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Off-the-radar: Kidnapping the title - the story of Asturian striker Quini

Sarthak Kumar looks back at the 1980-81 season, when Barcelona's most important player was kidnapped.

Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

March 1, 1981. Quini left the Camp Nou feeling proud of himself. A six goal routing of Hércules CF, without reply, and he had produced the goods twice. The humble and noble Asturian was the league’s top scorer.

Barcelona knew that, even though they were second and two points behind Atlético Madrid, if they won all their games they would win the title.

The table read, after 26 matches: Atlético 37, Barcelona 35, Valencia 32, Real Madrid 31, Sporting Gijón 31, Real Sociedad 31.

Quini left the stadium alone in his car - a Ford Granada - and drove home. He planned to go to the El Prat airport later to pick up his wife, Maria Nieves, and children, who were returning from Asturias. At nine o’clock, Maria called Quini and told him that she was about to board the flight. They agreed that Quini would wait at the airport for them.

Quini lived in Gran Vía de Carlos III, a community that lies on the superfast Cinturón de Ronda highway - the second longest street in Spain and one of the few without traffic lights. It was just a ten minute drive to the airport.

Quini never reached the airport.


March 3, 1981. It is reported that the morale of the Barcelona players was shattered and workouts were minimized due to nervousness and sadness.

March 5, 1981. Bernd Schuster, one of Quini’s closest friends, refuses to play against Atléti.

March 8, 1981. Atlético Madrid defeated Barcelona 1-0, a game that Barcelona were widely expected to win. But that was before Quini disappeared.

27 matches in, and the table was: Atlético 39, Barcelona 35, Sporting Gijón 33, Real Sociedad 33, Valencia 33, Betis 31, Real Madrid 31.

March 15, 1981. UD Salamanca, relegation threatened, bottom of the table and six points from safety, beat Barcelona 2-1.

28 matches, and Barcelona are slowly losing ground: Atlético 39, Barcelona 35, Real Sociedad 34, Sporting Gijón 33, Real Madrid 33, Valencia 33.

March 22, 1981. Barcelona are held by Zaragoza 0-0 at the Nou Camp.

29 matchdays, and Barcelona’s title chances hang by a thread: Atlético 40, Barcelona 36, Real Sociedad 36, Valencia 35, Real Madrid 35. Sporting Gijón 33.

March 25, 1981. The kidnappers demanded a hundred million pesetas to be deposited in a bank account in Switzerland. Nicolau Casaus, vice-president of Barcelona, went to Geneva to oversee the operation. The cooperation of the Spanish and Swiss law enforcement agencies helped uncover the owner of the account, despite the the traditional secrecy in Swiss banking. Victor Manuel Diaz Esteban, an electrician, was the criminal and was captured en route to the airport while catching a plane to Paris. He confessed that Quini was being held in Zaragoza. At ten in the evening, the police successfully released the player.

He also revealed that Quini had been held at gunpoint and forced into a DKW van.

March 26, 1981. At two-thirty in the morning, Quini, along with the police chief of the Aragonese city, arrived in Barcelona to the cheers of thousands of fans, visibly exhausted.

March 29, 1981. The exhausted Quini didn’t make the trip to Madrid. Barcelona looked exhausted too - a 3-0 defeat was the end of their chances.

After 30 games: Atlético 40, Real Sociedad 38, Real Madrid 37, Valencia 37, Barcelona 36, Sporting Gijón 35.

While Barcelona had collected one point, Real Sociedad had won 7, including a 3-1 defeat of Real Madrid. And the title was theirs at the end.

Barcelona finished 5th, and didn’t even make it to the UEFA Cup - they settled for a UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup spot.

After his release, Quini had good words for his captors and withdrew all accusations against them, although Barcelona decided to proceed with the case and asked for thirty-five million pesetas compensation. After all, it had cost them a league title.

The ruling, issued on January 15, 1982, sentenced the accused to ten years in prison and five million pesetas was granted to the player.

He waived it off.

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