The story of Hugo Sanchez and 38 goals for Real Madrid in one season – all scored with one touch

Hugo Sanchez Real Madrid 38 goals

38 goals in one La Liga season is pretty good going. At the time no player had ever scored more. But what is more remarkable is that every one was scored with one touch.

None of this taking the ball down and beating one or two players. No controlling it first then looking up to assess the situation.

Oh no. For Hugo Sanchez, the 1989-90 season was about hitting it first time and think about it afterwards.

Embed from Getty Images

When you think about it, scoring goals with one touch must be fairly easy if you take the penalties and free-kicks. If you’re also good in the air then headers count too. There may be plenty of instances of players going a season scoring one-touch goals. But 38 in a season?

This is the story of Hugo Sanchez’s incredible record for Real Madrid in the 1989-90 season.

Hugo Sanchez has every right to believe he’s the greatest player Mexico has ever seen. Throughout the 80’s he was their talisman. He inspired them to their best performance in a World Cup when they reached the Quarter-Finals in 1986.

He was what you wanted in a hero. He was brave, happy to take on responsibility, and brought the best out in others. He was also the first player to make the backflip famous, way before goal celebrations became an art form of their own.

He scored all kinds of goals. Volleys, bicycle kicks, headers, free-kicks and even the odd chested goal. You could fill an hour-long programme dedicated purely to his glorious finishes.

But this is not unique. Plenty of programmes have been produced simply to show a player’s goals but within all of them, they contain moments where more than one touch was required before the goal is scored. Not for ‘Juan-touch’ Sanchez.

After one particular stunning overhead kick against Logroñés at the Bernabeu in 1988, Real coach Leo Beenhakker said;

“When a player scores a goal like that, play should be suspended and a glass of champagne offered to the 80,000 fans that witnessed it.”

Sanchez met a ball from Martin Vazquez full on the volley with his left foot. The goal has gone down in history and has been known a “Senor Gol” – or great goal. Even the keeper, Juan Antonio Perez, was proud to have been part of it, even if his part was simply to watch it hit the back of his net.

“When a player scores a goal like that, play should be suspended and a glass of champagne offered to the 80,000 fans that witnessed it.”

Welcome to Spain

Sanchez arrived in Spain after just five years of playing club football in Mexico. He signed for Atlético Madrid in 1981. It was there he won his first Pichichi award when he scored 26 goals in 1984-85. After four years he moved to the Bernabeu and during a seven-year career at Real he earned another four Pichichis – 1985-86, 1986-87, 1987-88 and 1989-90. His four successive Pichichi awards were also a record which stood until Messi beat it between 2016-2021.

He is the fourth-highest scorer in the history of La Liga and the third-highest-scoring foreign player. When he finished his career his 234 goals had him second in the charts behind Telmo Zarra (251). Since then, of course, Messi and Ronaldo have both gone past him.

The 38 he scored in 1989-90 equalled Zarra’s record from 1950-51. Zarra scored his in 30 matches, whereas Sanchez took 35. Their joint record was the biggest haul in a single La Liga season and a record which stood for 28 years until Cristiano Ronaldo beat it with 40 in 2010-11.

His record at Real is astonishing. He scored 208 goals in 282 matches, and during his time at the Bernabeu, they won five La Liga titles, one Copa del Rey, three Spanish Cups and one UEFA Cup.

Despite winning three successive La Liga titles, club President Ramón Mendoza dispensed with Beenhakker and brought in John Toshack. Toshack had steered Real Sociedad to win the Copa del Rey in 1987 and second in the league a year later. He had a phenomenal squad at his disposal. One the president labelled “the best Real Madrid side for the past 25 years”.

As if to confirm this the team scored a record 107 goals that season.

Along with Sanchez, Toshack could call on Emilio Butragueño, one of Spain’s finest-ever strikers. In midfield was West German star, Bernd Schuster along with Spanish internationals, Fernando Hierro, Michel and Rafael Gordillo. At the back, he had the talents of Argentinian Oscar Ruggeri as well as local boys, Chendo and Miguel Tendillo.

They won the league by nine points from Valencia. They were beaten just twice, both coming in their opening ten games. From mid-November, they went 27 games unbeaten to the end of the season. At home, they scored five or more in a match seven times.

He scored five goals in the first three home games as they scored 12 times before a typically feisty encounter at the Nou Camp.

His first goal came in the opening game against Sporting Gijón when he reacted first as a free-kick bounced back off the post. El Clásico was particularly eventful. Three penalties and one red card (Schuster) as Barca won 3-1. A Sanchez penalty was all Real could cheer. One of 56 successful spot-kick in his career. Another La Liga record until Ronaldo came along.

