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24.09.2008 10:35

“… and his ankle’s gone crack!”

Aleix Santacana

Wednesday night marks the 25th anniversary of the day when Goikoetxea made his infamous tackle on Diego Armando Maradona. That night, as Julio Alberto remembers, the Argentinian’s ankle “went crack!” and the team’s hopes took a frightful knock.

It was a Saturday, the 24th of September 1983 to be precise, the night of the Mercè Festival in Barcelona. Barça were entertaining Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou. In the 13th minute of the second half, Goikoetxea hurtled in on Maradona’s lower leg.

César Luis Menotti was manager of the side back then, and looking back on the events said “I had the two great soloists of the time, Schuster and Maradona. So, my job was just to get the orchestra playing in tune. I knew that as long as the orchestra got the tune right, the soloists would appear. But I would sadly miss them for many, many games, especially Diego”.

Champions in town

It was the fourth game of the 1983/84 season. Barça were the defending cup champions, and Athletic Bilbao had won the league. Menotti considers “that Bilbao team had some really good players but they played football right on the limits.” The Camp Nou was witnessing one the of biggest occasions in football at the time, and the home side was producing all the best play.

The 13th minute

MARADONA_ENGUIXAT.JPGThe mood changed in the 13th minute of the second half. Julio Alberto, playing that night, remembers it well. “Goiko’s tackle on Diego was in his own half, a completely unnecessary one, from behind, which was not even an automatic sending off in those days.” Goikoetxea was raging after an earlier tackle by Schuster, but what he did completely destroyed Maradona’s ankle. “I head the yell and his ankle went crack. We immediately knew how serious an injury it was. They had just broken the best player in the world”.

Early morning operation

maradona.JPGDoctor González Adrio was Barça’s therapist in those days, and had dealt with all of the players at some time. “He was injured at about seven or eight in the evening and by two o’clock that night they were still deciding whether to operate or not. I got calls from Italy, France and Argentina and eventually had to make a drastic decision. They either operated there and then or I wanted to know no more of the affair.”

González Adrio presented his verdict of the events and Goikoetxea was suspended for eighteen games. It would be four months before the Argentinian could play football again.
“… and his ankle’s gone crack!”
Bittersweet win
The game ended with Barça winning comfortably 4-0, but from that day on they were going to have to cope without their biggest star. As Menotti puts it, “if Maradona and Schuster had played all 34 league games, as the likes of Carrasco and Marcos did, we would have easily won the league that year, because I believe we were the best team in Spain.” But Maradona only played 16 games, and Schuster, 22, and Athletic retained their league title.
25 years later and the rules are very different, and tackles like that are severely punished. Julio Alberto said that “the only way with Diego was to go in from behind because otherwise he was unstoppable. Now, luckily, things have changed, and the star players enjoy much greater protection.”

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