At the end of the 1989-1990 season, a Real Madrid player by the name of Rafael Martin Vazquez demanded a sizeable increase in salary. He had just been one of the main protagonists in a record-breaking season in which the team scored 107 La Liga goals and won a fifth consecutive title. He felt entitled to a raise.
For many, Martin Vazquez was the most talented member of La Quinta del Buitre, "the vulture squad," a generation of extremely talented players led by Emilio Butragueno. In the spring of 1990, his contract was about to expire, and then-president Ramon Mendoza, who had rejected previous requests to review Martin Vazquez's contract, had no choice but to sit down and bargain. The negotiations were tough, and at some point Mendoza, in a mean decision, made public the latest Real Madrid salary offer that Martin Vazquez had rejected.
The player, humiliated, left for Torino, and from that point on, he was tagged with the dreaded "pesetero" (or greedy) seal by a sizeable section of the Real Madrid faithful. It did not matter that Martin Vazquez was a homegrown kid who had played for the club for more than 12 seasons or that Mendoza was as dodgy a character as they come. Martin Vazquez would always be a pesetero.
After two-and-a-half unsuccessful seasons abroad, the prodigal son came back to Madrid. Amazingly enough, he was brought back by Mendoza himself, who held no grudges when it came to winning an election with an unexpected signing. Martin Vazquez spent another three years with the club of his heart, but the Santiago Bernabeu never forgave him.
In my first season as a Real Madrid season-ticket holder, Martin Vazquez's last in the white shirt, I had the privilege -- and the luck -- of enjoying Jorge Valdano's debut as the club's coach. His squad were a joy to watch for six months, and although they slowly lost steam, they managed to win La Liga with two matches left to play. In far from his best shape, Martin Vazquez was still able to lead the team when Michael Laudrup took a day off, and watching his ambidextrous skill on the ball always made me feel that he validated the price of a season ticket.
It wasn't the case for many of my neighbours at the Fondo Sur. One of them, ironically named Angel, used to enjoy insulting Martin Vazquez so much that he called him a bunch of expletives after Rafa scored against Racing Santander. Three seasons back with the team of his youth had not been enough for Angel to forgive that Martin Vazquez was a pesetero.
It's hard to understand why the Real Madrid faithful boo some of their own players with such venom. Of course, Martin Vazquez wasn't the first, but in my case, he became the poster boy of a phenomenon that is still perplexing today. Not even in the case of blatantly incompetent players such as Carlos Secretario or Claudemir Vitor would I condone the boos, let alone in other cases in which the fickle Bernabeu has decided to punish stars such as Zinedine Zidane, Michel, Ronaldo Nazario or Iker Casillas. Whatever the reason for the boos, they simply don't help anyone when a match is happening. It's a lose-lose proposition for public and player if there ever was one.
The latest to suffer the wrath of the Bernabeu is none other than Cristiano Ronaldo. Apparently, a player who has averaged more than one goal per match since he arrived in Madrid has no right to play a few matches below par at age 32. But even if he were suffering a clear slump in form, would that justify the boos? Would those boos make him recover his shape magically?
Last week, in a completely unexpected setting, I ran into Angel, my old season-ticket neighbour at the Fondo Sur. He'd changed seats to another section of the stadium, so I hadn't seen him in more than a decade. It took us some time to recognise each other, but then I remembered the Martin Vazquez hater. We exchanged a few pleasantries, and then he asked me about the season. "I'm optimistic," I said. "I'm not," he replied, "That [expletive] Ronaldo is finished. I boo him in every single match."
Some things never change, especially at the Bernabeu.