Valdano started playing when he was 16 years old for Rosario's club Newell's Old Boys, where he also started playing professionally, as well as with the Argentina national football team, in 1972. In 1975 he was transferred to Deportivo Alavés of the SpanishSegunda División, where he played until 1979. In that year he moved to Real Zaragoza of the Primera División, and then to Real Madrid CF in 1984, playing with the Quinta del Buitre. He helped them win the UEFA Cup in 1985 and 1986, scoring once in the 1985 final and twice in the 1986 final. Stricken by hepatitis, he decided to retire in 1988, and became a sports commentator and Real Madrid youth team's coach. In the 1991-92 season he became CD Tenerife's coach, helping it avoid relegation, and qualifying for the UEFA Cup in the following season. He went back to Real Madrid, now as coach, and coached them to the 1994–95 league title. He finally coached Valencia CF in 1996–97, before becoming Real Madrid's Sporting Director until his resignation in June 2005. In June 2009 he came back to Real Madrid as Director General and Presidential Aide of Real Madrid. He was sacked from the position on 25 May 2011, after his relationship with the coaching staff, especially head coach José Mourinho, had deteriorated.
Valdano also wrote the book Sueños de fútbol ("Dreams of football") and edited the book Cuentos de fútbol ("Football short stories") by diverse authors. Real Madrid's former captain, Raúl González named his first-born son in honour to Valdano .
Football is beginning to be a lie well documented by the media.
[Diego] Maradona has no peers on the pitch, but he has turned his life into a show, and is now living a personal ordeal that should not be imitated.
The coach proposes and the player disposes, but the limits that the tactics impose on us are every day obfuscating more the expression of new talents. A pity.
Every team that is good to the ball, is also good to the public.
The bacillus of efficiency has also attacked football, and some dare to ask what's the point in playing well. I feel tempted to tell about the time they dared to ask Borges what is poetry for, to which he answered: "What is a sunrise for? What are caresses for? What is the smell of coffee for?" Each question sounded like a sentence: they are for pleasure, for emotion, for living.
Football is made up of subjective feeling, of suggestion - and, in that, Anfield is unbeatable. Put a stick with shit hanging from it in the middle of this passionate, crazy stadium and there are people who will tell you it's a work of art. It's not: it's shit hanging from a stick [...] if football is going the way Chelsea and Liverpool are taking it, we had better be ready to wave goodbye to any expression of the cleverness and talent we have enjoyed for a century.