The "Tenerife leagues" in Spain in the early 90s

The title is not an error. CD Tenerife never won the Spanish league, that's true. However, in the early 90s, they were the protagonists of the competition since they had to play the role of "judge", which directly impacted who was the league champion. While for Real Madrid, the island of Tenerife became an almost cursed place, for FC Barcelona, the Tenerife club was a great "ally."

The situations that occurred in the 1991-92 and 1992-93 seasons were so particular that they deserve a space to be remembered. Possibly, today, it would be difficult for a similar event to be repeated, but football was different at that time and crafted stories like this one.

Entrance to Estadio Heliodoro Rodríguez López  - CD Tenerife's stadium
Entrance to Estadio Heliodoro Rodríguez López - CD Tenerife's stadium

Those early 90s

Let's start by giving a little bit of the context of the time, where things were very different from today. VAR did not exist, the official currency of Spain was the peseta and football clubs could only have a maximum of three foreigners on their teams. League champions with 100 points was not feasible since in the early 90s, two points were still awarded for a victory, so champions averaged between 50 and 60 points.

Real Madrid was at the time of the Quinta del Buitre, that great generation of youth players that was led in football by Emilio Butragueño. The Madrid team had names like Buyo, Sanchis, Hagi, Hierro and Hugo Sánchez, to name a few, and for the 1991-92 season, they were reinforced with Luis Enrique from Sporting de Gijón (yes, that Luis Enrique), Ricardo Rocha from Sao Paulo and Prosinecki from Red Star. The coach was Radomir Antic, who had taken over a very inconsistent team at the end of the previous season but managed to straighten it out to finish third in the league, after having been ninth.

On the other side of the road, Barcelona had its Dream Team, the team led by Johan Cruyff that had just won the league the previous season with players like Zubizarreta, Koeman, Stoichkov, Laudrup, Bakero and Guardiola. For 1991-92, the Dutch coach maintained the base of the team and did not make major changes, highlighting only the signing of Miguel Ángel Nadal.

The first one

Jorge Valdano, after retiring from professional football in 1987 due to hepatitis, began his career as a coach in the Real Madrid youth teams, which was his last team as a player, combining that work with that of a television commentator. With eight days remaining in the 1991-92 season, CD Tenerife hired him for the remainder of the league. The Argentine arrived at a team that had some important players such as his compatriots Fernando Redondo and Juan Antonio Pizzi.

Come the last day, Real Madrid was the leader with 54 points, two ahead of Barcelona. The Madrid team had changed Antic during the season due to a bad streak of 3 games without winning, despite having the leading team in the league, and had replaced him with Leo Beenhakker. Real Madrid visited Tenerife and Barcelona received Athletic Club de Bilbao in its stadium.

In the run-up to the match, there were a lot of rumors about possible payments from Barcelona emissaries to the Tenerife players, as "motivation" for them to beat Beenhakker's team, rumors that many years later would be confirmed by the protagonists themselves. Around 20 million pesetas was the payment that was offered to the Tenerife residents and there was even talk of attempted bribery of Real Madrid players, something that Luis Milla also confirmed, saying that a former Barcelona teammate approached him to offer him 40 million pesetas for making a mistake or scoring an own goal.

Tenerife had had a good end to the season and was far from the relegation spots and Real Madrid was playing for the league. In fact, this was reflected in the first half hour of the game as the Madrid team was winning 2-0 with goals from Hierro and Hagi. Before halftime, Quique Estebaranz scored the discount after making a great individual play. In the second half, Luis Milla scored a goal from a pass from Butragueño that would be disallowed due to a non-existent offside. Nowadays, with VAR, the goal would have counted.

Then, Real Madrid midfielder Francisco Villarroya was sent off for a controversial play, to say the least. With one more player, Tenerife improved considerably and achieved the tie thanks to Ricardo Rocha's own goal. Finally, an unintelligible pass from Sanchis to Buyo led to Tenerife's third goal, from the hand of Pier. Barcelona had resolved their match with a double from Stoichkov and became champions.

The second one

Ramón Mendoza, president of Real Madrid at the time, decided to do without Beenhakker after what happened on the last day of the 1991-92 league and signed Benito Floro, a coach with a lot of experience in the lower divisions and whose main endorsement was having won consecutively the Second Division B and the Second Division with Albacete. In addition, Mendoza brought in Iván Zamorano to replace Hugo Sánchez who had left the club to return to his country.

Fate is capricious and once again Real Madrid reached the last day as leaders of the Spanish league standings, with 57 points, two above Barcelona. As if that were not enough, the rival on the last day was once again Valdano's Tenerife and this time, qualifying for European competition for the first time in its history. The Tenerife team maintained the base of the players from the previous season and was reinforced with the Peruvian Del Solar and the Argentine Latorre.

Real Madrid was divided into two delegations to travel to Tenerife and one of the two groups had to return to Madrid once the plane had already taken off because the refrigeration was damaged and the temperatures were very high, leading to some players suffered from dehydration. This was just hours before playing the decisive game of the league. The match was almost as disastrous as the trip and Real Madrid would lose 2-0 with goals from Dertycia and Chano. Barcelona beat its rival, Real Sociedad, with a goal from Stoichkov and once again became league champion thanks to Tenerife.