Madridistas will forever remember Lucas’ audacity and swagger before his penalty kick in the UEFA Champions League final against Atlético Madrid in Milan. Images of Lucas spinning the ball perfectly captured his confidence and calmness, who for large parts of his Real Madrid youth career was overshadowed by more illustrious attacking partners such as Morata, Jesé, or Pablo Sarabia. However, it was Lucas who became the unlikely hero of this Champions league winning team.
Childhood in Galicia
Lucas was born in 1991, in a small village of Curtis, Galicia; which is 24 km away from A Coruña. His earliest memories are of playing football. He always played football everywhere and he had the perfect partner – his brother Mateo Vázquez with whom he used to play with all the time. Together they caused their uncle and parents a lot of mischief. However, his mother was very strict. First, he had to do all his homework and then he could get out and play football. Naturally, he wasn’t very happy about that.
Lucas started his career in his local team – C.C.D. Curtis – as a striker. He quickly rose through the ranks and soon he became very famous in A Coruña province. It didn’t take long for clubs from A Coruña to come asking for him. Therefore, after two years in C.C.D. Curtis, he moved to Ural Club de Fútbol in A Coruña. He established himself as one of their best youth players, scoring 50 goals in his first year in the academy. When Ural’s youth team was promoted to División de Honor, they decided to let him stay in that team and play against much older opposition. He was 15 years old at that time and he played against kids who were 18 and 19.
Ever since he was a small boy, Lucas was perfectly clear on which club was the club of his heart. His father, his mother, and his uncle were all Madridistas and Lucas was no different. Despite being from A Coruña province and in the sphere of influence of Deportivo la Coruña, Lucas was never swayed. It’s even more impressive, because at that time Deportivo la Coruña were at their peak of their powers, earning them the title ‘Super Depor’. Who could ever forget that unbelievable team with players like Valerón, Makaay, Rivaldo and Bebeto?
The first Real Madrid game he saw live was against Villarreal in 2001 and he couldn’t have picked a better time to visit the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. In the game, which ended 4-0, he witnessed a truly spectacular performance from Los Blancos. Guti scored an absolute golazo and finished the night with a hat-trick, while Roberto Carlos did what he knew best -- to score an absolute screamer from a set piece. This Real Madrid's performance left young Lucas completely astounded and he exited the stadium in awe.
Naturally, his talent was quickly recognized by Deportivo and they came asking for him not once, not twice, but many times. Each time Lucas said no. He wasn’t convinced that signing for Depor would be the best move and he wanted to go to Madrid as soon as possible.
That time came, when in July 2007, his father told him: “Hey, Míchel has just called and says they want you to go for trials at Real Madrid Juvenil C. What do you say?“. Lucas was taken aback: “Dad, you've got to be kidding?!” At 16 yrs old, he left his hometown, his parents, and his friends and signed for Real Madrid.
When Lucas arrived in Juvenil C, he quickly became a part of one of the best generations in the recent history of La Fábrica. Morata, Nacho (and his brother Álex), Pablo Sarabia and Dani Carvajal, were just some of the names from the 2010 title-winning Juvenil A team. In that year, Juvenil A won the División de Honor title on the last match day. Two months later, they won the biggest title in the Juvenil category - Copa de Campeones of División de Honor. They became the undisputed Juvenil Champions of all of Spain.
They were not only a great team with great individuals, but they all became close friends. Dani Carvajal recollects that this squad and the dressing room was the best one he was ever part of.
In Real Madrid C (now discontinued) he met one of the most important people of his youth career - Manolo Díaz, the coach of Real Madrid C. He moved Lucas from striker to a right-wing and instilled in him a strong work ethic that emphasized the necessity to always help his full back. He took Lucas under his wings and told him that if he does all the things he’s instructing him to do, he’ll become a first division player.
