On 19th April, 2000 Old Trafford witnessed a masterpiece. Immortality and Fernando Redondo made friends as the world took a backseat and saw one of the greatest individual displays by an away player in Manchester as Real Madrid beat United 3-2. A once in a lifetime performance from Argentine midfielder Fernando Redondo, who bossed a midfield boasting the likes of Roy Keane and Paul Scholes, registered his name in the history books.
But the star was born and developed long back. Legend is a term often overused when it comes to sport, especially football. But when you think of someone like Fernando Carlos Redondo, the term is a mere understatement. Seldom can players in football claim to have the perfect combination of the brawn and the brain, but this boy was special. Heavily successful yet an underachiever. Vastly revered yet often overlooked. Fernando Redondo’s legend is hardly forgotten but massively ignored in most spheres, remaining on the periphery when it comes to discussions regarding greatness.
Formative Years – Fernando Redondo Moves To Spain
Born in Adrogue, Buenos Aires, Redondo went on to play for local club Argentinos Juniors for 5 seasons, before making the big move to Europe where he joined fellow countryman Jorge Solari at Tenerife in 1990. This very summer Redondo turned down an international call-up citing academic commitments, but his disagreements with coach Carlos Bilardo’s over-cautious approach was seen as the major reason behind his decision. Back in Spain, Tenerife’s struggles in the league saw a change in management bringing in another Argentine Jorge Valdano.
Redondo was key in Tenerife avoiding relegation under Valdano in 1992 season and in the following season Tenerife beat Real Madrid on the final day as Fernando Redondo’s stock rose another notch in a near flawless performance. Barcelona won the title that day and Tenerife booked their tickets for European football after finishing 5th, but it was Real Madrid that had caught the biggest fish in the pond. Jorge Valdano. The former Real Madrid player was hired by the club in the summer of 1994 thus paving the path for Redondo to join the big boys at long last.
Speaking of big boys, Fernando Redondo was already part of the Argentina national team squad for the World Cup, but unfortunately Diego Maradona’s off field antics dealt the team a huge blow as they were eliminated at the hands of a Hagi-inspired Romanian team.
The Real Madrid Love Affair
Real Madrid is where the legend of Redondo started taking shape. The promise, the potential and the brilliance of this young midfielder was all too visible for Valdano. In his first season in the capital Redondo settled in the first team seamlessly. By the end of the first season, he had won his first La Liga medal as Real ended Barcelona’s four-year stranglehold on the title. Fernando on his part maintained a low profile and was one of the most consistent performers in the team alongside stalwarts like Laudrup, Hierro and Sanchis among others.
The 95-96 season was a disappointment for the defending champions, a sixth place finish in the league behind Redondo’s former club Tenerife meant Valdano quit as Real Madrid boss. Fabio Capello was put in charge and the Italian was initially skeptical about Redondo’s defensive qualities considering him too elegant and sublime to be a defensive midfielder. Fernando Redondo was so much more, and the moment Capello figured that out Redondo became a fixture in the Madrid midfield.
Fabio in his one season at the club moulded the Argentine into a much more expressive player. Real Madrid were crowned champions of the Primera Division in May 1997, but the marriage between Capello and Real Madrid was over. Such was the impression Redondo left on the Italian, that Fabio Capello wanted to take the midfielder to Milan along with him. That move didn’t materialize and Redondo stayed on to lift the holy Champions League trophy with the Spanish club in 1998, ending it’s 32 year wait for the greatest trophy in club football.
The immense success of the club coincided with his spectacular form, consistently dominating the middle of the park week in week out. Despite club success, international caps eluded the gifted Argentine. Daniel Passarella, the coach asked Redondo to get a haircut in order to make it to the squad. The latter bluntly refused, thus staying out of the national team picture during the World Cup in France.
Marcelo Bielsa was appointed the coach of Argentina in 1999, and he recalled Redondo in the squad. However his recall lasted just a couple of friendlies against Brazil, whereby he refused any further international call-ups, preferring to focus on his club career. Meanwhile, under the reigns of Vicente Del Bosque, Real Madrid finished the 1999-2000 league season disastrously at fifth, meaning a win in the Champions League final was their last resort to return to the competition.
Fernando Redondo stepped upto the plate as he captained the Los Blancos in their Champions League success of 2000, beating Valencia at the Stade De France. It was this edition of the European Cup where Redondo’s talents were out there for everyone to see as he masterfully tamed the defending champions Manchester United in their own backyard, crowning his near perfect performance with an audacious backheel past Berg and setting up Raul for a goal.
