot of connections.” There are no smiles or giggles, no irony or false modesty. So when it is suggested that 1986 was the perfect year in football, he responds: “Maybe if you include the first two months of 1987, if we go from February to February.”

Everybody that and it wasn’t until later That everything fell into place There is much to learn from a long conversation about five sometimes improvised locations in Madrid on a Friday night, from the hotel roof to the bus, the bar, the stairs and the restaurant, as Lineker remembers his career, but most Surprising could be that it didn’t. Don’t anticipate it happening at all. This city changed things.

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“I used to think that at every level that I reached they were going to find me, even though I kept scoring goals. When I got two in the first five minutes of 1987 classic, the thought process was: ‘How the hell is this happening?’ Right after the break, I drank it from Paco Buyo. I can see him come in and I’m like, ‘OMG, I scored a hat-trick.’ Then came England. Running back to downtown, asking Bryan Robson, ‘Robbo, why am I so lucky?’ He said, ‘Oh, fuck you.’ You hear the players say how confident they were. I was not. I was getting away with it, I thought he was throwing me off.

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“In Leicester I played in the reserves with my heroes and I thought: ‘This is not me.’ I got into the first team, I started scoring and I thought, ‘Oh.’ When I was called to England, Gordon Milne called and I thought, ‘What have I done?’ I said, ‘Hey, hey boss, everything okay?’ “Yeah, grab a bag, get a toothbrush ready.” Bobby Robson was there. I’m in my little Fiat driving to England thinking, ‘Damn hell. Tony Woodcock, Peter Shilton, Trevor Francis … What am I doing here? They were all lovely. “

If Lineker couldn’t figure out why this was happening, he had figured out how to score goals, a trade he discusses in forensic detail. “Instinct? It’s not instinct for me. What I did have was a cool head. I was quite cold, I didn’t have much empathy, I don’t think I would have liked it then, I was motivated, I could deal with pressure and I thought a lot about the game. “.

He never thought of going to Barcelona until he did and even then he wasn’t sure, even though Terry Venables was the coach, and no coach would be closer in his career. “Everton were the best team I played for by miles. Had it not been for the penalty, we probably would have won the European Cup because we were such a good side, “says Lineker. “I had no choice. Howard Kendall called,” We have accepted an offer. ‘Ah, OK.’ It was all a bit strange. He said we were too direct, which was silly. I would have stayed and won a lot. “

New Barcelona signings Mark Hughes (l) and Gary Lineker photographed at the Camp Nou stadium in 1986
Mark Hughes and Gary Lineker were Barça’s big signings in the summer of 1986. Photograph: David Cannon / Getty Images

Everton were runners-up in the league and lost the FA Cup final to Liverpool, which still hurts. “The most ridiculous thing was that both teams toured the city in an open-top bus. The Liverpool man was in front with two trophies. We continue with none and without fans. Peter Reid said, ‘Fuck this’ and got off. He should have done the same, but he was too kind. It was an act of supreme cruelty. Desperate. Everton won the league the years before I joined and after I left, so maybe it was me.

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“Terry was smart, he got it, we spent hours talking about the game. Others were credited with inventing it afterwards, but he brought the full press and Barcelona won La Liga. [in 1985], beat Madrid at the Bernabéu, reached the final of the European Cup [in 1986]. But the penalties against Steaua had a devastating effect. Terry was a very optimistic guy and that hurt him. I knew they had lost the final, but I didn’t realize that I had joined a mourning club. Terry said, ‘We have to make this work again.’

Then there is no pressure. “I was never that kind of character [to drag a team up]. I’m not sure how they “sold” me. I was a scorer, a great signing: Mark Hughes and me. But this is the club where Cruyff, Maradona has been two years before, and you can’t talk about me at the same time. I’m not in that league, I never was ”.

Lineker, however, scored twice on his debut against Racing Santander and three times against Madrid, arriving early at the newsstand for the newspapers the next day. There were 21 goals that season, 20 the next. But Hughes was struggling and the results meant Venables was replaced by Luis Aragonés and then Johan Cruyff, who saw Lineker as a winger.

“Cruyff didn’t love me,” he says. “He played with me on the wing, so I got mad and asked him to move. It was obvious. You could only have two foreigners and he wanted his. I understood and accepted that, my ego is not that big, but he did not have the courage to tell me. I wish I had said, ‘Johan, I’d love to play for you, you’re a genius, but if you don’t love me, let’s make a move.’ Your system was made for me. The center forward cannot leave the limits of the area, he runs close to the post. That’s my game! Play me! That’s what I do! But he didn’t give me a chance. Go forward. Anyone can play for the wings. Honestly it is easy. Then he would take me out early to complain. I’m not stupid “.

