The Unknown Story of "Magico" Gonzalez
In football, it is almost natural to know who are the best players. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have shown us the modern greatness of football and so have Maradona and Pelé in the past. These great players have always been pillars of this great sport because of how successful they were in terms of titles and individual stats, but Jorge Alberto Gonzalez Barillas wasn’t a player with many titles or a player who obtained a fantastic goalscoring record. He was a player who played the beautiful game showing his amazing variation of skills during his career. Even though very few people know the full story of “Magico” Gonzalez, in this article I will show you the story of the Salvadorian legend.
Jorge Alberto Gonzalez Barillas was born in 1958 and started his career at the early age of 17 in 1976. That same year, Jorge joined ANTEL, his first club. ANTEL was a team from El Salvador and after an impressive season Jorge gained more recognition and in the next year transferred to a team with a bigger name, Independiente Nacional. After yet another season, this time showing more confidence, Jorge was set to join FAS, the biggest team in El Salvador and the team where he began to show his true magic. In his first season with the club, Jorge helped them win the league championship after the club was in a 16-year drought of titles. That season Jorge displayed a fantastic set of skills, some of which had never been seen before in Football. Jorge in 1976 would already use dribbles like the McGeady Spin, elastico and reverse elastico. McGeady Spin was named after an Irish football player who supposedly invented the dribble in 2009. This just showed how advanced Jorge Gonzalez's abilities were for his time, it almost felt like he came from the future because of his artistic style of play. This way of playing was so fascinating that while he played for FAS Jorge Gonzalez was named “El Mago” during a game by the Salvadorian commentator, and with this, Jorge Gonzalez started to be called “El Mago” or “Magico” Gonzalez.
The Salvadorian Legend
In 1976 when he was only 17 years old Gonzalez was already the captain of El Salvador in a World Cup qualifier game against Costa Rica. This was all because “Magico” Gonzalez was such a big star and had such a bright future ahead he was already appointed as captain. Unfortunately, El Salvador didn’t even get close to qualifying for the 1978 World Cup, as the country wasn’t able to win the 1977 CONCACAF Championship, which would guarantee a spot in the next World Cup. The only time El Salvador had qualified for the World Cup was in 1970 were they lost all their group games.
After the 1978 World Cup, it was time for “Magico” Gonzalez to start his new journey towards the 1982 edition of the World Cup. After being a bit more experienced, Gonzalez looked ready for the upcoming CONCACAF Championship in 1981. The Championship was a group-styled championship where second and first place would qualify for the World Cup. What was tense about this was that there were only 5 games to play meaning that if you didn’t perform between the top 2 you would have to wait another 4 years to try again. When the championship started Gonzalez wasn’t being able to be decisive but was commanding the team to a surprising victory against Mexico, the team that naturally would have ease in qualifying for the World Cup. Even with this good performance against Mexico, El Salvador had complicated itself by losing against Canada and drawing against a weak Cuba side, leading El Salvador to be out of the classification to the World Cup. The last game was against a weak Haiti squad, and Mexico, second place, was going to have a difficult game against 1st placed and guaranteed already in the next World Cup Honduras. In a tense game, El Salvador triumphed over Haiti with a 1-0 score and Mexico drew in a game with no thrill against Honduras. El Salvador with this result qualified for the 1982 World Cup for the second time, and “Magico” Gonzalez as the captain was the one responsible for conducting the team to this historic classification making him a legend when he was only 24 years old.
After a fantastic performance in the CONCACAF Championship in 1981, El Salvador played their second World Cup. Even though the way they qualified for this World Cup was magical, the World Cup itself was the complete opposite of that. In their first game against Hungary, they lost by an impressive record-breaking result, as El Salvador lost 10-1 in the biggest thrashing of the World Cup’s history. El Salvador went on to lose 1-0 to Belgium and 2-0 to Argentina and was eliminated in the first stage of the World Cup. Even though the 1982 World Cup was terrible it was still historical for the Salvadorians as it marked the last time they participated in the World Cup.
In 1982 “Magico” Gonzalez was wanted by many teams in Europe; his ability in dribbling and his speed were out of this world and called large attention towards him from teams like PSG, Atlético de Madrid and Cádiz. The offers that called the most attention were Atletico de Madrid and PSG, two big clubs who were willing to pay a good amount of money for the Salvadorian star. Cádiz was seen by everybody as a weak competitor because of the history of the club and the fact that Cádiz wasn’t even a first-division team. However when Cádiz proposed to buy Gonzalez they were in the tier lower than the elite of Spanish Football making a move to Cádiz unrealistic and ignorant, but Gonzalez was always different from the rest, therefore he chose the underdog Cádiz instead of signing with the other two giant clubs, only because he wanted to have fun and make history just like he did with El Salvador.
In his first season with Cadiz, he showed why he was named “Magico”, as in his first season he did what he promised he was going to do, which was to make history for the club. In the first season, he took the team to the first division of the Spanish league contributed with 14 goals during the season and became the main attraction of Spanish football until the arrival of Diego Maradona to Barcelona in the 1983 season. Diego Maradona was the best player in the world in 1983 and was seen as a reference during that time. When Diego Maradona came to Barcelona he said “Without a doubt amongst the greatest ten players I have ever seen play, in all my life" These were Diego Maradona’s words as he described “Magico” Gonzalez. After this, “Magico” Gonzalez was known at the time as Maradona’s idol, and with this new fame Gonzalez gained a lot of popularity, but at the beginning of the season had problems with the Cádiz coach Benito Joanet who refused sometimes to play Gonzalez due to his personal life getting in the way of training sessions. Gonzalez would sometimes forget he had flights to play in other parts of Spain, this lack of ethics caused him to miss games which infuriated Benito. This conflict of interest between the coach and Gonzalez caused the club to lose their biggest star. As a result, Cadiz’s performances were at best mediocre and Cadiz was relegated in the 1983-84 season.
Despite all of this PSG was ready to make another offer for “Magico” Gonzalez because of issues with the Cádiz manager. Even though Gonzalez didn’t like life in Cádiz, he still chose to stay in Spain instead of moving to France, which many people thought was crazy. At the end of the 84-85 season Gonzalez still ended up leaving Cádiz and departed for his new club Real Valladolid. In Valladolid to avoid his personal life and way of living affecting his game, he was being controlled by the club to make him focus on his profession, but after 9 games he went back to Cádiz.
After his return to Cadiz and several managerial changes, Gonzalez was finally able to get minutes on the field with the new coach Victor Esparrago who recognised the talent of “El Magico”. In four seasons, “Magico” Gonzalez helped Cádiz maintain the club in the first division of Spanish football, and after the 1990-91 season, Gonzalez went back to FAS.
“Magico” Gonzalez was an extraordinary player and was seen by Maradona as one of the best players of all time, but due to his ideology of having fun, Gonzalez wasn’t able to have a successful career in Europe. He definitely was one of the best with the ball, and his abilities were out of this world, as he was able to do skills that had never been seen before with ease, but unfortunately, his choices caused him to become a shadow in Football history. A player who had the potential to be one of the greatest or the greatest of all time ended up being an under-the-radar player, but at least he will be remembered by El Salvador as the greatest player they ever had.
Magico Gonzalez Highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZ5CTZ1P8sM&ab_channel=GiovaSports