Luis Aragonés, the man who radically changed Spain’s style of play and with it, their fortunes, passed away in Madrid this morning. He was 75. Known as ‘The Wise Man of Hortaleza’, Aragonés will always be linked with Atlético de Madrid – the club for which he played and later coached as well as masterminding the Spanish national team’s success at EURO 2008 – guiding Spain to the their first major tournament triumph in 40 years.
According to a statement released by Madrid’s Cemtro Clinic, Aragonés died at 6:15 on Saturday after a battle with Leukaemia. He was admitted to the clinic the previous day.
“It was cancer and Leukaemia which took him from us. He suffered several relapses and was admitted to hospital a number of times during the past two months and his condition gradually weakened him. He was relaxed about his condition and resigned about what to expect. He didn’t suffer greatly because it wasn’t a lengthy battle but he did suffer,” Doctor Guillén told Cadena COPE, adding that Aragonés accepted his illness and battled in silence.
Aragonés body has been taken to La Paz mortuary in Tres Cantos – a number of ex-colleagues and friends such as former player and Spain youth team coach Armando Ufarte, Carlos Aguilera and Toni Muñoz.
Both the Spanish Football Federation and Atlético de Madrid have offered their services with the funeral; the family has thanked both for the gesture but prefer to hold a private funeral for family members and friends only.
Luis Aragonés will be eternally linked to Atlético de Madrid, the club he considered to be his home yet his career began at Getafe and later in the youth ranks at Real Madrid.
He joined Atlético in 1964, converting himself into the best goal scoring midfielder the Colchoneros had ever witnessed. He was capped 11 times with Spain, making his debut against Scotland at Hampden Park in May 1965 and his final appearance against Hungary at the Bernabéu in January 1972. A great admirer of Alfredo Di Stéfano, Luis guided Atlético to three Spanish league titles (1966, 1970 and 1973), two domestic Cups (1965 and 1972) as well as the final of the European Cup against Bayern Munich in 1974, famously scoring a free-kick in extra time.
The following season, he made six appearances for Atlético before then President Vicente Calderón proposed that he should take over coaching duties of the first team. His managerial career got off to a dream start – he led the side to lift the Intercontinental Cup (Atlético contested the trophy after Bayern decided not to take part, beating Independiente over two legs). In 1976 he won his first domestic Cup as coach and the following season, the league.
It was the first of three spells on the bench at the Calderón. He would take the reins at a number of Spanish top flight sides including Betis (twice), Barcelona, Espanyol, Sevilla, Valencia, Oviedo and Mallorca (twice). He came close to occupying the bench at Real Madrid but Espanyol refused to let him leave.
He replaced Iñaki Sáez after Spain’s disappointing EURO 2004 campaign, accepting a post he described as “the greatest responsibility of my life”.
Aragonés ensured Spain gained direct qualification for the 2006 World Cup finals in Germany but after a promising start, his side were eliminated by France in the Last 16. He came under fire when Spain’s chances of qualifying for EURO 2008 looked in jeopardy after the team could only scrape a 1-1 draw against Iceland. Spain ended as champions of the group but there remained question marks about Aragonés even three months before the tournament with some critics arguing that a new coach should be instated. Aragonés called a press conference in February 2008 to announce that captain Raúl González would not be included in the squad to compete in Austria. It was a move which paved the way for a new, pass-and-move brand of football. Aragonés’ Spain finally shrugged off their hoodoo against their eternal rivals Italy, beating the Azzurri on penalties after a goalless semi-final. A Fernando Torres goal was enough to hand Spain the trophy – their first major Cup success in 40 years. Aragonés decided not to renew his contract and left the Federation, instead, moving abroad to manage Fenerbahçe. He failed to emulate his successes in Turkey and despite receiving a number of offers, announced that he would be retiring from the game in 2013 before typically retracting his statement the same day.