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“There was a classic Towards the end where we had to win I sat down on the bench. ‘This is rare’. In three classicsHe had scored a hat-trick and two winners. The bogeyman of Madrid. Right before the break, the crowd says, ‘Lineker! Lineker! ‘Second half:’ Lineker, Lineker! ‘ He didn’t even let me get warm. There were twenty minutes left, I looked across: ‘you don’t have the balls,‘you don’t have the balls. Everyone listened to me, he left me blank, we tied 0-0. But! Did I dislike him? No. I thought he was a great coach? Absolutely. Did it bother me when he died? Yes! He was one of the greatest of all time and I totally understood his position. “

Barcelona forward Gary Lineker (r) shoots while Hugo Sánchez of Real Madrid looks on during the 'Clásico' between Barcelona and Real Madrid at Camp Nou on January 31, 1987
Gary Lineker in action during the Classic in January 1987, in which he scored a hat-trick. Photograph: Getty Images

Lineker returned to London, meeting Venables at the Spurs. Then came Japan, where retirement came early but still later than he would have chosen. The foot injuries were excruciating – “if they had said, ‘We can kill you,’ I would have said, ‘Yes, please’” – and Lineker calls his last two years ‘purgatory’. Having overlooked a stress fracture, Grampus pushed him into eight-month rehab to save face and complete his contract. He was still limping when he did.

“Football is fun, you completely identify with your clubs when you play, but then I retired and Leicester came back: you go back to your roots. Sport is better when you worry and have magical moments like 2016 or the FA Cup that make you cry. ”However, no man brought her more joy than Lionel Messi, absent now as Lineker looks forward to Sunday. classic, the game that changed him. There is still hope, ties with Barcelona and Spain are maintained.

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“It’s sad that he’s gone, but I’m happy that people can now appreciate what he did over the years,” says Lineker. “Even in a quiet game you see three or four things about Messi that I would not have achieved in my entire career. ‘How?“ He plays as if he had another Messi 12 meters high who sees everything and is playing it. His thought process is different, an incredible gift. Honestly, no one comes close to him except Diego. [Maradona]. And they are 17 years old. Diego was only a few because of his problems.

“Peter Shilton will never ever forgive Maradona and I understand that,” says Lineker, but he feels different. “There is handball and before the second there is a foul in [Glenn] Hoddle. I hadn’t realized it until we saw him again for a documentary and it was all, ‘Oh. Me. God.’ So both goals should not be valid, I scored the winner, we won the World Cup! Only two players in my life could score that: Messi and Maradona. Clapping crossed my mind. I can’t, obviously, and I’m heartbroken and screwed up, but that was too good, man. They would have killed me, they would have given me the Beckham effigies – I didn’t applaud, but I thought, ‘That’s just unbelievable.’

Argentine Diego Maradona (left) is greeted by Englishman Gary Lineker after the 1986 World Cup quarterfinals. Lineker says Diego Maradona (left) was' great company: funny, smart, you can't be a great footballer without being smart '
Argentine Diego Maradona (left) is greeted by England’s Gary Lineker after the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals. Lineker says Diego Maradona (left) was ‘a great company: funny, smart, you can’t be a great footballer without being smart’ Photograph: Lars Nyberg-Expressen / Reuters

“Diego was a confusing mess, but what a lovely boy. I spent time with him and he’s crazy. Everywhere is chaos and you think: how may are you staying sane? I thought, thank god I wasn’t that good, which sounds weird and maybe I would have handled it, but I don’t know. Diego got into drugs, that mafia world, but he was a great company: funny, smart, you can’t be a great footballer without being smart.

“I did the World Cup draw on television with him once. It was a complicated draw, a lot of information and we passed it without errors. At the end I said something like, ‘You’ve always been good with your hands’ and he jokes about punching the ball. He gave me a big hug and said: ‘You were a good footballer, but if you were as good at football as this, you could, could, they’ve been as good as me. ‘

Lineker smiles. “It’s not beautiful? That made my day. you could they have been as good as me: a little underrated, but soft, warm. And I get it: it wasn’t that good. He was just a scorer ”.

Watch the classic on LaLigaTV tomorrow. Coverage begins at 1:00 p.m. with Gary Lineker as host live from the Camp Nou with Aitor Karanka and Albert Ferrer

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