Valencia fans started chanting Hugo Duro’s name years before he ever played for them. A cult hero when he wasn’t even at the club, it wasn’t just the fans – it was the players as well – and it wasn’t just the songs, either; it was the banners and shirts too. It was also an accident. It was then, anyway, but not this time. This time they were going wild for all the right reasons and he joined in, running towards the corner and throwing himself to the ground, tumbling to the turf as everyone rightly lost it on Sunday afternoon, after he had done something no one had ever done in La Liga: scored twice in added time to avoid defeat.
Like a comic book character with a comic book moniker, ‘Hugo Hard’ had rescued them when all was lost, and against the champions, too. He had only come on in the 86th minute and touched the ball three times, but two of those had gone in the net, a superb volley in the 92nd minute and a header on 95.26 seeing Valencia come from 3-1 down to draw 3-3, another absurd comeback in another crazy weekend. First it had been Iago Aspas, scoring the 97th-minute equaliser against Barcelona on Saturday afternoon. Now, 24 hours later, it was him. “Hugo …” bellowed the PA announcer. “Duro!” they replied. Hugo … Duro! Hugo … Duro! Hugo … Duro!”
He had been here before. Almost exactly here, in fact. On the same corner of the same six-yard box. He was only 18 that night and he never forgot, not least because they wouldn’t let him, forced to listen to those same words over and over. It happened in the spring of 2019, during extra time in the second leg of the Copa del Rey quarter-final between Valencia and Getafe, the club Duro joined at the age of five and where he was starting to make his way in the first team. That night, at the end of a startingly brutal encounter, another chapter in a new and unexpectedly edgy rivalry, he made a name for himself. Or maybe they made it for him.
Getafe had won the first leg 1-0 at the Coliseum and had gone 1-0 up in the opening minute of the second leg. Rodrigo Moreno, though, had equalised on the hour to make it 1-1 and he scored again in the 92nd minute. The comeback was dramatic enough already but it still wasn’t done. Getafe had held on; now they let go, throwing everything at Valencia. In the 93rd minute Jorge Molina went running through to score the goal that would have ended it, sending Getafe through and Valencia out. His shot was on target but it hit Duro, his own teammate, on the edge of the six-yard box.
Suddenly, Valencia were away, heading straight up the pitch where Rodrigo scored again. From the ball hitting Duro at one end and the net at the other, 11 seconds had passed. It was all over bar the fighting — and there was lots of that. Valencia went on to win the cup in their centenary year.
It might not have been people on the pitch, Víctor Hugo Morales asking which planet that cosmic kite had come from, or even the goal from Abreu, but the commentary of the goal was quite something, the perfect portrait of the moment — and soon it was everywhere. “There goes Jorge Molina, galloping forward like he was a kid,” Miguel-Ángel Román began, voice getting quicker and quicker until – “still Jorge Molina, who heads into the area, he can shoot … his shot … it hit Hugo Duro! It hit Hugo Duro, who denied his teammate a goal! And now Valencia respond straight away. How beautiful football is when it goes mad … Gameiro sends it into the area, Rodrigoooo! Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow!”
‘Tocó Hugo Duro … y gol de Valencia’ became a line. ‘It hit Hugo Duro … goal for Valencia’, which handily can also mean: ‘Hugo Duro hit it … goal for Valencia’. At the Copa del Rey final, some Valencia fans had T-shirts done up with the commentary on the back, a group of mates taking a line each. Other shirts were printed with name and number: Duro 92. A banner at Mestalla read: Tocó Hugo Duro. At the celebrations after the final, Gabriel Paulista took the mic and rapped it out, laughing his head off. Duro’s agents didn’t see the funny side, issuing a public statement demanding an apology for mocking their client.
“A commentary is not a lack of respect,” Gabriel replied, although that depends who’s commentating. “We continue”. And so, they did. Duro did too. That autumn, Valencian sports paper Super Deporte, never one to knowingly conduct itself with dignity, asked where is he now, this figure of fun.
