The enduring legacy of Claudio ‘El Litri’ Barragan

Updated: April 25, 2013


In the 1993-94 season, Deportivo dominated the league and went into the last match of the season needing only a win at home to Valencia to secure the title. Claudio was out injured but the team were confident they could overcome an inconsistent Valencia side that were sat safely in mid-table. The game was unbearably close and it seemed like a goal would never come until Depor were awarded a late penalty after a foul on Nando. Regular spot-kicker Donato had been taken off and Bebeto did not want to take it, so Djukic stepped up. Unfortunately, he fired a weak shot straight at the goal keeper and Deportivo were denied the title.

Claudio finally won a trophy with Deportivo in 1995 with victory in the Copa del Rey. The squad had been strengthened by the arrival of Salinas, Kostadinov and Manjarín and first team chances were restricted for Claudio. At the age of 31, he had proved himself to be top level footballer and he still had plenty to give, but it was time to move on. To the fans at Riazor, he left as a legend.

When he returned to Depor the next season in the colours of UD Salamanca, Claudio was greeted with emotional chants of his name that reverberated around the stadium, bringing tears to his eyes. Once again, his cult status amongst the supporters was confirmed. In what would be his final season in La Liga, Claudio netted 11 goals for the team from Castile and León, but it was not enough to prevent relegation back to the Segunda.

The following season began badly when he picked up a broken nose in a game against Levante. The injury kept him out of the team for several weeks and on his return he found it hard to gain a regular starting place. This alerted several clubs, including Elche, and in December 1996 he made an emotional return to his former club.

The return of “El Litri” gave a massive boost to the fans of Elche, who had watched the club struggle through financial difficulties and failed promotion attempts during the 1990’s. Their idol had returned; a man of strength, quality and inspiration who could prove the difference when it came down to the wire.

The first season back was turbulent one which saw three different Coaches at the club. Despite this disruption, Elche made it to the play-offs and  everything came down to the last game of the season at Barakaldo CF. They needed to win but also needed Cordoba to avoid defeat at Deportivo “B”. After a tense game, victory was sealed with a single goal from Enric Cuxart and Cordoba prevailed at the Riazor meaning promotion was secured. Many fans still recall the image of an emotional Claudio falling to his knees at the end of the match with tears of joy in his eyes.

The following season Elche were dealt a further blow when they were relegated again but in the 1998-99 season they fought their way back into the play-offs with a team that included current Barcelona Coach, Tito Villanova. Once again it came down to the wire, with a win needed in the final match in Melilla to secure an immediate return to the Segunda league. For the 200 Elche fans that made the trip to the Moroccan coast, it was a night of destiny.

With the game level at 1-1 and half time approaching, the decisive moment came. Tito Villanova floated in a free-kick from the right and the ball was knocked back into the path of Claudio. The outcome was inevitable; it had already been written… The goal put the visitors ahead and they held on to win the game, despite the expulsion of Villanova with 17 minutes to play.

Claudio finished the season as top scorer and had now lead Elche to three promotions. He played on for another year and helped Elche to consolidate their place in the Segunda league where they have remained ever since.

After hanging up his boots, he returned to Elche once again in 2004 as a member of the Coaching staff and remained there until 2009 when he eventually left after a brief spell as Head Coach. He arrived at SD Ponferradina as Coach in January 2011 but was too late to avoid relegation to Segunda “B”. The following year – in typical Claudio style – they bounced right back and secured promotion via the play-offs.

Now, the impossible dream of reaching La Liga seems like a tangible reality. Claudio makes people believe. The fans are his idols and he is theirs. Another day, another legacy…


Follow Neil on Twitter at @nmorris01

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