Emilio Butragueño: The ‘Vulture’ Of Spanish Football

The Spanish national team wasn’t always recognised for their free-flowing style or tiki-taka inspired approach-play. Whilst La Roja enjoy their current status as one of the most enticing national outfits on the entire planet, there was once a time in which Spanish football was still clearly trying to find its feet upon the grand international stage.

Although Spain have seemingly always had a wealth of well-versed professionals to call upon over the years – including everyone from the likes of Andres Iniesta, Xavi and David Villa, to certain antiquated favourites such as Francisco Gento and Alfredo Di Stefano – traversing the demands and requirements of top-flight international football hasn’t always proven a successful task for the determined Spaniards.

Collective expectations were nonetheless set rather high for Spain throughout the 80s and early 90s, with much of that growing hype and sensation centred upon a man by the name of ‘El Buitre’; one of the most proficient and effective natural goal-scorers of his era.

He may not have won countless trophies whilst representing La Roja during those famed golden days, but the striker nonetheless impressed many with his reliable finishing and dependable nature in one-on-one scenarios. On the back of such a hard-earned reputation, El Buitre was subsequently celebrated as a leading light for Spain and their growing tournament ambitions.

Before there was Alvaro Morata, there was the up and coming young sensation that was Fernando Torres. Before there was Fernando Torres, there was the undeniably resourceful poacher that was Raúl. And before there was Raúl, there was a famed Bernabeu favourite who seriously knew how to find the back of the net with the utmost composure and confidence.

He served as the unrelenting ‘vulture’ of Spanish football, and his name was Emilio Butragueño.

Butragueño was characterised as El Buitre (The Vulture) on the back of two standout factors. The moniker initially acted as a clever play on the striker’s surname – but once Real Madrid’s star centre-forward grew in stature with his keen eye for goal inside the final third – it became clear that Emilio Butragueño was something of a vulture in his approach-play too, always circling the opposition’s penalty-box in the hope of picking up an easy meal.

Nine times out of ten, the tactic would work wonders for El Buitre. After breaking through at the Bernabeu and establishing himself out as a first-team regular for both Real Madrid and Spain, Emilio Butragueño fast developed into something of an admired cult hero among the Spanish game. His movement was instinctual and effective, as was his finishing from close-quarter scenarios.

What he lacked in technique and sheer physical dominance, the striker more than made up for via his remarkable consistency and outstanding ability to find himself at the right place and time on more than just the odd occasion. Most if not all of Butragueño’s finishes arrived from inside the penalty-box of course, yet such an outcome seemingly failed to damage his impressive reputation after scoring over 120 goals in less than 350 games for Los Blancos.

Alongside each of Manuel Sanchis, Rafael Martin Vazquez, Miguel Pardeza and Michel, four other high-flying Spaniards who were also fortunate enough to graduate from Real Madrid’s famed youth academy of La Fabrica, Butragueño and his pals become widely excepted as ‘La Quinta del Buitre’, or more specifically – ‘The Vulture’s Cohort’.

The philosophy of promoting youth over experience would eventually prove a successful one, for whilst Spain ultimately failed to deliver upon their burgeoning potential at the 1984 European Championships and the 1986 World Cup, Real Madrid nonetheless claimed six separate league titles and multiple cups whilst Emilio Butragueño and co. were weaving their magic for Los Blancos inside the final third.

The Vulture eventually ended his top-flight career as a Ballon d’Or Bronze Ball winner and runner-up with Spain at the 1984 European Championship in France. He finished with the same amount of goals as Argentina’s Diego Maradona at the 1986 World Cup, four of which coming in one match against the Danes, and served to enthral constant La Liga onlookers with his undeniable talent and noticeably clean-cut style.

Now, after working behind the scenes at the Bernabeu as an ongoing servant of his beloved Real Madrid, El Buitre can finally relax and look back on his impressive career with pride and satisfaction. He has seen himself develop into one of the most time-honoured sons of the entire Spanish game, and quite deservedly too with all things fairly considered.

Although there have arguably been several superior forwards to step up and carry on where Butragueño left off for the Spanish national side, El Buitre deserves credit for spearheading his nation’s dynamic front-line for many a hard-fought season. He set a truly remarkable tone that many of his fellow striking successors would soon learn to follow.

Spain have paid witness to a whole host of exciting goal-scorers and natural born strikers throughout the decades, but when all is said and done and subsequent generations are left to cast their vote on just who was the most deadly Spanish finisher of all time – there will seemingly never be another player quite like Emilio Butragueño, the persistent yet lovable ‘vulture’ of Spanish football.