A legendary Latin playmaker who could do the truly remarkable yet struggled with some aspects of professionalism. Yes, surprisingly, he was great mates with Diego.
By Nick Boffa
I’ll set the scene for you; Napoli in the summer of 1986 at the team training camp as Diego Maradona, fresh from Argentinian triumph at the World Cup, is greeted with chants, roars and cheers from a raucous crowd. Diego turns to veteran journalist Bruno Passarelli and quips; “Wow, these fans are amazing but imagine if they knew there was a player better than me and he still plays in Cadiz!”
The diminutive world-beater was talking, naturally, about his Central American contemporary and friend, Jorge González, aka El Mágico.
Never heard of him? Read on…
Jorge González was born in San Salvador into modest surroundings in 1958 and began his professional career in 1975, first with ANTEL and then Independiente Nacional. The playmaker moved to FAS in 1977, the beginning of a lifelong association between club and player. Whilst still unknown on the world stage, González already had a burgeoning reputation when he embarked on the biggest success in El Salvadorean football – the 1982 World Cup in Spain.
A true number ten in the South American understanding, González was seen as a key component in any form of modest success for the national side. The tournament was by no means an embarrassment for the minnows; after being humbled 10-1 by Hungary in their first game, Los Cuzcatlecos put in respectable performances to lose 1-0 and 2-0 to Belgium and Argentina respectively. However, many of the world’s biggest clubs were very taken with the wily, mop-topped playmaker pulling the strings in everything the Central Americans created.
González, whose exploits garnered him the nickname El Mágico, was the subject of bids from Atlético Madrid and Paris Saint Germain (rumour has it the French club had a deal all but scuppered when González didn’t show up to sign the contract) but eventually signed for modest Spanish side Cádiz, then playing in the second division. At Cádiz, the El Salvadorean found his paradise – raucous fans so impressed with his on-field feats that they overlooked his off-field proclivities that often got in the way of aforementioned feats being delivered. That being said, his first season in Spain ended with 15 league goals and Cádiz promoted (cue those raucous fans).
Ah, off-field proclivities. Where to begin?
To say that El Mágico was a fan of the nightlife would be the understatement of the century. Such was his love of the nocturnal activities on offer in Cádiz, he genuinely never wanted to leave. A short-lived spell at Valldolid ended in acrimony and González returned to Cádiz after just nine appearances. In 1984, he was invited on a pre-season tour of the United States with Barcelona, who were keen to sign him alongside the original prankster himself, Diego Maradona. One story involves the Argentine setting off the hotel fire alarm as a prank; El Mágico was entertaining a lady in his hotel room and knowing about the prank, chose not to leave the hotel as requested. When he was marched into the lobby by security, with the young lady for company, the Barcelona hierarchy were the only ones less impressed than González.
Another story involves his long-suffering manager at Cádiz, David Vidal, the man tasked with getting the best out of the playmaker for the good of the side. Vidal was touring the local nightspots looking to drag González home to bed. He was hidden by a sympathetic DJ under the turntables where he promptly fell asleep and later woke to find himself in an empty nightclub. For the record, Vidal tolerated his star’s lackadaisical attitude to training – he was once absent without permission for 18 sessions in a row – to get the best out of him. Vidal once complained that González “could sleep for 15 hours a day.”
For his part, González insisted he needed to stay up late due to the time difference between Spain and El Salvador, even long into his stay in Spain, which, frankly, is just brilliant.
Yet, for all the understandable frustrations of Vidal, El Mágico produced admirable performances for his employers. The 1990 semi-finals of the Copa del Rey and their highest league finish in 1988 both coincided with González pulling the strings. His talent was undeniable and plain to see.
In truth, González was a hedonist; everything in his life revolved around enjoying himself and football was simply something he did for pleasure. “I don’t like to treat football as a job, I just play for fun.”
In the end, Vidal’s willingness to indulge his lifestyle led to González spurning multiple offers from more prestigious clubs to stay in Cådiz. One such story involves the playmaker putting in a lacklustre training performance in front of interested scouts from Atalanta. Team-mates were said to believe the move didn’t interest their star because northern Italian cuisine would not include the fried fish variety that he was so enamoured with in coastal Spain.
Pure hedonist, right?
Jorge González returned to El Salvador in 1992 at the age of 33 and signed on with former side FAS. For all his well-documented lifestyle quirks and reputed lack of application, he continued playing until 2000. Along the way he became both the oldest player to score and appear for the national side, aged 35 and 40 respectively. González married Anna Ruano, the daughter of another prominent footballer and his son went on to play top-flight football in El Salvador.
With talent to burn and a devil-may-care approach, El Mágico rightfully sits amongst the greats in this prestigious Rogues Gallery.