Fernando went on to lift the Cup, being named UEFA Club Footballer of the Year and the Real Madrid player of the Year, an award he won twice during his stay. Two Champions Leagues and two Primera Division titles later, Fernando Redondo was sold off to AC Milan in 2000 in controversial circumstances. Redondo apparently wanted to stay and “retire happily” at Madrid, but Real needed funds for the signing of Luis Figo. Madrid’s loss wasn’t quite Milan’s gain as he was largely injured and couldn’t even manage 30 appearances in his 4 year stay, at the end of which he hung his boots after being constantly troubled by knee problems.
The Best Ever Defensive Midfielder? Rather A Complete Midfielder
Argentinian football has long been renowned for the number 10′s, from Maradona to Messi. But the Argentina number 5 has always been the most important tactical cog to their functioning, and who better to don that shirt than Fernando Redondo? Fabio Capello, one of the more respected people in the sport called Redondo “a tactically perfect player”. And he was. Fernando Redondo is perhaps the most complete defensive midfielder to have graced a football pitch. Yet calling him a defensive midfielder seems to be unfair to his completeness and technical ability.
His awareness was infectious, measuring the state of the game astutely. Every single move, every single pass. His tackles were precise and perfectly timed with the right mix of aggression. Nothing too fussy in his play, Redondo relied on his brilliant reading of the opposition play, making crucial interceptions in the process. Standing 6′ 1″ tall, the Argentine wasn’t the most physically intimidating specimen but he was no pushover either. One of his finest moments came in the Champions League triumph of 1998. Real Madrid came across Juventus, a team with a frighteningly gifted midfield of Deschamps-Davids-Zidane.
Despite the plethora of talent on display Fernando Redondo was named man of the match in a close fought 1-0 win in the final. He dominated the middle of the park with his uncanny knack of breaking opposition play and initiating attacks with his crisp passing. This is one aspect of Redondo’s game that made him so enviable, as he could pull strings in any side against any opposition. Darting arrows without failure like a professional archer, the accuracy of his passing meant he could even play as a deep-lying playmaker if and when required thus making him a near complete central midfielder and a priceless commodity to own. Helping out in defence, contributing in attack, he remained omnipresent. Redondo had a perfect idea of the movement of players around him spraying the vivid colours of his imagination on the palate for the forwards to paint a beautiful outlay. An outlay Redondo had long pictured in his head even before passing the ball.
One thing Redondo couldn’t really boast of was raw pace or a tireless engine. One wouldn’t find him covering every inch of the pitch or rocket past players, but then he was deceptively quick, gliding and wriggling past players like they never existed. The elegance and the strength combined made for a visual delight. Talking of which the night of 19th April and the moment of joy Redondo produced in humbling Berg just doesn’t escape your head.
Real Madrid played an unorthodox 3-3-2-2 formation, surprising most people including the United boss. Sir Alex remained awestruck by the success of Madrid’s formation and quite obviously appreciated the role of Redondo in gluing the team together. The Scot wasn’t one to mince words, remarking “Redondo must have a magnet in his pants, he was fantastic, unbelievable. He had one of those games. Every time we attacked and the ball came out of their box, it fell at his feet. Every time!” Perhaps England had never witnessed such a performance, but for Redondo it was another regulation night of football.
The sheer simplicity of his methods meant he always carried a low profile for the outside world. But unlike his exterior, he was strong as granite, adding bite and muscle in the Madrid midfield bringing in his steely brutal winning mentality on the pitch too. A ball winning midfielder, a defensive midfielder, a deep-lying playmaker, a central midfielder, you name it and he got it. Redondo could do it all, maybe except bombing box to box. But then that’s what made him what he was, an effortlessly beautiful artist.
Like music, most beautiful things require attention to detail to be appreciated to the fullest. Unsurprisingly the same applies to this vastly overlooked and under-appreciated genius of Fernando Redondo. Only a myopic would call him just a defensive midfielder. Injuries and controversies meant an unfair and incomplete ending to a wonderful tale which was otherwise glorified in its own right. Argentina might consider themselves lucky to have produced such a wonderful child but remain equally unfortunate to have just received his services on 29 occasions. A son they created but never had.
Fernando Redondo, the legend lives on in our memories. And in Henning Berg’s nightmares.