Lionel Messi attracted the blue-and-white shirts of Espanyol like moths to a flame before, with a change of pace and a blur of feet, he left them trailing as he emerged with the ball. Up in the corporate seats, delight creased the familiar features of Steve Archibald.
‘I scored goals where I didn’t know how I’d done it,’ he explains. ‘My game was about movement. I’d be moving and thinking and then the ball comes and in a moment of execution it’s gone, in the back of the net and you don’t even remember it because it’s instinctive.
‘When I see Messi, I think he’s going past guys without realising how he’s doing it. He doesn’t need to know. It’s his instinct. You need two or three defenders on him to have any chance of getting the ball. One-on-one you’ve no chance. He’s so good.’
Steve Archibald is a footballing hero in North London for Tottenham Hotspur and at Barcelona
Steve Archibald in action in a Tottenham Hotspur shirt for the team in a match in 1960
Steve Archibald playing for Barcelona, competing for the ball with Juventus’ Gatetano Scirea
Archibald has lived in Barcelona for long enough to witness to the Messi era. ‘I saw him playing for Barcelona B when he was a kid and he was the same, flying past people and I thought he won’t be able to do that in the first team.
‘How wrong can you be? He’s an amazing little man. He takes knocks and gets on with it. He has drive and determination. His professional attitude is an absolute example to kids. Nobody’s got a level like Messi. It’s a great honour just to watch him play.’
Archibald leaves the impression he could go on but he pauses and reaches for his smart phone to photograph the advert for his energy company which has flashed onto the LED perimeter boards inside Espanyol’s stadium.
This is the latest venture of a rich and varied post-playing career, selling renewable energy from solar power to football fans via his enviable network of contacts in Spain and Portugal. Seven clubs have signed up to the scheme with Energia Valencianista.
He has coached with success at East Fife, been on the board at Benfica, tried to buy Airdrieonians, worked as an agent and is a TV pundit in Spain. The entrepreneurial spirit has burned ever since Archibald was a car mechanic playing part-time at Clyde.
Steve Archibald has been around Barcelona long enough to remember a young Messi playing
Now, having scored goals to fire Aberdeen, Tottenham and Barcelona ‘out of the darkness’, as he puts it, the 62-year-old is illuminating football in a different way.
It was 1984 when he signed for Barcelona in a £1.15million transfer and inherited Diego Maradona’s locker, together with piles of leftover deodorant and aftershave, and the number 10 shirt vacated by the Argentina star who was sold to Napoli.
‘Who’s taking over from Maradona was the question from day one,’ said Archibald. ‘They gave me his locker with his name still on and all his stuff still inside. His number was available but I wanted to wear eight.
‘It was my number and it was in my contract. Come match day, Bernd Schuster goes and sits beside the eight. Bernd was a big figure with a strong German mentality; a wonderful player and my supplier from midfield. Like Glenn Hoddle, he’d find you anywhere with left or right foot.
‘I needed to handle it delicately. So I go over and say: “Bernd, it’s my number. I’ve got an agreement. I like the eight. I’ve scored goals wearing this number. It gives me confidence. I really need to wear it”. Fortunately, he spoke good English. He said: “I understand, but for all the reasons you just said I like eight”.
‘I walked away and Terry Venables came over to ask if there was a problem. I said: “Well, Bernd’s not giving me the eight shirt”. He said: “Do you want me to get it for you?” All the players were watching and it would have been a big controversy to knock Bernd off his pedestal.
‘He would have walked out before the game. I said I’d handle it, and went back and gave him more spiel. Tried it from another angle. Again, he said: “Yes but I really need this shirt”.
‘Then he looked around and said: “Steve, I am not taking the 10”. As soon as he said that it clicked. He couldn’t take the 10. As soon as you put the 10 on people are comparing you to Maradona. So I said: “I’ll take 10. Ten’s fine”. From that moment we were solid friends.’
Archibald has revealed the story of taking the number 10 shirt at Barcelona after Maradona
Archibald scored on his debut at Real Madrid to secure a place in the hearts of supporters as they won La Liga for the first time in 11 years.
‘Maradona was there for two years and didn’t win it,’ he said. ‘Not because he’s a bad player but Diego comes with a lot of things and I could probably get away with things he couldn’t.
‘People knew what he could do. Maradona’s on the ball and 10 people are trying to get it off him. My game was about movement and I developed it to a good level. Maybe I was Maradona without the ball.
‘They weren’t used to it here. They all wanted to dribble and play a one-two. In training, we played a game with small goals and no goalkeepers and they’d be working their way to the goal. It came to me and wherever I was on the pitch, I’d shoot and score.
‘Everybody stopped and said: “You can’t do that”. And Terry said: “Why not?” There was no answer.’
Venables had convinced Barcelona to abandon plans to sign Hugo Sanchez from Atletico Madrid and instead pay £1.15million for Archibald who swears he never wanted to leave Tottenham.
