I first encountered Jorge Gonzalez when I was in college, studying in Central America. It was 5 years after he retired and 13 years after he left Spain, which means it was a long time ago. If I had bothered to look it up on the then new Wikipedia, I wouldn’t have found an entry for him because the page wasn’t started for another full year, before the Internet made it simple to look up players and histories, so all I had to go on were the stories I heard, the whispered “oh, yeah, that guy was good.” They called him magical.
He led El Salvador to the 1982 World Cup, the nation’s second ever appearance and most recent to date. They named a stadium after him in San Salvador. Cádiz considers him their greatest ever player. And Diego Maradona called him the greatest of all time.
Mágico Gonzalez wasn’t good. He was great.
Yet he was also mercurial. According to Pedro Zuazua from his review of a biography of Mágico, the man preferred to party instead of sleep, leaving his house at night to wander without a plan simply because he enjoyed the improvisation required. He played that way too. There are moments like this that are immortalized in videos from the time, moves that make you go oh in a surprised, slightly higher pitched way. In 1984 he went on a preseason tour of the US with Barça and Diego Maradona (you may remember this particular trip from the video of Maradona wandering the streets of New York in fairly total anonymity) and it’s one of those “what could have been” moments. Only the moment was lost, apparently because, when stood next to Diego Maradona—I promise you that we are talking about the same Diego Maradona that you are thinking of—it was Mágico everyone thought was too undisciplined, too much of a partyer.
He was notorious for not turning up for training, for sleeping throughout the day, even for leaving training when he got bored or tired. While in the US with Barça, he reportedly refused to leave a hotel room after a fire alarm went off (also reportedly pulled by Maradona as a prank) because he was “entertaining a woman in his room.” Whatever he could do on the field, Barça passed on him because of these off-the-field activities and he returned to Cádiz, where he ended up playing 8 seasons (with 1 ill-fated season at Valladolid dropped into the middle) before returning to El Salvador to finish his career, leaving southern Spain a fan favorite despite his antics and the impressively casual way he approach the game.
And now Mágico is back in Cádiz to celebrate a fortuitous event, from my perspective: September 10 marks the 112th anniversary of the founding of Cádiz CF and is the day Barcelona visits. There will be a commemoration before the match and Mágico is expected to receive shirts from both clubs in honor of his career and, I guess, the hotel prank that saved him from a bad year in Barcelona left an indelible mark on the club.
He said it himself: “I don’t like treating football as a job. If I did that, I would not be me. I just play for fun.”