In a two-week period in November, he scored six in three matches as the goals continued to fly in at home. There was a real contrast between their performances at the Bernabeu and elsewhere. By the end of November, they’d scored 32 goals at home compared to just seven away. By then Sanchez was on 14 goals from 13 appearances.

The month began badly for Toshack and Madrid as they went down to Tosh’s old team, Real Sociedad. But they made up for it by beating Athletic Bilbao, Tenerife and Zaragoza with an aggregate of 14-4.

December he was prolific. Celta Vigo held them to a goalless draw. They’d scored in every home game, but strangely this was the third time they’d been goalless away from home. Oh well, no matter. Sanchez scored in the 4-0 home win against Valladolid and then followed it up with a hat-trick at Logronñés. He was then on target when Osasuna were also hit for four at the Bernabeu.

His athleticism often gave him the extra yard ahead of defences. It also enabled him to convert chances from tight angles. His ability to find space in the box was the difference, but he could also thank his teammates for laying on plenty of chances. One, against Osasuna, came after a mazy dribble down the left from Butragueño where Sanchez had the simple task of turning in his excellent cross at the near post.

Real now had over 50 goals in just 17 matches, 40 of them at home. Sanchez had 19 for the season and people were now starting to talk about Zarra’s record.

Real were four points clear at the top. Spain had yet to adopt three points for a win so this was the equivalent to a six-point lead today


The New Year began with another home win. This time in the Madrid derby. There were two surprises. Firstly, they only scored three at home for the first time since the opening day. Secondly, Sanchez didn’t score. But he did pick up another booking which meant he missed the trip to Oviedo.

Butragueño scored the only goal. Just his sixth of the season. He may have had a disappointing season in front of goal, but his contribution to many for Sanchez shouldn’t be forgotten.

Michel, too, was involved in plenty of the goals. Pouncing on defensive errors to lay the ball off for the main man or crossing from the right after beating several defenders.

Sanchez was back for the visit to Gijón and duly scored. It was his 20th of the season and came with just five minutes of the game remaining, salvaging a point.

A week later it was back to business as usual as he hit his second hat-trick of the season. This time all three goals came in the last 20 minutes, as they banged seven in against Castellón at home. They now had 50 in just 11 matches at the Bernabeu.

The next time they were at home was a bit of a mini-disaster. They dropped their first points at home as Mallorca gained a 1-1 draw. Sanchez received his marching orders for two yellow cards.

How would they now cope?

Martin Vazquez answered that one with a brace against Cádiz. Then Sanchez was back for El Clásico as Cruyff’s Barca visited.

A typically tetchy game saw Real three goals up a minute into the second period when Sanchez scored a penalty. Barca came back with two but were reduced to nine men as Ronald Koeman and Aloisio were both sent off. Madrid won 3-2.

It was a game Barca could ill afford to lose. They were now nine points behind their rivals. Real had now opened up a six-point lead at the top over Atlético.

After putting five past Rayo Vallecano, they were six minutes from defeat in Sevilla before Butragueño and Sanchez rescued them. Then when he scored against Real Sociedad it was his 30th of the season.

Nine games to beat the record.

Embed from Getty Images

A penalty against Bilbao and a double against Tenerife put him in a great position. The team were now on 90 for the season.

He couldn’t find the net at Zaragoza but he did pick up another yellow card, which meant he’d miss the visit of Celta Vigo. They won 3-0.

With Atlético being held by Sociedad, Real were 10 points clear and could only be beaten on goal difference. The fact theirs was superior by 45 meant they’d all but won the title. Hence, they weren’t too disappointed when they could only come away from Valladolid with a goalless draw. The title was secured but Hugo was running out of time for the record.

33 goals with just four games to go

Logroñés were the visitors next. They shocked the Bernabeu by storming into a two-goal lead inside the opening ten minutes. Sanchez got one back soon after and then scored a second early in the second half. The game ended 3-3.

Vazquez scored both in the win at Osasuna before the Madrid derby at the Estadio Vicente Calderón. Once again they were two goals down, then 1-3 down before pulling it back for a point. Sanchez didn’t score. Hierro scored their first and it was the team’s 100th of the season.

Surely the record was beyond him now? He needed a hat-trick in the final game of the season just to equal it.

Oviedo were the visitors. Real’s 24th title was already secured. All eyes fell on Sanchez. Could he equal the record? Could he break it?

The party was spoiled a little when Jordi Vinyals was allowed too much space on the right of the area and fired a low shot across Buyo and into the far corner after just five minutes. Parra levelled things 10 minutes later.

