How Steve Archibald became ‘Archigoles’ at Barcelona

How Steve Archibald became ‘Archigoles’ at Barcelona

You don’t earn the nickname ‘Archigoles’ by accident. In his four years at Barcelona, Scottish striker Steve Archibald became one of the most successful British exports to Spanish football, and certainly one of the finest Scottish exports to the leagues of mainland Europe. At the Camp Nou, his goalscoring feats and mature performances earned him his affectionate epithet; a sign of the hard-won esteem he was held in.

Archibald was a striker who could at times appear languid, but that misunderstood appearance really signified an efficient use of energy for when he needed it most. He oozed class, always seeking to prove to the watching world what he knew in himself; that he belonged at each new level his career took him to. With an exquisite first touch and a lethal, instinctive knack in front of goal, his goals and his skills took him all the way from Clyde to Catalonia.

If you’re seeking to make a good first impression on your new club’s supporters then scoring in the season opener, in a victory away to your fiercest rivals, is not a bad way to go. Archibald’s spell with the Blaugrana saw his new team travel to the Bernabéu to take on Real Madrid in their opening league match of the 1984/85 season. In scoring the final goal in a decisive 3-0 victory – “It was a tap in,” was the understated way in which Archibald described the goal – and having a hand in the other two, he was well set on the path to becoming a firm favourite with his new fans.

His arrival had come at an awkward time for the Catalan giants, however. Barcelona had not won LaLiga for a decade, and there had been something of a revolving door of managers over the preceding years. Terry Venables had taken over in June of 1984 and, when faced with the departure of the legend-in-waiting Diego Maradona for pastures new in Italy, Venables had no choice but to bring in some attacking reinforcements.

There was a power struggle between the club’s leadership wanting to sign the then-Atlético Madrid striker Hugo Sánchez, and Venables wanting to bring in Archibald, fresh from a UEFA Cup-winning season at Tottenham. With both players in the same hotel, negotiating at the same time, Venables got his way and Archibald completed his move.

It would be the loftiest move of a career that had begun as a part-timer for Clyde, a role the youngster combined with running a mechanic business, before a move to the rising force of Scottish football in Aberdeen. There he won the league in 1980 under an as yet unknighted Alex Ferguson, before securing a move to Tottenham; another team on the rise from a relatively low ebb.

His four seasons with Spurs would bring more success with two FA Cup wins and most notably the UEFA Cup, captured in his last match for the side in 1984. Archibald’s final act in a Tottenham shirt was to score his penalty in the decisive shoot-out win in the final against Anderlecht. His productivity in front of goal, his ability to form lucrative partnerships on the field, his elegance on the ball and his sheer professionalism in all aspects were what convinced Venables to bring the Scot to Barcelona in the summer of 1984 for a little over £1m.

Original Series  |  Brits Abroad

He was joining a club in a slump. As well as their domestic drought, the unlikely truth was that both of his previous two clubs, Aberdeen and Tottenham, had been more successful in Europe in recent seasons. Archibald quickly adapted to life in Spain, becoming proficient in the language and embracing the hotter conditions, relishing how it made his muscles looser and more flexible. 

“Este es el hombre,” the Barcelona president Josep Lluís Núñez proclaimed as Archibald was unveiled to the press. “This is the man.” The inference was that this was the man who would replace Maradona. “Certainly, in my head, I wasn’t replacing anyone,” was Archibald’s take on the matter.

He was new to the squad, but not a direct replacement for Maradona in his view. With such differing styles, approaches and attributes, how could he have been a replacement? While this perception was the prevailing one in the Catalan press, Archibald’s ability to retain his focus purely on himself and his contribution to his new team meant that there was no prospect of such pressure overwhelming him.

The spectre of Maradona had other implications in the team, as would soon become apparent to the Scot. Archibald’s contract stipulated that he was to have the number 8 shirt when he was in the starting line-up. It was a matter of great personal importance to him, but it was the number worn at the time by the influential midfielder Bernd Schuster. Archibald’s approach to Schuster led to both players digging in and holding their ground, insisting the number 8 should be theirs.

