Diego Maradona is absolutely adamant that Mágico González is one of the greatest players he has seen. That’s quite a strange thing to hear about someone who played in Spain for nine years and left without any accolades.
It’s quite easy to say “Oh, well that’s just Maradona talking, and he’s quite mad” but then you look at the life and career of González and completely get it. Mágico was a great footballer – he just wasn’t much of a professional.
“Without a doubt amongst the greatest ten players I have ever seen play, in all my life”
– Diego Maradona on Mágico González
One of the reasons Maradona speaks so highly of Mágico has to be how similar they were. That on its own is quite the statement, but the similarities are pretty obvious. Here were two Latin-American, exciting footballers with extravagant technical skill and an incredibly strong liking for an equally extravagant nightlife.
Maradona certainly sets a bar for those things that no one matches, somehow able to balance cocaine, links to organised crime, and illegitimate children with winning the World Cup on his own – Mágico wasn’t on a level with any of that, accepting a different role in life.
“Of course someone named ‘Mágico González’ was an exciting footballer with an off the rails private life” you’re thinking – well, devastatingly, González’s parents weren’t eccentric enough to name their son ‘Mágico’, instead settling on Jorge. He was born in El Salvador, his career there finding him at FAS, one of the biggest clubs in the country. His five years there saw González win three league titles and in 1979 the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup for the only time in their history.
El Salvador was a poor, unstable country at the time, and erupted in civil war in 1979. Despite this, the nation somehow managed to qualify for the 1982 World Cup in Spain – the second, and so far last time they accomplished this. The team may not have made it past the first round, but Mágico made people take notice, immediately being sought after by Atlético Madrid. That move didn’t come to fruition, but Spanish second division side Cádiz were also interested – ‘why not, let’s try it’, Mágico reportedly said.
Mágico claims that he had never touched cigarettes or alcohol before he moved to Spain – quite an incredible statement considering how dominant they would become to his career.
Cádiz would become the place where Mágico truly made his name (literally, really, as it was there that he became known as Mágico) – even if the status of that name never lived up to his talent. Maradona said he was one of the greatest, yet he moved to the second division while Maradona joined Barcelona for a world record fee the same year. But there lies the great difference in their personalities – despite all the similarities, Maradona was going to make sure he was the greatest, whereas Mágico just didn’t really care.
But that’s not a lack of caring about football, he loved football, it was more that he just wanted to do what he wanted and have fun. While other very talented players strived for success, enduring the immense pressure that came with it, Mágico Gonzalez just did what felt good – none of the high-pressure stuff really mattered.
“I admit I’m no saint. I love going out at night and partying, and not even my mother could dissuade me. I don’t like looking at football as a job. If I did that, it wouldn’t be me. I only play for fun.”
And that was who he was as a footballer. It was a game, it was fun, why bother with the difficult stuff? It’s an attitude that you can’t help but love as a fan. A highly talented player, not really interested in all the professional stuff, just wanting to have fun and enjoy himself. The same reason Garrincha naturally had a charisma to him that Pelé always lacked – Garrincha was just a player, Pelé was a professional.
That’s the perspective of a fan, anyway, and Cádiz fans love Mágico to this day. It is very much not the perspective of a football club. Cádiz had their star, but he was far from reliable. Mágico maintains that stories of him sleeping in until half-time and showing up to score are myths, but the fact they exist does tell you something about him.
He’d stay out late, sometimes not sleeping before training, drinking and partying. It did, understandably, reach a point of no return for his club – even if they found themselves in a bizarre position of holding onto a player they were unsure about, even though he was courted by top teams.
Mágico reportedly nearly joined Barcelona in 1984, being asked to join them on a tour of America but missing his flight. Then an incident at a hotel involving Maradona, a fire-alarm, and Mágico ignoring security protocol to have fun with a waitress left Barcelona unwilling to put up with much of the same things Cádiz were.
He repeatedly turned down moves to Italy, despite it being the strongest league around, such was his enjoyment of Cádiz. Eventually though, he was sold, moving to Valladolid in 1985. Valladolid didn’t give him quite the lifestyle he had become accustomed to in Spain, and he only lasted a year there (featuring in just 9 games) before Cádiz brought him back.
Mágico González was the business pic.twitter.com/bxcqb8Xyfc
— James Dart (@James_Dart) September 18, 2017
This time, however, he would be under strict conditions, such as only being paid for the games he actually showed up for. They also would fine him for off-the-pitch activities that they believed he shouldn’t involve himself in. Now, that can go one of two ways: it could absolutely work as a deterrent, but it actually just meant that Cádiz got back a lot of money in fines.
Still, Mágico was happy; he was having fun, and he was back where he wanted to be. He’d stay in Cádiz for five more years, heading back to El Salvador in 1991 (just a year before the civil war finally ended) to rejoin FAS. He’d retire in 1991, taking up coaching positions in the US – arguably not the role you’d first think of for the guy who didn’t take a professional attitude to training – and in 2003 he was handed El Salvador’s highest honour, as well as having the national team stadium named after him.
Mágico González led a strange career and a pretty unique one. So talented that he was courted by top European teams, regarded as his country’s greatest ever player, and name-dropped by Diego Maradona as one of the best he’s seen – all while playing a substantial portion of his career in the Spanish second division for Cádiz.
But then he doesn’t care about that last part – it just simply doesn’t matter if his career didn’t achieve the heights it could have as it wasn’t what he wanted. Mágico played out the career that likely isn’t the dream of aspiring footballers, but one that you can’t help but love as a fan – not caring about the boring stuff, just loving the game and the life it lets him have. It’s hard not to love that back.