This is the translation of an article which was originally written by Batu Anadolu for topraksaha.net in Turkish. Has been translated by @blogtifosi.
On the night of 29 May 1997, the Sun had long left Mississippi as Jeff Buckley, the famous musician, decided to take a swim in the river and never came back. Few hours before that, the world of football was watching another star say goodbye in Madrid as the sunset painted the sky in various colors. Hugo Sánchez, the most important Mexican player of all time, was wearing his snow-white Real jersey for the last time in front of the full stands of Santiago Bernabéu. He was going to respond to the Spanish fans’ thanks with a hat-trick including a bicycle-kick goal — his signature.
A year later, the Azteca Stadium saw a curly-haired man wearing a tracksuit take the symbolic kick-off in an insignificant World Cup Qualification match. It all happened so quickly and simply that one would think it was just an ordinary player the people were watching. But that was the same man who had put on quite a fascinating show in front of 80,000 people in Madrid only a year ago. The difference between those two images symbolized the big difference between Sánchez’s club and country careers. Like one having two separate personalities: Doctor Sánchez and Mister Hugol.
Hugo Sánchez found a father and a brother who were football players and a mother who were a volleyball player in front of him when he opened his eyes for the very first time. His little sister was also going to be a gymnast. Despite being a member of such a sports-oriented family, his exploration of his talent for football happened pretty much by coincidence. The performance he showed during a training he had gone to with his brother was so exceptional that it was a shock even for Hugo. Consequently, by the age of 18, he was a dentist-to-be who also had an Olympics gold medal.
It would be normal for public to doubt his abilities as a striker because of his height, no taller than 1.75. It would have been normal if he hadn’t scored 99 goals during his time playing in Mexico. He had an extreme acrobatic talent thanks to his sister. That talent helped him continue and perfect his father’s bicycle-kick legacy, who had been a semi-pro footballer. By saying “Every goal I scored with a bicycle-kick put a smile on my father’s face, I could feel it that very moment,” he expressed his love and fondness for his family.
Thirteen goals scored for Mexico in three years drew Europe’s best clubs’ attention to him. His European career started above expectations, when he became the league’s top goalscorer in his last year as an Atlético de Madrid striker. However, his performance for his home nation was nowhere near. Actually, it was a collective collapse for Mexican football. The team returned from Argentina (World Cup ’78) without a single point and failed to qualify for the next World Cup. All eyes were on Hugo Sánchez for Mexico. He was having difficulty in getting used to his new role, which made him the key player of his team.
Sánchez’s transfer to the city’s other side created a whole new player. He became a part of ‘The Vulture’s Cohort’, led by Emilio ‘Vulture’ Butragueño while playing at Real Madrid. ‘The Vulture’s Cohort’s effect on Hugo Sánchez’s 4 consecutive ‘pichichi’ (La Liga top goalscorer) awards can’t be denied. Because of his continuous success as the top goalscorer of his league, he was given the nickname ‘pentapichici’ which basically means ‘5 time top goalscorer’. His other nickname was much simpler, ‘Hugol’. While winning the Liga with Real Madrid five years in a row, he never neglected his other profession, dentistry. Even one of his greatest El Clásico rivals Andoni Zubizaretta — the Catalan side’s goalkeeper — got a root canal treatment from him. Sánchez would later say that he made Zubizaretta suffer more on the pitch than on the dental chair.
While all this was happening, there was a different Hugo Sánchez in Mexico. The man on the field was more of a dentist that doesn’t have a clue what he is doing than Mr. Hugol, the man who makes the opposition’s defense suffer for 90 long minutes. He was the greatest hope of the Mexican people who were watching the cup in their homeland. They were still deeply grieved because of the earthquake 7 months before (which had taken 5,000 lives) and wanted to cheer with happiness this time, to cheer the name of Hugo Sánchez. Although the header he scored against Belgium in the first match gave hope to the fans, the penalty he missed against Paraguay was the beginning of the end. Although the fans still loved him, Sánchez would not going score another goal in the national jersey for the next 7 years. The Federation claimed he was ‘undisciplined’ and ‘arrogant’ in the upcoming years. He, on the other hand, explained the difference by the fact that Real Madrid and Mexico were totally different teams. He started managing the national team in 2006 and made the team play with a direct, explosive and attacking football for the following two years. It was like he was criticizing the old days. After a good start, a series of unfortunate results put an end to his days as Mexico’s manager. His conflict with the Mexican Football Federation was — and remains — unsolved.
Despite his quiet farewell in 1998, Sánchez turned into a legend in his country. He was a phenomenon; there were journalists in Yugoslavia getting over soldiers saying his name and people in Mexico getting through passport control using his name. He has been selected as the best North American player ever by the FIFA. But for the Mexican people, one thing is for sure: there wasn’t a ‘Doctor Sánchez’ for them, nor was there a ‘Mr. Hugol’. They just loved the hope that came with the name of ‘Hugo Sánchez’.