“For a fullback and for a coach, he is an ideal player. He is a wide player, who gives you so much in attack, but also in defense. I never had to tell him to track back and defend.” - Manolo Díaz
“Whenever he plays in front of me, it’s amazing, because I’m never left 1v1 with a winger. He always helps you in defense. He knows when to stay back and cover for you and when to move forward. We are on the same wavelength.” - Dani Carvajal
However, not everything went as Lucas would like. There were tough times ahead of him. In his first season in Castilla, he played sporadically and racked up only ~600 minutes that season. This lack of playing time inevitably led to doubts. He started to wonder whether he was good enough or not.
Eventually, Lucas knew that he had to do something different, so he got himself a personal trainer, who toughed him up mentally and physically, helping him to reach new heights.
Loan spell at Espanyol
During preseason with Real Madrid's first team in the United States, an offer came from Espanyol. Sergio González, the coach of Espanyol, personally called Lucas and told him that he wants the youngster to be a part of his project and that he will play an important role in the squad. It was a good stepping stone for Lucas, as it was an ideal place to further develop as a first division player. Lucas was loaned to Espaynol with an option to buy, but Real Madrid installed a buy-back clause into his contract just in case.
It was in Barcelona, where the public started to recognize Lucas on the streets and ask him for autographs. This attention and fame was something new for Lucas, because he wasn’t a recognized star of Real Madrid's youth teams and his parents have always kept him firmly grounded. However, while Lucas didn’t have his parents around him in Barcelona, there was someone else to guide him -– Fernando.
Fernando is an owner of a restaurant where Lucas went quite frequently with his friends and family. Due to Lucas’ constant presence in Fernando’s restaurant, the two became good friends and the restaurant became his second home.
This loan was very important in his development. He was the main man not only in Espanyol’s attack, scoring 4 goals and providing 7 assists, but also in the squad. His coach and his teammates were always there for him and Lucas felt happy there, although Real Madrid was always in the back of his mind. Everybody knew that it was his dream to come back to Madrid.
Home, at last.
For the second time in his life, Lucas was awaiting a call from Real Madrid. Espanyol were keen to keep the Galician and triggered the “buy clause” option. 15 days later, while Lucas was on holiday with his girlfriend, he finally received the call he’d been waiting for. His agent called him and informed him that Real Madrid will sign him. It was something that he had been working on ever since he started playing football. It was his lifelong dream to be at Real Madrid, to play for Real Madrid and to triumph at Real Madrid.
The first thing he did was call his father and tell him that he’s going to Madrid. His father didn’t believe him and thought that Lucas was playing a joke on him, much like when Lucas didn’t believe his father when he said that Míchel wanted Lucas to do a trial at Madrid.
Lucas’s incorporation to the first team was made much easier thanks to Sergio Ramos: “He helped me out right from the start. He took me to one side and said that he'd be there to help me with whatever I needed. I'm very grateful to him because he made life easy for me from day one. He's our captain, our great captain and a great footballer”.
Lucas swiftly made his first team debut on the 12th of September 2016 against his previous team – Espanyol. However, being a winger or striker in Real Madrid is very tough. Minutes are sporadic and if you’re not a mega-star, you have to patiently wait for your opportunities and when they come, you have to make the best out of them. So Lucas waited and waited. From September till March he played only 519 minutes and started in only four games, completing the full 90 minutes only three times.
Right from the beginning, Lucas noticed the difference in Real Madrid’s training, namely the speed of the play and the fitness levels of Real Madrid’s players. The opportunity to train with and learn from icons such as Ronaldo, Bale, Benzema and Luka Modrić was simply invaluable and even though he didn’t play as much as he wanted, he continued to develop.
When Zidane succeeded Rafa Benítez, he didn’t count on Lucas a lot. But as is his custom, Zidane spoke with Vázquez a lot. He told Lucas that he had faith in him and that he needs to be patient, because he will get his opportunities. Lucas knew that it wouldn’t be easy to break into the first team, because of the quality of the starters, but he never doubted that he lacked enough quality to play for Real Madrid. He knew that his chances would eventually come and in the meantime he gave 100% in training and waited.
