In the modern era of El Clasico, the likes of Romario, Lionel Messi and Ronaldinho immediately spring to mind when discussing the greatest South Americans to ever grace this fieriest of La Liga fixtures.
Yet arguably the single best performance from a South American came not from a player in the Blaugrana of Barcelona, but the Blanco of Real Madrid.
From the moment Ivan Zamorano arrived at the Bernabeu from Sevilla for €5million in the summer of 1992, the significance of the rivalry with Barcelona was made abundantly clear.
“The first thing I learnt at the club is the importance of winning the games against Barca,” he later recalled. “I was taught how it’s more than a game of football; it touches on social and political aspects, centralism against independence. These were games where no additional motivation was needed.”
Zamorano already had some pedigree when it came to scoring against Barcelona. A return of 23 goals in 63 outings for Sevilla had included a memorable brace in a 4-2 victory over the Catalan club in September 1991.
Johan Cruyff’s dream team would eventually claim the title that year as well as a first-ever European Cup, but Zamorano caught the eye of the Real Madrid hierarchy, finishing the season with 13 goals despite Sevilla spending much of it flirting with relegation.
The Chilean, who earned the nickname ‘Bam Bam’, soon made good on that promise too, scoring in a 2-1 win over Barca in La Liga during his debut campaign in Madrid and playing an instrumental role in Madrid’s Copa del Rey semi-final victory over the Catalans.
Zamorano scored decisive goals in both the home and away legs, as Los Blancos edged out Barcelona on their way to defeating Real Zaragoza 2-0 in the final. By then he had also scored in both legs of the Supercopa to help Madrid end a three-year trophy drought – but it could have been even better.
FLASHBACK: To today in 1994 when Real Madrid scored twice in the opening four minutes of the season against Sevilla – thanks to the brilliance of Ivan Zamorano. pic.twitter.com/Qn1cGYJp7R
— A Funny Old Game (@sid_lambert) September 3, 2018
Going into the final day of the 1992-93 season, Madrid needed a win away at Tenerife to secure the title. But that would be no easy task, with Tenerife proving tough opponents under the guidance of Madrid great Jorge Valdano, who coached the club to a best-ever fifth place that season.
Two first-half goals ultimately settled the game in Tenerife’s favour, while Bam Bam failed to cover himself in glory after getting sent off 10 minutes from time, with the red card also ensuring he missed the Copa del Rey final six days later.
Meanwhile, Barcelona – who had not occupied top spot at any point previously that season – won 2-0 at Athletic Bilbao to secure the league title. It was especially galling given that Real had surrendered the league in identical fashion a year earlier with a 3-2 final-day defeat to Tenerife.
Despite these disappointments, Zamorano excelled in his debut campaign, scoring 37 goals in 45 matches. Yet the 1993-94 campaign would prove markedly different for both Bam Bam and Real Madrid with the Chilean scoring just 11 times in a season that saw Real finish fourth.
Their campaign was perhaps best typified by the 5-0 drubbing Barcelona dished out in January 1994. Romario was the star of the show that night, bagging a memorable hat-trick that included a goal born out of an audacious dummy later dubbed ‘la cola de vaca’ or ‘the cow’s tail.’
Zamorano, by contrast, was reduced to the role of bystander as the lone striker in a toothless Madrid attack as Barca ran rampant.
But Bam Bam would have his revenge.
Just two days short of a year since Barcelona’s 5-0 win, a very different Los Blancos line-up faced Cruyff’s dream team at the Bernabeu.
By then Valdano had replaced Benito Floro in the Madrid dugout, while on the pitch Madrid had been emboldened by the addition of something old and something new in the form of Michael Laudrup and an 18-year-old Raul.
While Raul’s ascent had always looked likely, Laudrup’s arrival from Barcelona was a result of continued clashes with Cruyff and a sense of frustration at having to sit out games due to the limits placed on the number of foreign stars Spanish teams were allowed to field.
Laudrup had been the main casualty when the Catalans faced off against AC Milan in the 1994 European Cup final and viewed the subsequent 4-0 defeat at the hands of the Rossoneri as the final nail in the coffin of his Barcelona career and the beginning of the end for Cruyff and co.
“After the defeat, I already knew that Barca could go on to suffer the following season, and I sensed that the team that had given me so much joy was coming to an end,” the Dane later revealed.
Going into that season, however, Zamorano was far from a guaranteed starter.
Though his tally of 11 goals the previous campaign had been enough to see him finish the season as Real’s top scorer, Bam Bam had endured a nightmare 18-game goalless run in La Liga.
