"It was the worst moment of my career," said Jupp Heynckes as he relived a 1985 defeat which will give FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF some encouragement this week.
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FC Bayern München head to FC Barcelona to defend a 4-0 lead in their UEFA Champions League semi-final, but the German champions' coach Jupp Heynckes knows from bitter experience there is no such thing as an unassailable first-leg lead.
On 27 November 1985, Heynckes was coach of the VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach side that beat Real Madrid CF 5-1 in Germany in the first leg of their UEFA Cup third-round tie. However, Rafael Gordillo's away goal would prove the most significant strike of the night when Luis Molowny's Real team won the return fixture 4-0 at the Santiago Bernabéu on 11 December. Madrid duly prevailed on away goals and proceeded to lift the trophy for a second successive season, beating 1. FC Köln 5-3 on aggregate in the final.
"It was the worst moment of my career," remembered Heynckes, who was 40 at the time. "I no longer wanted to be a football coach. We should have won the first leg 7-1, but one player – I won't name him – was clear on goal twice but didn't square for his team-mate. Then we lost 4-0 in Madrid and went out. So I thought: now you will quit as a coach. It was worse than the death threats I received later in my career."
Understandably, the Madrid players' response to the result was a little more positive. After the match, midfielder Juanito said: "We had incredible faith. We said there that we could still eliminate them; José Antonio Camacho and me were the first to say it.
"They turned nine of their chances in Germany into goals, with a good number down to good luck or really incredible finishing. We knew we had to do something similar here. From our eight to ten opportunities we scored four and managed to knock them out. With three up front – Santillana, Butragueño and Valdano – and with supporting players Maceda, Míchel and me, we were able to attack constantly from all sides and we did a lot of damage."
In comparison, José Mourinho's Madrid have just a three-goal deficit to overturn against Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday, and – as he recalled recently – Jorge Valdano knows Madrid have form when it comes to big comebacks. "In those days, we took some ridiculous beatings away from home," the former Merenges forward – and later coach – said. "It meant that in the return games we'd have to win by four or five. Incredibly, our fans had tremendous faith in us. It was a faith that almost seemed foolish considering the results. They generated a really intense pressure that would make us euphoric and opposing teams fearful. We used to call it 'Bernabéu stage-fright'."
Jürgen Klopp's Borussia will look to avoid such a scenario, while Heynckes will hope to exorcise his own demons at Camp Nou on Wednesday – still shuddering at the thought of his Madrid debacle. "I really said I would quit," he said. "I sat down and wrote a letter to my assistant Wolf Werner. I still have that letter today – he never got it. I read it again recently. I was so depressed.
"Then the following Saturday we played at Schalke. Do you know what I did?
For the first time ever I didn't say a single word to my team. I wrote the lineup on a flip chart. They all sat there, 11 o'clock, team meeting, and waited for me to start talking. I just said: 'You all know it all better than me anyway.' The game finished 2-2, but the lads fought for their lives."