After shining at the 1986 World Cup with England the Catalan giants brought Lineker to LaLiga, where he showed his killer instinct in a prolific three-year spell.
Written by Alejandro Fernandez.
Diego Maradona may have lifted the 1986 World Cup, but it was another former FC Barcelona player who finished as top scorer in the tournament with six goals; England’s Gary Lineker, a feat which paved his way to La Liga.
Lineker’s hat-trick against Poland and brace against Paraguay set England on a collision course with Argentina in the quarter-finals and it was only Maradona’s remarkable brace that stopped the Everton FC striker and his country.
FC Barcelona liked what they saw and pounced for Lineker with a £2.8 million transfer fee, the second highest in football history at the time, behind only Maradona’s move from FC Barcelona to Napoli. He became the first Englishman to play for the club’s first team since the 1920s, and nobody else has since.
Behind the move was Lineker’s compatriot Terry Venables, known as El Tel, who recruited both the English striker and Welshman Mark Hughes in the same summer.
Lineker had excelled in the English top flight with Leicester City and Everton, finishing as top scorer in both seasons before his move to Spain, but was excited to start a new challenge at a club of FC Barcelona’s grandeur.
“My decision to move to Spain was (down to) the fact that it was FC Barcelona that came for me,” explained Lineker. “If one of the giants of world football comes for you, then it’s very difficult to say no.
“The opportunity to live in a different country, to experience a different kind of football, to educate myself both on and off the field, the opportunity to learn another language and try something new and exciting.
“There are all sorts of reasons, but the main one, obviously was that it’s Barcelona. You don’t say no.”
The striker hit the ground running, scoring twice on his debut against Racing Santander, and reaching a total of 20 goals in 41 top flight appearances in his first season. Three of which came in the thrilling 3-2 El Clasico triumph, against Real Madrid, in January 1987.
Lineker showed his typically sharp poacher’s instincts to nip in and finish from close range to open the scoring in only the second minute, and pulled off the trick again at the back post just three minutes later to double the Catalans’ advantage.
“Well, El Clasico is something really special,” remembered Lineker. “I didn’t really know what to expect from the atmosphere, but it was incredible. I’ve never known anything like it.”
“I scored two goals in the first five minutes. And the noise, the crescendo in the Camp Nou was just something that I’ll never, ever forget. I had like goosebumps all over my body when I scored the second goal because the place was going crazy.”
Early in the second half Lineker broke free of Los Blancos ’defence and clipped the ball over goalkeeper Paco Buyo to put Barça three goals to the good at a pulsating Camp Nou.
Strikes from Real Madrid duo Jorge Valdano and Hugo Sánchez threatened to undo Lineker’s contribution, but FC Barcelona held on to triumph.
“And all I was thinking was, ‘Please don’t score another one. Please don’t score. Please don’t score a hat trick in El Clasico and not win the game,’” said Lineker.
“But it’s a match I’ll never forget. It’s a match that every year I see the goals are replayed at that time on this day, 30 odd years ago. I scored a hat trick, so and I’ll never tire of watching it because it was one of the most special moments of my life.”
That alone would have been enough to embed Lineker into FC Barcelona and La Liga Santander history, but he also won the Copa del Rey in 1988 and the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1989, earning himself the nickname El Matador along the way.
His third season at Barcelona proved more frustrating for him, with coach Johan Cruyff deploying him on the wing instead of his preferred striker role, and Lineker returned to England with Tottenham in the summer of 1989, winning the FA Cup in 1991. Notably he finished his career without ever picking up a single card, and as England’s record goalscorer at World Cups, which stands to this day.
Lineker was the top scoring British player in La Liga with 42 goals in 103 top flight appearances, before he was eventually surpassed by Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale in 2016. He will never forget his time in La Liga Santander.
“It’s a memory that’s always stayed with me,” added Lineker. “A wonderful experience. A great football club. A slightly crazy place at times, as it still is. But it’s an experience that I’ll never forget. The people of Barcelona were always so wonderful to me, and that’s always stuck in my heart.”