The enduring legacy of Claudio ‘El Litri’ Barragan
With SD Ponferradina currently pushing for a play-off place in the Segunda league; it seems like a good time to take a look at the man at the helm. A man who wears the status of legend like a favourite shirt…
Earning the status of a club legend is no easy feat for any footballer. You don’t have to be the most talented player but you must give something so empyreal to the fans that they feel the need to pass it on to future generations. You must inspire them; you must represent them and you must connect with them. Most importantly, you must give them a sense of romance.
When Claudio Barragan Escobar (known simply as “Claudio”) arrived at Levante in 1980 aged just 16, few would have predicted that the thin lad from Manises would go on to be an idol at more than one football club. In fact, the unassuming but talented youngster lurked quietly in the shadows as another footballing legend, Johan Cruyff, arrived at Estadi Ciutat de València in early 1981. Despite his young age, he did manage to break into the first team but a niggling knee injury hindered his progress and he was subsequently loaned out to AgD Cueta and UD Las Palmas to work his way back to fitness.
His next move was to prove decisive, and in 1984 Claudio signed for newly-promoted Primera club, Elche CF, where he would earn the nickname “El Litri” (roughly translated as ‘The Dandy’) after the famous bullfighter Miguel Baez “El Litri”. He was recommended by former Coach Evaristo Carrio who famously said in a radio interview with Santiago Gambin: “If this kid does not play for the national team, I will cut my hand off.” A few years later his prediction would come true and the hand was spared.
Claudio was not the most skilful striker and he was certainly not the most prolific but he gave everything. His style of play was aggressive and intelligent and he was natural leader on the pitch. In his first season at Elche his substitute performances were impressive enough to earn him a regular first team place and he managed to score two goals, including the first of many he would score at Real Madrid’s Bernabéu stadium. Unfortunately, the season ended in relegation to the Segunda league.
The following two seasons saw much upheaval at the club, with Managerial and Presidential changes that would hold back the progress of the team, but by 1987-89 things were looking up. Claudio was now playing alongside Sixto Casabona Martínez with Milijov Bracun linking up, and the three of them formed a formidable goal threat that would propel Los Franjiverdes back into the topflight of Spanish football. Claudio was the architect of the team and provided 11 goals; he also set up many for Sixto who scored an incredible 21, earning himself the nickname of “Sixtogol”. Bracun, who was a defender by trade, also scored 12 goals. This season was one of the most memorable in the history of CF Elche and the legend of ”el Litri” had been preserved in amber.
Once again Elche would only manage one season at the top level but “El Litri” continued to impress with his battling style of play and a seven goal tally which included his obligatory strike at the Bernabéu. His performances caught the eye of Mallorca and a transfer was agreed, much to the dismay of the adoring Elche fans who were losing their idol; a warrior on the battlefield whose passion and ardour was matched only by their own.
Claudio spent two seasons at Mallorca, and in 1991 they reached the final of the Copa del Rey, eventually losing 1-0 to Atletico Madrid after an extra-time goal by Alfredo. He was then courted by Cesar Augusto Lendoiro, the President of newly-promoted Deportivo La Coruna, who convinced him that the club was at the beginning of an amazing odyssey.
The Following years were incredible for Claudio and for Deportivo, as the team from Galicia emerged from many years in the wilderness to become a force of European football. Lendoiro was very ambitious but short on funds so he had to be smart in the transfer market; buying in cheaper experienced players (Lopez Rekarte, Paco Liano, José Luis Ribera, Adolfo Aldana, Donato) and picking up promising youngsters to build a team capable of surviving that first season back in La Liga. Claudio made his debut against Valencia on 31 August 1991 and went on to score 10 goals as Depor retained their La Liga status after overcoming Real Betis in the play-offs.
The arrival of striker Bebeto and midfielder Mauro Silva sparked a new era for Deportivo and Claudio thrived alongside the Brazilians. Claudio and Mauro Silva provided the work-rate and fighting spirit that became the hallmark of the team and Bebeto provided the flair. Claudio gained a reputation for being a bit hot-headed and would never shy away from a challenge. Despite being a striker; he would always get involved to win back the ball and was a perfect foil for Bebeto who played the role of a more traditional striker. Their goals took Deportivo to the top of the table where they remained for much of the season, eventually finishing in third place behind Barcelona and Real Madrid and securing a place in European competition for the first time.
As predicted by Carrio, Claudio was called up to the Spanish National team and although he only made six appearances, he was never on the losing side. He made his debut in the 0-0 World Cup qualifying match against Northern Ireland in 1992.
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