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The kidnapping of Barcelona star Quini

Football has become an absolute juggernaut now, with transfer fees having gone past the €100 million barrier. Transfers in the range of €30m-€40m have become commonplace and players live in a kind of bubble that it has become almost impossible for their fans to have any kind of interaction with them.

However, not too long ago things were simpler. Even until the end of the last millennia players were a lot more accessible to the larger public.

Perhaps it was the easy interaction and lack of security around players that cost Barcelona the 1980/81 La Liga title. In an incident that is unthinkable in modern times, Enrique Castro Gonzalez, aka Quini, as he was fondly called, was kidnapped right in front of his apartment during the crunch time of the league campaign and was only rescued three weeks after the act.

Quini is regarded amongst the greatest Spanish forwards of all time and his spectacular numbers speak for themselves. During the course of his 20-year career, the former Spain international went on to score over 300 league goals. His goal scoring heroics earned him seven Pichichi awards – given to the top scorer in the Spanish league.

Quini started his professional career at Ensidesa and scored a remarkable 17 league goals in 22 games for the side, earning himself a move to Sporting Gijon. At the Asturian club he scored a plethora of goals over a 12-year stint and came to be regarded as a legendary figure at the club.

His heroics earned him a big move to Barcelona in the summer of 1980 when he signed for the Camp Nou outfit. The Catalan outfit had last won the league title in 1974 and were hoping that the signing of the star striker would finally end their six-year dry spell.

And it was all going according to plan as Quini started scoring goals left, right and centre and notched 20 league goals with four matches still to be played. His strikes had helped the Catalans to the top of the league table and they appeared on course to finally land the title.

But then it all came crashing down.

On 1st March, having scored a brace in a 6-0 thrashing of Hercules, the forward was kidnapped at gunpoint by two men. The day after the kidnapping, Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia received a phone call from one of the captors, informing that Quini’s kidnapping was intended to stop him from playing Barcelona’s next league game as they didn’t want the club to win the “separatists’ league”.

However, the authorities were unsure if the call had come from the actual kidnappers or some pranksters. A few days later, Quni’s wife, Maria Nieves, received a phone call asking for ransom.

In the meantime, Barcelona had to travel to the Vicente Calderon to face Atletico Madrid. But the players were unwilling to play any matches until their friend was released. However, the match took place and having clearly been disturbed by Quini’s kidnapping the Catalans lost 1-0, losing their grip on the title.

Ultimately, a ransom of 100 million pesetas was agreed upon, with the amount to be deposited in a Swiss bank account. The Spanish and Swiss authorities worked in tandem to apprehend the captors when one of them went to withdraw money from the account.

The captured kidnapper led the authorities to a garage in Zaragoza from where the forward was released after a 25-day ordeal. He refused to press charges against the kidnappers, leading many to speculate that he had developed Stockholm syndrome.

In the meantime, Barcelona had completely lost their way in the league and ended up finishing fourth.