Pichichi: The Perennial Hero

by Ben Pinkney

The Pichichi trophy is one of the most talked about awards in European football. Hugo Sánchez, Alfredo Di Stéfano, Raúl González just some of the greats with their names etched upon the trophy. These days, the Diario Marca introduced prize bestows even more focus thanks to the seemingly eternal rivalry between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and the Portuguese captain’s record breaking 41 goals in last year’s La Liga. Despite its fame, few can reciprocate their trophy knowledge in its immortalized namesake.

Rafael Moreno Aranzadi, or Pichichi as he was affectionately named and more commonly known, spent 10 glorious years at Athletico Bilbao between 1911 and 1921. Plainly distinguished by his trademark white handkerchief, which he wore around his head so to protect from the ball stitching, he would go be the holder of one of the most incredible goalscoring records of all time.

Born in the Basque country to a privileged upbringing, and son of the Bilbao mayor, he was destined to wear the red and white of Athletic Bilbao and would be loyal to Los Leones for his entire career.

With La Liga not established until 1927 Pichichi entered into a far cry environment a far cry from the onewe see in Spain today. With no league system the Copa Del Rey would exist as the major trophy for clubs, alongside the regional championships.

Having made his debut in 1912, Pichichi’s first taste of the Copa Del Rey came in 1913. That campaign would take Athletico Madrid and Pichichi all the way to the final to take on Racing Club de Irún, in March, although they would lose 1-0. Just months later it would be the same opponents, renamed Real Unión after a merger with Irún Sporting Club who would share in the inaugural tournament at the San Mamés Stadium, which incidentally included English club Sheperd’s Bush FC. Pichichi would subsequently score the very first goal at Athleic Bilbao’s new home.

The 1914 season would bring Los Leones the Copa del Rey, courtesy of a 2-1 win over Espana FC. It would prove to be the start a purple patch for Bilbao who would go on to win the tournament for the next two consecutive seasons. Notably for Pichichi himself would be the final of 1915, an enigmatic display from the Spaiard lead to him scoring a hat-trick in a 5-0 demolishing of Espanyol.

Pichichi’s international career would be almost as remarkable as his domestic one. Included in the first ever Spanish national squad, due to his goalscoring record, that won a silver medal at the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp, Belgium. He would receive his debut in a 1-0 win over Denmark. His entire La Roja career can be explained by five appearances and just one month.

His final domestic season would bring him his fourth Copa del Rey title, finally retiring in 1921 aged just 29 with ambitions of becoming a referee. Though sadly Pichichi contacted typus and his life was cut drastically short in shocking circumstances before his 30th birthday.

Pichichi’s final record sits at a staggering 468 goals in 287 appearances, perhaps even more remarkable considering he stood at just an inch over 5ft.

Commendation for Rafael Moreno Aranzadi in Bilbao is plentiful. A statue was erected in his name shortly after his untimely death outside San Mamés, which to this day visiting sides traditionally leave an offering. It wasn’t until 1952 that Marca announced the Pichichi trophy, awarded to the top goalscorers in La Liga and Segunda Division.

With a professional career spanning just ten years Pichichi’s career represents one of Athletic Biblao’s most illustrious periods in history, especially considering the context, and is still one of the most beloved figures in their history. He won the Copa del Rey on four occasions, scoring 10 goals in 17 games. 68 goals in 72 regional championships brought three Northern Championships and one Vizcayan championship to complete an illustrious decade in the Basque country.

An inspiring figure and a tragic loss to football, Pichichi that paved the way for some of the biggest names in football.

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