That season he played 12 league games for Getafe, only one more than the year before, and made 23 appearances for the B-team. It might have felt like his progress was slowing. Interrupted by the pandemic, Getafe’s certainly was. Last season he went on loan to Real Madrid B — a curious choice for someone for whom the breakthrough could be coming. There was a remarkable coldness and clarity to his thought process, and at Valdebebas he did get some first-team minutes too – including in the Champions League. In total, he played three times with the first team, 19 times with the B team.
This summer Duro joined Valencia on loan, having already played one game for Getafe – against Valencia. No one had really foreseen that either, más few saw him getting really significant chances — not with Maxi Gómez ahead of him and Valencia signing Marcos André. Then again, Valencia’s new manager was José Bordalás, his former coach at Getafe.
“He changes you,” Duro said. “He squeezes everything out of you. At Getafe we were already talking about it, saying: ‘what a bastard the boss is, eh, he’s reviving Valencia already. He knows exactly what he wants. He only asks you for two things: to run and sacrifice yourself.’” And that’s Duro, “a team player” as his manager put it last night. Since heading to Mestalla, the striker leads the league on one metric – no one presses better than him.
When he got there, they were waiting for him. “They remind me of that every day,” he told AS. “I don’t mind the jokes, and the shirts were quite funny. Hopefully one day there will be a headline that says: ‘Tocó Hugo Duro y gol de Valencia’.”
One day like today. No one was going to pass up the pun, Super Deport going for “striker puro y duro” (a real, hard striker) and “hard but real”, and Marca choosing “Duro, duro”, a hard defeat for Atlético to digest. Only AS’s Conrado Valle went for “Tocó Hugo Duro … twice.”
He had been on the pitch five minutes when he scored the first one, guiding a wonderful volley into the net from José Luis Gayá’s perfect cross. Then, in the 96th minute, from right by where Molina’s shot had hit him in 2019, he scored a header. It was his fourth goal of the season in seven starts – 10 appearances in total, and he has a habit of turning up against the big opponents: his previous two had been against Real Madrid and Sevilla. But those weren’t like this – Valencia lost both games.
They looked set to lose this one too. Valencia have struggled, their early revival grinding to a halt after three wins and a draw in their opening four games. Bordalás was projected as the man they had been waiting for, Duro’s goal put them one up against Madrid, only for them to concede twice in the last four minutes. That was the start of a seven-game winless run and although they finally beat Villarreal 2-0 last weekend, they seemed to set to end pointless again on Sunday.
A Stefan Savic own goal cancelled out Luis Suárez’s clever opener but a sensational strike from Antoine Griezmann put Atlético back into the lead and then Sime Vrsaljko bundled in the third. It was done, a quiet descending at Mestalla. With four minutes to go Diego Simeone replaced Suárez, Ángel Correa and Rodrigo de Paul with Héctor Herrera, João Félix and Geoffrey Kondogbia to see out the final minutes.
Instead, they threw them out. It was the fifth time in six games that Atlético had conceded two or more. “Always the same,” João Félix muttered as the equaliser went in. Simeone rested his head on the top of the dugout, barely able to believe it. “My fault”, he said afterwards.
Bordalás, who this week will travel to meet the owner Peter Lim, was still not happy — “the team looks more like what I want but I’m not satisfied. We’re haemorrhaging goals; we can’t have conceded 20 already,” he said – but this was still an explosion of joy, the kind of moment, the kind of result, that could change things. Especially for the striker himself. A moment to remember him by, and at the end his teammates made straight for him. They weren’t laughing this time.
Actually, yes, they were. This time though, he was laughing with them. “I could see tired players but the fans gave us extra strength where there was none,” Duro said. “I only touched the ball twice. I hear that [line] every day; let’s hope I hear it every weekend.” When the second went in and everyone embraced him, Hugo Duro lifted the shoulders of his shirt so that they could see the name – but they already knew. They have known for a long time.