This article is part of a series by Aztec Reports chronicling the most important cultural, artistic and political figures in Mexican society.
Today it is commonplace for Mexican football stars to be playing in Europe’s top leagues. Rafa Márquez, Chicharito Hernández, and Chucky Lozano are three big names whose careers have been or will be defined by stints with the biggest club names in Europe.
Their path to the old continent, though, came paved for them in a way as it was Mexican legend Hugo Sánchez who was the country’s first superstar on the European club level. Still regarded as probably the greatest Mexican footballer of all-time, the former Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid forward scored exactly 400 goals in his illustrious club career with some of the world’s biggest brand names.
Sánchez won five straight Spanish league titles with Real Madrid and took home the league’s player of the year trophy in four consecutive seasons. His mantel from that decorated tenure also includes a UEFA Cup championship and a Copa del Rey title, which was his second such title after winning one in 1985 with Atlético Madrid.
His mark of 164 goals in 207 matches is good enough for him to remain 6th on Real Madrid’s all-time leading goalscorer list, which is littered with names of the game’s best ever players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Alfredo Di Stefano. He is also the co-author of other records at the famed club, like being one of just four players in Real Madrid history to score four goals in a European Club match and the first player in club history to win the European Golden Shoe (the highest scorer on the continent) when he did so in 1990.
In a 1988 club game, Real Madrid took on Logroñés and Sánchez scored on the perfect bicycle kick (or “chilena“) with his left foot, leaving everyone so stunned that even the match referee approached him to thank Sánchez for letting him witness “the greatest goal ever.”
The goal, seen below, is still regarded as one of the best ever bicycle kicks and the acrobatic Sánchez followed it up with his usual celebration: an aerial flip.
The highlights of his managerial career include a three-year stint at the head of the Mexican national team and his time winning back-to-back league titles with Pumas in Mexico’s Liga MX.
Sánchez’s impact on Mexican football is immense. While playing, he scored 29 goals for his country and helped lead El Tricolor to the 1986 World Cup quarterfinals on home soil, which remains the last time the Mexicans have made it that far in a Copa del Mundo. And, even long into retirement, he’s regarded as the first great Mexican player and a trailblazer who paved the way for all the others who would eventually his path to find success in Europe on football’s brightest stages.
In his early days in Madrid, Sánchez confronted waves of xenophobia from Spaniards who looked down on Latin American players. While at Atlético Madrid, he would hear the jeers of “Indian” or “Dirty Mexican” from the stands. The only way Sánchez knew how to shut the bigotry up was to respond with his play. By the end of his time there in the Spanish capital, he had quieted the racism and had people chanting his name, instead. “When I began in Spain, people were yelling ‘Indian’ at me,” he recalled to a reporter. “And when I left, they were yelling ‘Hugo’.”
Sánchez can still be seen on ESPN Deportes, with what is left of his iconic curly mane, as he’s been a football analyst on the World Wide Leader since 2015.