Then into the final 10 minutes of the half, and Parra swung a right-footed cross in from the left. It bounced all the way to the far post where Sanchez was lurking. Oviedo full-back, Elcacho facing goal, tried to chest it wide but realising it was going in, he tipped it over the bar with his hand. The referee pointed to the spot and this was a chance for Sanchez. The keeper dived low to his left, Sanchez fired it high into the roof of the net. 2-1 and Sanchez was then two away from equalling the record.

Then a minute into the second half and Chendo played a ball into the area from right-back and Sanchez got up highest, as he so often did, and headed in his second of the night. Goal number 37.

After Oviedo themselves converted a penalty, Madrid went on the search to restore their two-goal advantage. Midway through the second half came the moment everyone had been waiting for.

Tendillo, in the centre circle, spotted the run of Michel into the area. He found him with a lovely ball over the defence. As the keeper came out, the Real number eight just played it to his left where Sanchez turned it in.

That was it. He’d equalled the record. All three goals had again each been scored with just one touch.

Could he now beat the record?

Within minutes he had another chance. Gordillo floated a ball in from the left and Sanchez again got up ahead of the defender. But his header was pushed round the post by Zubeldía.

Real did score another but it was Aldana who got it. Unlike Sanchez, he needed to control it with his right before firing it into the net with his left.

With just a few minutes remaining Real had a corner on the right. It was curled into the box and headed on until an Oviedo head directed it towards the far post where Sanchez was again lurking. He threw himself at the ball, but just as he looked as if he’d head it into the net, the keeper just got a finger-tip to it and diverted the ball onto Sanchez’s shoulder and it bounced to safety.

Then in the final two minutes, Sanchez had a shot on goal from outside the area. It went wide and perhaps it was just as well as he’d taken a touch first. Tut-tut.

There was time for one last chance. A ball into a crowded penalty box and Sanchez controlled it on his left thigh, twisted to turn it onto his right. But just as he was looking to turn it in, the keeper came out and smothered it. And that was it. He’d had at least four chances to score a fourth on the night, but in the end, he had to settle for a hat-trick. Zarra’s record still stood but it was now matched by Hugo Sanchez.

The game ended 5-2 to Real. Sanchez had his hat-trick, he matched the record and he’d scored 38 goals in a single season each with one touch.

The Stats

Sanchez certainly enjoyed his time at the Bernabeu that season. 25 goals in 17 matches, compared to just 13 in 18 away games. Four of the 38 came from penalties, two in each game against Barcelona. There were several goals direct from free-kicks. One of the best came from the left wing. With everyone expecting a ball curled into the box, he just bent it round the two-man wall and into the top corner.

The best ones were the overhead kicks. The one he scored against Bilbao he got so close to the ground he was almost sat down.

There were volleys too. Against Málaga, his technique was perfect when a Michel free-kick found him on the edge of the six-yard box. The kick was on the right wing and Michel floated it beyond the defence to Sanchez. He met it full on the volley, with minimal backlift and with his foot barely above the ground. His timing was as perfect and true as a David Gower cover drive. It flew in.

There was one goal where he controlled it in the area and tried to play a teammate in to his right. The ball bounced off a defender and back to him so he lashed it straight in. Still counted as one touch, though.

In all, Sanchez scored 164 goals in 207 games at Real during seven seasons. His, and Zarra’s record stood for 21 years until Cristiano Ronaldo hit 40 goals in 2010-2011 season. But he needed several touches for his.

Embed from Getty Images

M Opponents h/a Goals   M Opponents h/a Goals
1 Sporting Gijón H Sanchez   20 Sporting Gijón a Sanchez
2 Castellón a     21 Castellón H Sanchez (3)
3 Valencia H Sanchez (2)   22 Valencia a Sanchez
4 Real Mallorca a     23 Real Mallorca H  
5 Cádiz H Sanchez (2)   24 Cádiz a  
6 Barcelona a Sanchez   25 Barcelona H Sanchez
7 Málaga H     26 Málaga a Sanchez (2)
8 Rayo Vallecano a Sanchez   27 Rayo Vallecano H Sanchez
9 Sevilla H Sanchez   28 Sevilla a Sanchez
10 Real Sociedad a     29 Real Sociedad H Sanchez
11 Athletic Bilbao H Sanchez (2)   30 Athletic Bilbao a Sanchez
12 Tenerife a Sanchez (2)   31 Tenerife H Sanchez (2)
13 Real Zaragoza H Sanchez (2)   32 Real Zaragoza a  
14 Celta Vigo a     33 Celta Vigo H Did not play
15 Real Valladolid H Sanchez   34 Real Valladolid a  
16 Logroñés a Sanchez (3)   35 Logroñés H Sanchez (2)
17 Osasuna H Sanchez   36 Osasuna a  
18 Atlético Madrid H     37 Atlético Madrid a Did not play
19 Real Oviedo a Did not play   38 Real Oviedo H Sanchez (3)