And the chances came. Key players got injuries and Lucas was presented with a chance to prove himself. He didn’t let it slip through his fingers. He slowly built his confidence and started to show his true potential and quality. From March till the end of the season he virtually became the 12th man and saw his minutes doubled as he racked 1100 minutes in those two-three months.
Zidane saw Lucas as an important bench player, who gave balance to the team. Lucas is a crucial player for Real Madrid’s squad, because there is no other player in the team that provides what he does. He is the old-fashioned winger, who stretches the field, provides width and sublime dribbling skills. And thanks to Manolo Díaz’s coaching, Lucas never neglects his defensive duties as a winger and that makes him a wonderful partner to his full-back. He is so good defensively and has such a great work-rate that he was even used as an auxiliary right back by Rafa Benítez.
Milan. 28th May 2016. UEFA Champions League final.
Those words bring joy to all Madridistas. We might try to convince ourselves that La Liga is equally important, but I don’t believe that, not even for a second. The UEFA Champions League is a competition that defines Real Madrid, it’s a competition that makes a Madridista’s hearts skip a beat, and Lucas took part in it. It was Lucas’ first year in Real Madrid and his second year in the top flight and yet despite his inexperience, he was subbed on in the biggest game in the world.
The score line was 1-1 after Sergio Ramos’ and Carrasco’s goals. Atletico were pushing for the winning goal. Isco and Danilo already came on and we were wondering who would be the third substitution. Zidane had plenty of good players to choose from, like Jesé, James and Nacho. And yet, when in the 77th minute, Benzema was walking off the pitch, it was Lucas who took his place. It was a testament to how much Zidane valued Lucas.
Both teams were unable to score the winning goal, so the coaching staff of both teams prepared for penalties. Lucas was very confident and he knew that he would score. So when the referee blew his whistle to signal the end of extra-time, Lucas quickly approached David Bettoni, Zidane’s assistant, and told him that he wanted to take a penalty. And he did, as the first one. His friends, his parents, his brother, his fiancé, they couldn’t watch it -- all of them had their heads in their hands or their eyes covered.
And then the iconic moment came. While slowly walking to the penalty box, Lucas started to play with the ball, repeatedly spinning it on his index finger. He was so full of confidence, although that ironically didn’t fill us, the fans, with a lot of confidence. He was after all, a fairly new and young player with zero experience in such moments.
He picked his side, Oblak froze on the spot and he scored. He converted the first of five Real Madrid penalties that gave us La Undécima. Just two years after the historic win in Lisbon we were able to celebrate again. When Cristiano converted the last penalty, which effectively won us the match, we could see that everybody was running towards him from the half way line.
A lot of things went through Lucas' mind: The whole match, the fans, the win, the relief. It was a sensational feeling for him to win the biggest club trophy there is.
Lucas admitted later that after the match, he thought about what would’ve happened if he had failed to convert the penalty. But luckily for him and us, he didn’t have those thoughts during the final. He was utterly convinced in the moment that he wouldn’t fail.
But winning the UEFA Champions League wasn’t the end of his successful season, as Lucas was called up by Vicente del Bosque for EURO 2016 in France. It was his first ever national team call up (because he was never called up for Spain's U17/19/21 teams) and it was a beautiful and fitting reward to cap off his glorious 2016/17 footballing season.
Do you consider yourself to be a star?
But you’re in Real Madrid’s first team…
(shrugs) No, I’m just a normal guy.
Those two simple and short answers perfectly capture Lucas. He is just a normal guy, who is absolutely delighted that he managed to accomplish one of his childhood dreams – to play for Real Madrid.
Now he sets his sights on the second dream – to triumph with Real Madrid - and frankly, he almost accomplished that one also (1x Champions League, 1x UEFA Supercup and 1x Club World Cup). But, as Ronaldo would say, there are always more trophies to be won...