El Centrocampista

Number One – The life and times of a Barcelona and Spanish legend

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Among the players with flair and an eye for goal that have wowed us in La Liga over the years, we can sometimes forget about those who’s job it is to frustrate them. Goalkeepers rarely get the same level of adulation as their more high profile team mates that occupy the attacking positions on the pitch, yet more often than not they are the difference between success and failure for a team.

Despite the lower profile of the position, Spanish football is currently blessed with some of the greatest goalkeepers in the modern game. Real Madrid star Iker Casillas has been the country’s undisputed number one for a decade now, and is the most capped player in Spain’s history, while the likes of Pepe Reina and Victor Valdes would surelyalso  be centurions had they not been born during the reign of Casillas.

Capped a remarkable 139 times, Casillas has broken a number of records during both his club and international career, although one of his most impressive milestones came in September 2009 when he surpassed the record 59 clean sheets kept by perhaps Spain’s greatest ever goalkeeper, Andoni Zubizarreta.

Zubizarreta began his illustrious career at Basque sides Aretxabaleta and Alavés at youth level, before catching the attention of Athletic Bilbao. A short spell in their second team was quickly followed by elevation to the first team, where he remained the first choice from 1981 to 1986.

It was during this period under manager Javier Clemente, that Athletic Bilbao enjoyed one of the greatest periods in their history, winning La Liga twice consecutively, including a league and cup double in the 1983-84 season, plus the Spanish Supercopa.

Inevitably as that great Athletic Bilbao side began to break up, Zubizarreta moved on to Barcelona for €1.7 million, which was a record fee at the time for a goalkeeper. Zubizarreta would form part what would until recently, be considered one of the greatest and most successful Barcelona sides in the prestigious history of the club, the Dream Team of manager Johan Cruyff. In 1987 he won the Zamora Trophy, awarded to the goalkeeper who has the lowest “goals-to-games” ratio, along with the Don Balón Award as Spanish Player of the Year.

In eight illustrious years with the Catalan giants, he was an integral part of the side that won the Copa del Rey twice (1987–88, 1989–90), four consecutive La Liga titles (1990–91, 1991–92, 1992–93, 1993–94) and the Supercopa twice (1991, 1992), missing only four games during that period. On the continental front he also lifted the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1988–89, plus for the first time in the club’s history, The European Champions Cup in 1991–92.

Following the 4-0 defeat of Barcelona by AC Milan in the Champions League final of 1994, Zubizarreta was hastily moved on to Valencia. It’s often considered that he was unfairly made one of the scapegoats for the defeat, without being allowed to leave the club with the respect and merit he so clearly deserved. While at Valencia he would play at the highest level for four more seasons, until his eventual retirement in 1998.

To this day, Andoni Zubizarreta still holds the Spanish record for league appearances, a total of 622 La Liga games. He also holds the record of 126 caps for the Spanish national side, with whom he featured in the squad at four consecutive World Cups (1986, 1990, 1994, 1998) and two European Championships (1988, 1996).

When he retired just shy of his 37th birthday, he’d played in more than 950 senior matches in all competitions over his remarkable career. As a keeper, along with the majestic acrobatic saves, it was the uncanny ability to get something on the ball to stop goals, be it hands, boot or leg. Excellent reactions, agility and a superb shot stopper, Barcelona struggled to find a comparable replacement for him for a long time after letting him go.

A legendary goalie in Spanish football, as well as on the global stage with the national team, he’s certainly up there amongst the greatest goalkeepers of all time. Since hanging up the gloves, Zubizarreta has worked as both a radio and television commentator and is the current Director of Football at Barcelona – a position he also held at another former club, Athletic Bilbao.

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