Now he is the coach of Argentina, but that March 6, 2002, 20 years ago this Sunday, Lionel Scaloni was a gunpowder who walked in his underpants on the lawn of the Santiago Bernabéu, unleashed, a sports icon of an unforgettable final. He had just climbed the crossbar of the goal at the north end of the Madrid Coliseum and when he caught his breath he managed to say: “The years will pass and we will continue to talk about this game.” It is so. Twenty years later, the Copa del Rey final between Deportivo and Real Madrid is still valid in a football memory that identifies it as the centennialthe night that a guest from the provinces arrived at the 100th birthday party of the then FIFA-nominated best club of the 20th century, ate the cake and took the gift.
Seen over time it may seem heroic, but that sieve also serves to conclude that Deportivo was at the top of its footballing history, at the level of a rival that lined up Zidane, Figo, Raúl and Roberto Carlos. During the previous month, the team coached by Javier Irureta had beaten Celta, who was the leader of the League, in Vigo. And he came from solving a double duel in the Champions League against Juventus, with whom he tied at Delle Alpi and which he beat at Riazor. A week after winning the Cup, another victory, this time at Highbury against Arsenal, is identified as the team’s greatest footballing display.
But the memory always refers to the Bernabéu and a unique appointment. “What I have left is the joy and pride of victory and not the aftertaste of having spoiled any celebration”, recalls Mauro Silva, the best player of that match, compared in the chronicle signed by Santiago Segurola in this newspaper with Obdulio Varela, the charrúa nicknamed El Negro Jefe, leader of Uruguay’s World Cup victory against Brazil in 1950, the maracanazo.
Varela harangued his own before jumping in front of 200,000 Brazilian souls: “Don’t think about all those people, or the noise, don’t look up. The game is played downstairs, those outside are made of sticks”. Mauro Silva led by example. Sergio, today coach of Cádiz, had scored for Deportivo after six minutes of the match. After taking Scaloni out of the center, he ran over Raúl, who staggered out and got into trouble with Mauro, whom he faced. The now president of the São Paulo soccer federation grabbed him by the chest. He is not remembered in another like him in his exemplary career. His friend Roberto Carlos separated him, but by then goalkeeper Molina had traveled 40 meters to face Raúl. “The fact that a person as respectful as Jose reacted like this served to make everyone realize that we were serious,” says Mauro Silva.
In the previous days, the program of celebrations for that birthday for which the Federation offered the White House to host the final slipped, and there was a debate about the Madrid sympathies of the Government, then with José María Aznar at the helm. Florentino Pérez took the floor: “There are only two ministers associated with Madrid: Mariano Rajoy and Pío Cabanillas”, a Galician and a son of a Galician. He didn’t exactly fix the grudges. He was also unable to announce the results of a survey commissioned by his club and which found that 49% of Spaniards were from Real Madrid.
Deportivo became the club of half plus one. And its footballers charged the batteries of motivation in the destinations they visited before the appointment. Also when as soon as they arrived in Madrid they heard the mayor Álvarez del Manzano launch a plea to the rival’s followers. “I ask that after the victory we have common sense and that no one gets on the Cibeles”. That’s how it went.
The preview was frantic. On the morning of the game, an unexpected problem arose at Deportivo’s headquarters, on José Abascal street. The players threatened with a plant for an argument over the number of tickets for their relatives. “If they can’t get on the field, we don’t play,” assured some of the team’s heavyweights. Tickets finally appeared. “Three Bernabéus would have been filled”, explained the federatives. But the fact of playing at home turned the match into one more for the madridista supporter.
For the 25,000 Galicians who traveled to Madrid, it was not. Before the teams went out to warm up, while white fans routinely moved towards the stadium, the north background was blue and white. Djalminha, who was a substitute, entered the dugout to give a warning to his teammates: “Uncles. There is half of Coruña out there!”. Shortly before, he had had a conversation with Flavio Conceiçao, also a reserve, but from Real Madrid. They had played in Palmeiras and Deportivo. He asked how they could get something to drink after the game. “I will not be able. I have to go to the party”, answered Flavio naively. In the conversation was Fran, who spoke Galician: “The party? Man… First we have to play!”.
“There are things that were well tied up and soon became untied”, warned, between irony and prevention, Vicente del Bosque, Real Madrid coach. Diego Tristán scored the second goal before the break and at the Bernabéu all you could hear was “what a Riazor boat”. But during the break, Javier Irureta issued a notice in the sports booth: “Guys, you have had a magnificent first half, but the hardest part is yet to come”. Madrid pressed. He did it in front of the goal where the blue and white fans were because Fran, who had won the draw in the greeting between captains, rejected the option to serve and chose the field. It had been a suggestion from Lendoiro to Irureta and the captain applied it. Raúl discounted (1-2) with just over half an hour to play, but Deportivo took the Cup, the second in its history. The blue and white stands broke out in a chant dedicated to the hosts: “Happy Birthday!” Even today in Riazor they sing about the Cup “that it will last 100 years”.
King Juan Carlos identified Irureta in the formal greetings. “I always see you on TV with the glasses and the gum,” he told her. “You’re a phenomenon,” replied the coach. The Cup was raised by Fran, who later remembered how every time he had offspring he won a trophy. Two months earlier, her son Nico, today a Barcelona player, had been born. The challenge of finding a place to celebrate the victory had a simple resolution. In a barbecue, not far from the Bernabéu, a feast had been reserved for a soccer team. Deportivo ate the dinner ordered by Madrid and at seven in the morning a disc jockey Exhausted, he closed the booth of his nightclub while an Augusto Presidente moved around the dance floor singing: “Living in A Coruña is nice, partying and sleeping on your feet”.
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