Fernando Hierro was among the most complete defenders in the Spanish football league. The Spanish international was a rock at the heart of Real Madrid’s incredible success in the 1990s and 2000s and was even the national team’s leading goal scorer at one point. Before it was fashionable, Hierro was a controlled, ball-playing centre half. He was a towering, intimidating figure who looked like a tough, no-nonsense defender yet played with the poise, calmness, and intellect of Bobby Moore.
Versatility at its most fundamental level. He started as a midfielder and became one of the best defenders in Real Madrid and Spanish football history. He was known for his remarkable anticipation and positioning in the air, as well as the strength with which he could strike the ball, which contributed to his 127 goals. He was also a footballer who possessed the technical ability to get the ball down and play out from the back. As a result, during his 14 years with the club, he helped the club win multiple titles, including three European Cups and two Intercontinental Cups.
In March 1968, Fernando Ruiz Hierro was born into a football family in Vélez-Málaga. He spent all of his formative years with his local team’s youth programme, with the exception of one year. Throughout its 94-year history, this amateur team has alternated between the Tercera División and regional levels. Málaga had second thoughts and added him to their books in 1984, but Fernando lacked the promise that the Hierros twins possessed.
As a result, the little child who idolised Diego Maradona kept his head down, even when Málaga told him he wouldn’t make the cut. But if it hadn’t been for a brother’s intervention, he might not have gone any farther. Manolo Hierro had left freshly relegated Málaga for Real Valladolid.
On October 4, 1987, he made his LaLiga debut in midfield against Espanyol, and scored his first goal just days after turning 20. His impact on the club was undeniable, and at the end of the season, Barcelona came knocking. The other Hierro, unfortunately for the Catalans, was signed. Fernando, on the other hand, continued to improve, with just three red cards in 1988/89 preventing the Valladolid squad’s youngest player from playing a whole LaLiga season as his team finished sixth and qualified for the Cup Winners’ Cup.
The Real Deal
His first season at the club began unconvincingly – at least in terms of what a Real Madrid supporter will ever consider convincing. They went out of the European Cup over two legs to AC Milan after trailing since the ninth minute of the tie and subsequently lost 2-1 at Real Sociedad. They were, however, unrivalled in the league by the end of the season. The squad won LaLiga by a landslide, scoring 107 league goals, a record that would last for 20 years, and Hierro contributed seven goals in a season in which he also made his Spain debut in a 1-0 friendly win over Poland.
Between 1991/92 and 1993/94, Hierro had a fantastic three-season run. In all competitions, he scored 55 goals, including four in 17 minutes against Espanyol in April 1992 and 26 in 1991/92 alone, when Radomir Antic and later Beenhakker, in a brief second stint as manager, gave him the freedom to attack. For those years in the early to mid-1990s, he was the complete player. He’s uncompromising in defence, aggressive in midfield, and incisive in front of goal.
After 14 years with Real Madrid, Fernando Hierro left in the summer of 2003, having won five league titles and three European Cups. He scored 105 goals in 497 LaLiga appearances and is presently ranked sixth in the club’s all-time appearances list, depending on which games are counted.
After being in the Middle East for a year, he returned to Europe and joined Bolton, where he would play alongside old teammate Iván Campo and be dubbed “the best passer in the club’s history” by manager Sam Allardyce. Allardyce, the Bolton supporters, and most of the players pleaded with him to stay longer than the one season he had promised them, but he refused, and in May 2005, he announced his retirement.