More significantly still, upon arrival, Valdano had immediately identified Zamorano as surplus to requirements with the Argentine eager to sign players from abroad but hindered by rules preventing La Liga clubs from having any more than five on the books. Valdano had a controversial target in mind too.
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“I came to Madrid after Johan Cruyff’s four consecutive Barcelona titles, something that had never happened,” Valdano told El Mercurio years later. “Therefore, the crisis was big. I brought Fernando Redondo for Robert Prosinecki and I wanted Eric Cantona instead of Ivan [Zamorano].”
Yet despite Valdano making it clear to Zamorano that he had no place in his future plans, the Chilean was unmoved, insisting he would stay and fight for his place.
Frustrated at Bam Bam’s steadfast refusal to leave, Valdano angrily told reporters: “If I have five foreigners, Zamorano will be the fifth to play.”
Yet while others like Slovak striker Peter Dubovsky found themselves frozen out under Valdano, Zamorano was soon back in the first-team picture after impressing the new manager with his dedication in training.
Picked to start the opening day clash with his former club Sevilla, Zamorano passed Valdano’s audition with flying colours, scoring twice in a comfortable win.
By the time Real Madrid faced Barca at the Bernabeu in January 1995, he had already scored 14 goals in La Liga to better his tally for the entire previous season and would eventually finish the campaign with 28 to claim the Pichichi Trophy as La Liga’s top scorer.
Facing off against a Barca team that featured all-time greats like Ronald Koeman, Pep Guardiola and Hristo Stoichkov, Zamorano reached the pinnacle of his Real Madrid career with a performance that saw him etch his name into El Clasico folklore.
The Chilean took just five minutes to make his mark, latching on to a loose ball on the left-hand side of the Barcelona box before living up to his Bam Bam moniker by smashing the ball past Carles Busquets from a tight angle to send the Madridistas into meltdown.
Sixteen minutes later, he was at it again with arguably the best of his three goals. Angling his run to stay onside, Zamorano exploited a gaping hole in the centre of the Barca defence, with Jose Amavisca lofting an inch-perfect through pass to the Chilean.
Zamorano let the ball bounce once before taking a touch to compose himself and slot the ball past the onrushing Busquets to send the Bernabeu faithful wild all over again.
Eighteen minutes later and Madrid were in dreamland, with Laudrup robbing Jose Mari Bakero of the ball in his own box after a neat Zamorano flick-on before squaring for Bam Bam who nipped in ahead of an exasperated Koeman to tap in a third and complete his hat-trick.
Madrid were 3-0 up before half-time and would soon be a man up too with Stoichkov red-carded following a ludicrously late, studs-up, tackle on Quique Sanchez Flores.
Romario, who would leave Barcelona in a matter of weeks after the game after falling out with Cruyff, came on in the second half along with Miguel Angel Nadal, but neither could do much to stem the tide.
On 64 minutes, Zamorano was unlucky not to add a fourth to his tally after stretching to convert a Rafael Vazquez cross. His effort struck the post but fortuitously bounced out to the feet of future Barca stalwart Enrique, who duly scored.
Two minutes later it was five with Bam Bam put through on goal before selflessly opting to square the ball to Amavisca who had a simple tap in into an empty net. Amavisca wheeled away towards the corner flag before taking a moment to turn back and pay tribute to the man of the hour, Zamorano, with the pair sharing a warm embrace.
Top of the table with a five-point gap on Barcelona, Real’s grip on the lead would hold this time around, with Los Blancos remaining at the summit for the remainder of the season to claim a first league title since 1990 and end a run of four straight successes for Barcelona under Cruyff.
Gunman of Madrid. Unparalleled in the air, Fundamental piece of Madrid’s 1994-95 Laliga campaign and also scored a hattrick against Barcelona.
This was Zamorano’s league winning goal. pic.twitter.com/whPRkEBw8B
— A (@VoiceonMadrid) February 20, 2018
Zamorano would remain at Real for one more season before heading to Inter Milan. His record of 101 goals in 173 games is impressive enough but what truly marks Bam Bam out as a great is the fact he remains the only Madrid player from the last 30 years to score a hat-trick in El Clasico.
Reflecting on his success years later, Zamorano described that season as the best of his career. “I was top scorer, champion, best player,” he said.
He also made no bones about the secret behind his success: “It was with Jorge Valdano – a coach who was very important to me. He has been a World Cup champion and a coach who makes you grow as a player.”
Pushed to breaking point by a coach with dreams of seeing Cantona line up for Los Blancos, Zamorano pushed back and in the process secured his status as an El Clasico icon.
By Jack Beresford