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    Quini, celebrated soccer player who was kidnapped

    Quini (standing) attempted a shot on goal against Italy in the European Soccer Championships in 1980.
    Associated Press/File 1980
    Quini (standing) attempted a shot on goal against Italy in the European Soccer Championships in 1980.

    MADRID — Enrique Castro González, a prolific Spanish soccer player known as Quini who was also remembered for being kidnapped at gunpoint in a case that unsettled the nation, died Tuesday in Gijón, on the northern coast of Spain. He was 68.

    His death was confirmed by Sporting de Gijón, the club with which he had two stints as a player and for which he continued to work as an official after retiring in 1987.

    He was reported to have had a heart attack while walking along a street near his home in Gijón, a port city in the Asturias region.


    He was attended to by police and medical personnel on the spot but then suffered a second, and fatal, heart attack on his way to a hospital.

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    Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, one of many Spanish politicians and sports figures who paid tribute to Quini, called him a “sports legend.”

    Quini — the name is a diminutive of Enrique — finished five seasons as the leading scorer in Spain’s first division while playing for Sporting de Gijón as well as for FC Barcelona.

    Over his career Quini (he was also nicknamed “the wizard”) scored 219 goals in 448 matches. He also represented Spain in two World Cups and scored eight goals in 35 matches for the national team.

    Quini was born on Sept. 23, 1949, in Oviedo, the capital of the Asturias region. His father was a steelworker who also played soccer.


    As a youth, Quini trained as a welder and then worked for the same steel-maker as his father.

    Though a native of Oviedo, which has its own soccer team, Quini joined Sporting de Gijón, about 20 miles away, in 1968. His brother, Jesús Antonio, known as Castro, also joined the team, becoming its goalkeeper.

    In his second season, Quini was Sporting’s top scorer, helping to elevate the club from Spain’s second division to the first.

    He left Sporting de Gijón for FC Barcelona in 1980, four years after the Catalan club had unsuccessfully tried to acquire him. The transfer amount, 82 million Spanish pesetas, was one of the highest fees paid in Spanish soccer at the time.

    His abduction occurred the next year, on March 1, after a crushing victory over the Valencia club Hércules. Quini was about to get into his car at his Barcelona home, near the club’s Camp Nou stadium, and drive to the airport to pick up his wife and children when two gunmen seized him and spirited him away.


    Spanish media coverage was intense as the search for him went on for 25 days. His disappearance only added to the trauma of a nation that had days earlier witnessed a failed military coup in which lawmakers were held hostage in Parliament.

    The kidnappers eventually asked for a ransom, which negotiators agreed to pay into a secret Swiss bank account. Spanish and Swiss police identified the holder of the account as a Spanish electrician, and he was arrested when he arrived at the bank to collect part of the ransom.

    After the man confessed, police found Quini on March 25 locked in the basement of a car workshop in the northeast city of Zaragoza.

    Thousands of people turned out to welcome him, bearded but unharmed, when he returned to Barcelona. (The celebration coincided with a prestigious victory that evening by Spain’s national team over England’s at Wembley Stadium in London.)

    The kidnappers were each sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to compensate Quini financially.

    The abduction had left his Barcelona team in shock, with its players split over whether to stay home or to continue to compete until their teammate was found.

    The club unsuccessfully appealed to the Spanish soccer federation to postpone its matches but ultimately agreed to stick to the schedule, as Quini’s wife had urged.

    In his absence, however, the team failed to win any of its four matches, enabling Real Sociedad, from San Sebastián in the Basque region, to overtake Barcelona and become Spanish champions.

    Three months after Quini’s release, Barcelona won the King’s Cup in a final against Quini’s former club, Sporting de Gijón, during which he scored twice.

    In 1984, Quini decided to retire from soccer and leave Barcelona after winning five trophies with the club. But he quickly changed his mind and rejoined Sporting de Gijón, for which he played another three seasons.

    Quini’s last competitive match, in 1987, was against Barcelona.

    There was no immediate information on his survivors.

    In its statement, Sporting de Gijón recalled that Quini had started playing soccer as a goalkeeper because that was in his “genes,” the club said; his father had been a keeper, and so had both his brothers.

    But Quini switched positions to leave the goalkeeper slot free for his brother Castro.

    “The truth is that he wanted to be keeper, but he acted as the big brother,” the club said. “There’s only one keeper in a team.”