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  • Writer's pictureDag Jenkins

Gaizka Mendieta

Gaizka Mendieta Zabala was born in Bilbao, on March 27, 1974.


He started his football career far from the Basque Country, in Castellón (Valencia autonomous region). In the 1991-92 season he made his debut in the Segunda División playing 16 league games plus 2 in the Copa del Rey. The team from Castellón de la Plana finished 15th.


In 1992 he made his big move to nearby Valencia in the top flight. In his first year, under Guus Hiddink, he only made 2 appearances in the Liga and the Valencianos finished 4th.


The following year, however, he played 20 league games and scored his first 2 goals. "Els Che" finished 7th.


In 1993 came a new manager, Francisco Real but he was then followed by Uruguayan Héctor Núñez, José Manuel Rielo and finally the return of Hiddink. In all this turmoil Mendieta played 20 league games and scored his first 2 goals. Valencia finished 7th


In the 1994-95 season Brazilian Carlos Alberto Parreira took over but was then replaced by José Manuel Rielo. Mendieta played less, 13 league games with 1 goal and 3 games in the Copa del Rey. The Blanquinegres finished 10th.


The 1995-96 season was a good one both for Mendieta and Valencia. The "Taronja" finished 2nd behind Atlético Madrid and Mendieta played 34 league games and 8 in the Copa del Rey, under manager Luis Aragonés.


In 1996-97 Mendieta again played regularly, 30 league games with 1 goal and 6 in the UEFA Cup. Valencia finished 10th but reached the quarterfinals in Europe (Schalke 1-3 on aggregate).


In 1997-98 he again played 30 league games but with 10 goals plus 5 games in the Copa del Rey. The manager was Italian Claudio Ranieri and Valencia finished 9th.


The following season was a positive one. Valencia finished 4th in the league (Champions League qualification) and won the Copa del Rey for the 6th time (Atlético Madrid 3-0 with 2 goals by Claudio López and 1 by Mendieta). He played 37 league games with 7 goals, 7 games in Copa del Rey and 10 in Europe (6 Intertoto + 4 UC). It was in this season he made his debut for the Spanish national team.


In 1999 Héctor Cúper took charge and Valencia had a memorable season. They won the Spanish Supercup (Barcelona 1-0), finished 3rd in La Liga but above all reached the Champions League Final. They got through 2 group stages; they topped the first ahead of Bayern Munich, Rangers and PSV Eindhoven and then in the next group qualified as second behind Manchester United but ahead of Fiorentina and Bordeaux. In the quarterfinals they beat Lazio 5-3 on aggregate and in the semi-final Barcelona again 5-3 on aggregate. They played Real Madrid in the final in Paris but were well beaten 0-3. Mendieta had a great season, 33 games in the league with 13 goals, 2 games in the Copa del Rey, the Spanish Supercup plus 16 in the Champions League with 5 goals. Mendieta was voted best midfielder of the Champions League.


In 2000-01 Valencia finished 5th in La Liga but incredibly reached another Champions League Final. They topped the first group with Olympique Lyonnais, Olympiakos and Heerenveen. In the second group they came ahead of Manchester United on goal difference, leaving behind Sturm Graz and Panathinaikos. In the quarters they eliminated Arsenal on away goals (2-2 on aggregate) and in the semis got the better of Leeds United (3-0 on aggregate). They set up a final against Bayern Munich in Milan. This time "Els Che" came closer but were beaten on penalties 4-5 after a 1-1 draw (Mendieta scored a penalty in the 90 minutes and another in the shoot out). He played 31 league games with 10 goals and 16 in the Champions League with 4 goals. He was again voted best Champions League midfielder of the season.


In the summer of 2001 he joined Lazio. The Romans sacrificed club legend Pavel Nedved to buy the player who was considered the best midfielder in Europe. It proved to be a grave error, Mendieta never settled at Lazio and his performances ranged from poor to shocking. He played first under Zoff and then Zaccheroni and Lazio had a mediocre season finishing 6th and underperforming in the Champions League. Mendieta played 20 league games, 4 in Coppa Italia and 7 in the Champions League without a single goal.


In 2002 he returned to Spain to revive his career and joined Barcelona on loan. The Blaugrana however struggled and changed managers twice; Louis Van Gaal (1-19), Antonio de la Cruz (20) and Radomir Antić (21-38). "Barca" finished 6th and went out of the Champions League in the quarter finals (Juventus 2-3 on aggregate after extra-time). Mendieta played 33 league games with 4 goals, 1 game in the Copa del Rey and 15 in the Champions League with 2 goals.


In 2003 he moved to England and joined ambitious Middlesbrough in the top flight. He stayed four seasons but after the first he was hampered by injuries. He played a total of 81 games on Teesside with 5 goals. He won silverware with The Smoggies when Boro won the League Cup in 2004 beating Bolton 2-1 in Cardiff. Boro finished 11th, 14th, 12 and 13th in the Spaniard's spell in the north -east. In 2006 they reached the UEFA Cup Final but were defeated by Sevilla 0-4 in Eindhoven.


Mendieta then retired at 33.


At international level he won 40 caps for Spain with 9 goals. He played at Euro 2000 (reaching and scoring in the quarterfinal lost 1-2 to France) and the 2002 World Cup (again reaching the quarter final but going out to South Korea on penalties). He also played 13 games for the U21's winning a European silver medal in 1996 and a bronze in 1994.


Mendieta surprisingly stayed on in Middlesbrough after retirement and equally surprisingly became a well known and respected deejay.


When summarizing Mendieta's career there is an extremely positive Valencia period and then an extremely disappointing post Valencia phase. It must be said that many of the Valencia stars of the period never reached those heights again at other clubs: Gerard, Francisco Farinos, Kily Gonzalez, Adrian Ilie to name a few. Conversely others revived their careers at Valencia, Jocelyn Angloma and Amedeo Carboni for example, must be the south-east coast sea air… or the d….. , yes the dorada estrella beer is known to do wonders. He will be remembered as a great player in those years, one of the best in Europe.


He was a midfielder. He was 1.73 and 69 kilos but he was a strong player. He was a complete midfielder who could attack and defend, pulling the strings in all areas of the field. He scored goals too, 54 at Valencia, and was an excellent penalty taker.


Lazio unfortunately never saw these assets. He looked disorientated and never really fitted in. I remember commenting to my brother during one of Mendieta's more depressing displays, "he looks like someone who has never played football before"... hardly a compliment for Europe's supposedly best midfielder. In his defence Lazio in general had a negative season. Anyway at Lazio he is considered the biggest flop in their history, also taking into account the 89 billion Lire they paid for him and the sacrifice of Pavel Nedved. Still sends shivers down my spine.


Lazio Career

Season

Appearances

Serie A

Coppa Italia

Champions League

2001-02

31

20

4

7

Sources


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