a year ago

The spirit of Juanito legend is back

Ninety minutes in the Bernabeu is a very long time

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Real Madrid have performed like the comic book superhero version of the club that we grew up hearing stories of, staging a series of remontadas (Spanish for a comeback) at Santiago Bernabéu during the nights of the UEFA Champions League this season.

In the last 16 against Paris Saint-Germain, they were outplayed for three quarters of the tie and 2-0 down on aggregate before Benzema produced a brilliant hat-trick.

An even better treble from the French centre-forward had Madrid 3-1 up and cruising against Chelsea in the quarter-finals.

However, Real dug a hole for themselves and were struggling at their own Bernabéu on the second leg with Chelsea establishing a 3-0 lead against Carlo Ancelotti’s men.

But just when they looked down and out, Rodrygo volleyed in a pass from the magician Luka Modric, and Benzema popped up in the additional period to remind the world not to write off the knights of the white shirt before the final whistle is blown -- especially at their own fortress.

And then what happened against Manchester City at arguably one of the best ties of Champions League football was beyond any footballing explanation.

The "Si se puede! (Yes we can!)" chants gradually faded at the Santiago Bernabéu as the minutes passed and Real Madrid looked beaten.

It seemed that there would be no magical night at the Bernabéu for the 13-time European champions this time.

But Madrid took its Champions League comebacks to another level on Wednesday, rallying late with two goals in two minutes by the super-sub Rodrygo to force extra time and defeat Manchester City 3-1 to reach the final.

Karim Benzema, the hero of Madrid’s previous comebacks this season, converted a penalty kick in extra time for the decisive goal that allowed Madrid to advance 6-5 on aggregate after a 4-3 first-leg semifinal loss in which it escaped losing by a bigger margin.

PSG, Chelsea and Manchester City realised, “Ninety minutes in the Bernabeu is a very long time.”

This famous quote which is cemented permanently in the history books of Real Madrid has resurfaced again following the club's season of comebacks, with fans worldwide sharing it with a sense of pride and royalty.

Real Madrid Juanito made this famous quote, rightly put as the club has a rich history of such magical comebacks.

Former Spain forward Juanito starred in the great Madrid teams of the 1980s alongside the likes of Jorge Valdano and Emiliano Butragueno who, just like the current crop of players, had the same 'never give up' mentality.

With time, Juanito became a symbol of Madrid’s desire to fight to the end and claimed he would have been an ultra (a gang of right-wing football hooligans associated with Real Madrid) on the terraces had he not been a player.

This meant he was tenacious, for better or worse.

A shocking assault on Bayern Munich's Lothar Matthaus in 1987 was an example of some of his dark sides.

After a 2-0 defeat against Inter Milan in the first leg of the 1984/85 UEFA Cup at San Siro, Juanito famously warned the Serie A side, “Ninety minutes in the Bernabeu is a very long time.”

Juanito lived up to his promise and Madrid promptly won 3-0 and lifted the trophy in the final that followed.

They repeated it the next season, losing 3-1 in Italy before beating Inter 5-1 after extra time. By that point, it had become a ridiculous habit.

Real Madrid’s reputation for Remontadas’

Borussia Monchengladbach crushed Real Madrid 5-1 in the 1985/86 round of 16 before being brought down to earth with a 4-0 defeat at Bernabeu.

In the same stage of the previous season, Anderlecht won 3-0 against Madrid before enduring a 6-1 hammering in the return.

These magical comebacks were attributed to the 'Spirit of Juanito,' something Madridistas celebrated even more poignantly after the player’s tragic death in a car crash in 1992.

Juanito- the beginning and tragic end

Juanito joined Real Madrid on 19 November 1976.  His official presentation as a player happened a year later, in 1977 where he culminated another one of his legendary phrases, “Entering this club is like touching the sky, I’d prefer Real Madrid among all the clubs and Madrid among all the cities."

In his 10 years at Real Madrid, he got the nickname 'Juanito Maravilla' which translates to 'little Juan the Miracle.'

He won five league titles (three of them were consecutive), two Copa Del Reys, two UEFA Cups, and reached the 1981 European Cup final, in which Los Blancos lost 1-0 to Liverpool.

He also won the Pichichi trophy as the best goalscorer of the 83-84 season

In 1987, Juanito got a five-year ban from UEFA for violently stomping on a Bayern player following a scuffle involving both the sides in the semi-final of the European Cup.

He was fined by Real Madrid and got a termination of the contract with the club. That was a dramatic end of Juanito’s magnificent ten-year Real Madrid career.

After leaving Real Madrid, he played at Málaga for two seasons and then became head coach of Mérida.  He dreamt of coming back to Real Madrid as a coach which drove him forward.

Sadly, everything came to a shocking end as Juanito was killed in a road accident while returning to his house in Mérida after watching a Real Madrid game. He was only 37.

Resurface of Juanito’s Spirit

There are numerous poems, songs, and stories written about the legends of Juanito. However, the original spirit of Juanito slowly disappeared a bit into the shuffles in the last decade.

“Leave my father in peace, every time you mention his name to make a comeback, we lose,” Roberto, the offspring of Madrid hero Juanito, tweeted back in 2016.

Madrid's reputation for remontadas had become somewhat tenuous by then.

In 2012/13, 4-1 down to Jurgen Klopp’s rampant Borussia Dortmund in the semi-finals of the Champions League, Jose Mourinho’s Madrid failed to turn things around despite a whole manner of talk to the contrary.

Also, in the Champions League era, Madrid had been more likely to lose from a winning position than pull off a comeback.

Such turnarounds were a fading memory of decades past when Roberto made his plea and Madrid faced up to another Bundesliga-crafted exit.

In the home leg of the 2013/14 quarter-final against Wolfsburg, Cristiano Ronaldo rattled the visiting side with a hat-trick and Real Madrid turned around from a 2-0 first-leg defeat at Wolfsburg.

There were no other comebacks comparable to the Wolfsburg quarter-final under Zidane, but it
set in motion a remarkable run of three consecutive Champions League triumphs at a time when Madrid rarely knew when they were beaten.

But what happened this season against three of Europe's best, re-surfaced the Juanito Spirit at Bernabeu. Seasons like this will continue burnishing the mythology of Real Madrid.

It’s only fitting to conclude this piece with one of the most famous lines written on late Madrid hero Juanito -

"When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen’s off with her head
Remember what Juanito said."

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