I felt rather saddened on Saturday as I watched Real Zaragoza collapse to yet another pitiful defeat. It wasn’t the nature of their loss that troubled me; in fact they threatened to actually compete with Malaga in the first half and held a lead for a decent amount of time before capitulating spectacularly.
Instead, it’s the fact that they look doomed and hopeless which gets me down, because as a kid I saw them in the flesh when they were in considerably finer fettle. It was one of the biggest games I’d ever seen at the time, made even more memorable because a player who held a particularly morbid fascination for me was playing.
Still, attention for the wrong reasons seems to be a pattern for Pato Yáñez, as his name now lives on beyond the realm of football in Latin America for rather unorthodox reasons.
I followed his career in the 1980s more closely than most teenagers bothered to trail Chilean wingers, mainly because a macabre story I’d read about him grabbed my attention, and when his club ended up drawing my team, Wrexham in the European Cup Winners Cup I was thrilled to get the chance to see him play live. Sadly, I was less thrilled when a virtuoso performance by him meant Wrexham were denied one of the greatest nights in the club’s history.
Patricio Nazario Yáñez Candia- Pato Yáñez to you and I-was born in Quillota in the Valparaiso region of Chile, an agricultural area primarily known for growing custard apples. I’m impressed already!
He established himself in the local San Luis Quillota side as a left winger and despite the fact that the club are not one of the giants of Chilean football, he stood out, earning a place in the Chilean national side and a move to Spain when Real Valladolid brought him across the Atlantic.
Before beginning his European career, though, Yáñez had the little matter of the 1982 World Cup to enjoy. He had played a pivotal role in Chile’s qualifying campaign, showing remarkable pace to burst through Paraguay’s defence before coolly finishing with the outside of his right foot to score the only goal in an historic win in Ascuncion which virtually assured qualification.
The actual World Cup campaign itself was a huge disappointment. Chile were drawn in a group which would offer up the most memorable, if not notorious, moment of the tournament when Austria and West Germany played out a fixed match in order to assure both sides of qualification.
Unfortunately, Chile’s role in all of this was to be whipping boys in the group, their inability to stop any of their opponents from taking full points off them setting up the final Teutonic stitch-up. They lost their first game 1-0 to Austria but then were offered the chance to shake the world when they faced a German side fresh from losing to Algeria. They were unable to eliminate the eventual runners-up though, losing 4-1 and going on to be beaten 3-2 by Algeria despite fighting back from 3-0 down at half time. However, that final game was not played simultaneously with the West Germany-Austria match, allowing the fix to take place. It was a mistake FIFA would never make again.
Yáñez played ninety minutes in all three games, but something I read in “World Soccer” ensured that I watched him particularly carefully. It claimed that a rare defect meant that his heart could, in their own words, “explode” at any time, making his entire career a huge risk! I therefore watched his games rather as a person watches a trapeze artist at a circus, at least partly conscious that the possibility of falling from a great height is part of the terrifying fascination.
Yáñez would not succumb to his misfortune, thankfully, and is still going strong now at the age of fifty (at least I assume so-he has yet to respond to my friend request on facebook!) He would go on to earn forty-three caps for his country, scoring five times, but his career is still remembered not for his blistering pace, but for a rather unfortunate incident in the qualifiers for the 1990 World Cup.
Chile had been drawn in a group with Brazil and Venezuela, the winners going through to the finals in Italy. It all came down to the final match of the group in Rio de Janeiro, which both sides went into level on points, Brazil having a superior goal difference.
At 1-0 down, the required victory looked distant for Chile, which provoked one of the most shameful incidents in World Cup history. Chilean keeper Roberto Rojas collapsed, claiming a flare launched from the crowd had hit him. Covered in blood he was carried off the pitch and Chile attempted to have the game awarded to them. However, TV footage showed that the flare landed about ten feet away from Rojas, whose play-acting was so pre-conceived that he had concealed a razor in his kit to cut himself in order to make his injuries look convincing! The Chilean officials and medical staff were found to have colluded with him and Chile were banned from the 1994 World Cup, while Rojas was banned for life along with the Chilean coach and doctor, who had sent a message to the keeper by walkie-talkie to stay down.
Yáñez’s part in the game is a famous one. There’s no suggestion he was aware of the Rojas plot, but as the Brazilian crowd vented their anger, he walked to the side of the pitch, grabbed his genitals, and made an obscene gesture to them! It’s still known throughout South American as a Yáñez!
His club career saw him establish himself as a regular for Valladolid, although the last season of his four-year contract with them was spent out on loan with Real Zaragoza, alongside the likes of Ruben Sosa. They’d won the Copa del Rey the previous season, beating Barcelona 1-0 in the final, and were to finish the season fifth in La Liga under the leadership of Luis Costa, following up a fourth place finish the previous campaign, when they were drawn against Wrexham in the 1986 edition of the European Cup Winners’ Cup.
After a 0-0 draw in Spain the sides fought out a compelling match at The Racecourse, but the tie was still goalless after ninety minutes in North Wales. Extra time saw Yáñez make the decisive contribution. Having come on as an 81st minute substitute, his fresh legs helped him to twice give Zaragoza the lead. Although both times Wrexham swiftly snatched equalisers, they were thwarted by a string of brilliant saves by Andoni Cedrún and Zaragoza prevailed on away goals. They went on to reach the semi-final, where Ajax eliminated them.
Yáñez went on to play for Real Betis before returning to Chile to end his career with Colo Colo. He’ll always be remembered by me as the man who defied medical risk to thwart my European dreams, an uplifting legacy, even if across South America it’s an unfortunate uplifting that he’s remembered for!