Eventually Schuster commented that if he gave up the number 8, he would have to wear the number 10 shirt recently vacated by Maradona, and Schuster was wary to say the least of the pressure that would place on him. Archibald quickly understood that if he forced the issue, as he was contractually entitled to do, it would likely create a rift in the squad, with him as the cause. 

“It was like the number 10 shirt was infected,” Archibald recalled. “No-one else would take it. I didn’t have any phobias about it at all. That’s a load of nonsense.” His straightforward approach and willingness to see the bigger picture aided his quick acceptance into the squad. With Schuster, this would mean the start of a very productive relationship both on and off the field. The pair quickly forged an instinctive understanding on the pitch, Archibald frequently creating the space for Schuster’s incisive passing to cut through many an opponent.

Archibald hit the ground running, even before the opening day clash with Real Madrid, scoring twice in a 9-1 destruction of Boca Juniors in a pre-season tournament. That first season saw Barcelona cruise to the league title – only their second in 24 years – with Archibald a pivotal part of the team. 

The following season was one of ups and downs as Barça failed to retain their title, slipping to second place some 11 points behind Real Madrid. However, in the European Cup, they progressed through to only their second final, but for Archibald it was not a smooth road.

He scored a memorable goal in the quarter-final win over the reigning champions, Juventus, famously dubbed the “goal with the ear”. Archibald contends that it was his head that he scored with, but he’s happy to go along with the myth of the “Scotsman’s ear”. He was injured shortly after that match, and so missed the impressive fightback in the semi-final second-leg against Gothenburg. Trailing 3-0 from the away leg, Archibald’s replacement, Pichi Alonso, scored a hat-trick in the return match forcing the match to a penalty shoot-out which Barcelona won.

Rather than viewing Alonso’s contribution as a challenge to his own place in the team, Archibald’s assertion was that Barcelona would never have been in such a pickle in the first place had be been fit and playing. There were naturally calls for Alonso to retain his place for the final, despite Archibald’s return to fitness, but the Scot was back in the team to face Steaua Bucharest.

However, the ultra-defensive Romanians stifled and frustrated the Catalans throughout and Archibald was replaced by Alonso in extra-time = something that Archibald maintains was Venables’ biggest mistake. Alons, like everyone else for Barcelona that night, missed his spot-kick in the shoot-out and Barcelona were beaten. 

By the start of the next season, things were different for Archibald. He was injured, having torn ankle ligaments, and in his absence two more British imports had arrived in the form of Mark Hughes and Gary Lineker. With restrictions on the number of foreigners allowed to play, Archibald found himself phased out for a time, falling below the new arrivals in the manager’s pecking order, though not in the eyes of the fans.

Archibald’s return to fitness saw him playing for Barcelona B, but, as Hughes struggled to fit in, his chance would come again. He watched from the stands as Dundee United knocked Barça out in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals, seeing Hughes struggling and hearing his name chanted in the stands all around him. 

He came back into the team at Hughes’ expense shortly after, linking up well with Lineker, but, despite that, the end was nigh. The following season, he spent a spell on loan at Blackburn and, when he returned, the club itself had changed. Venables was gone, replaced by Johan Cruyff, and Archibald was no longer part of the club’s plans.

A return to Scotland followed with a move to Hibernian, only to return to the city of Barcelona for a short spell with Espanyol for a single season, a year later. He would return to live in Barcelona post-retirement too, such was the connection he had developed with the city. For Barcelona, his curtailed spell still saw him score 24 goals in 55 games – no mean feat at that level – and would prove to be the pinnacle of his career. He remains a popular figure with the fans he played in front of, even if there must be a lingering disappointment at the way his time at the Camp Nou ultimately fizzled out.

In the early days of his time in Barcelona, however, Steve Archibald made a significant impact, winning the hearts and minds of colleagues and fans alike, and the Barcelona faithful treasure their memories of the Scot accordingly.

By Aidan Williams @yad_williams

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