Four years at White Hart Lane had brought great success and a close connection with fans.
In his first season, he was top scorer in Division One and Spurs won the FA Cup, their first trophy in seven years, to restore lost pride after the shock of relegation in 1977. Another FA Cup followed and the UEFA Cup.
Archibald also reveals how Sir Alex Ferguson made him return a match ball after a hat-trick
‘My contract was up but my mind was set on staying,’ said Archibald. ‘I was only after an increase of £10,000 a year. Not an outrageous demand. But Irving Scholar had come in as chairman, and he wanted the money on offer from Barcelona.
‘He said: “Oh this is what you do, isn’t it? Score some goals and come asking for money.” I thought: Who are you? You’ve only just come to the club and you don’t know me. And it wasn’t true. That really sickened me to the pit of my stomach.’
Archibald did appreciate his own value in an era where footballers often did not. When Spurs signed him for a record fee of £800,000, he had the nerve to ask Aberdeen chairman Dick Donald for a cut as he had helped them win the Scottish title for the first time in 25 years.
‘He said: “Listen son, we give money to players to stay, not to go”, which I thought was brilliant.’
Then there was the time Sir Alex Ferguson ordered him to return the match-ball he had taken home after scoring a hat-trick for Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup against Celtic.
‘Balls cost money,’ said Archibald. ‘So Alex called me in and says: “Bring the ball back”. I said: “You’re joking, right? You remember I scored a hat-trick?” He said: “Aye, I know that, that’s your job.” I said: “You’re serious? You want me to bring the ball back in?”
‘He said: “Bring the ball back tomorrow”. I said: “It’s only a ball.” He said: “Bring the f***ing ball back”. So I brought it back.
‘Next to the dressing room there was a little office where he’d go in the morning with the assistant manager and organise training. I went in and booted the ball through the door. It was a small room and I caught it sweet, so it pretty much hit every wall. There’s your ball back.’
The European Cup final in 1986 was not a classic. ‘I was six feet away from it,’ said Archibald, pointing across the restaurant to a nearby table. ‘As close as that bottle of oil. The game finished and bang, there it was by the pitch and you’ve got to walk right past and you can’t touch it.’
Barcelona had been expected to win easily but Steaua Bucharest came to frustrate and won on penalties.
Archibald will be talking at a ‘European Legends’ event with former teammate Micky Hazard
Archibald started up front after painful treatment to heal a hamstring muscle torn in a quarter-final where he scored the winner against holders Juventus. He was replaced in extra-time and watched as his teammates failed to score a single penalty in the shootout, losing 2-0.
Defeat was hard to take but he believes the Venables years proved the catalyst for all that Barca have achieved since.
‘Everything that’s happening now came from Terry’s team,’ said Archibald. ‘We brought Barcelona out of the darkness. No doubt.
‘Then Johan Cruyff came in, a brilliant guy with his wonderful style of football. But we were the spark. We won the league and nearly won the European Cup for the first time. If we didn’t do that, would they have got Cruyff? I don’t know.’
More than three decades on, Barca are the champions of Spain with eyes on a sixth European title and, dauntingly for Tottenham, Messi is playing like the genius he is, scoring twice from free-kicks in a 4-0 win in the Barcelona derby on Saturday.
‘It’s the same club,’ said Archibald, who will be talking at a ‘European Legends’ event with former Spurs teammate Micky Hazard at Barcelona’s Astoria on Monday.
‘The mentality is more business but the essence is the same. I know the people: the chairman, the vice-chairman; vice-presidents. I’ve got a feel for the club. Nothing’s changed.
‘They want to win things. They want to beat Madrid. They want to have the best players and play the best football. They have the same aspirations to be the best. They will never coast. They will want to beat Spurs. It’s a big game. Messi will want to score goals.’
Archibald says Kane is the kind of player Real Madrid needs, but wants him to stay at Spurs
So will Harry Kane, rested by Mauricio Pochettino at Leicester on Saturday and never far from a link to Real Madrid when he plays in Spain. With good reason, according to Archibald.
‘He’s probably the player Real Madrid need,’ he said. ‘He’s a top striker, maybe similar to myself in terms of movement. Scores with either foot and his head. I’d hate to see him leave Spurs because the fans love him.
‘There’s clear progression at Spurs, but you can’t keep having constant disappointments if you’re a striker scoring 30 goals a season.
‘You’re doing your job every year and you reach a point where you think: ‘F*** it, I need to win something’.
‘Harry Kane for Real Madrid just seems like the right fit. It all depends on what he wants. Does he want to try his luck elsewhere? I didn’t. I wanted to win the league with Spurs. Maybe Harry’s the same.’
Yet, here he is, a resident of Barcelona, fluent in Spanish, trim as he ever was, still playing twice a week and regularly saluted as he walks down the street by the cries of ‘Archigoles’