Luis Aragones is number 40 in 90min's Top 50 Great Managers of All Time series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next eight weeks.
It's hard to know where to start when talking about Luis Aragones. This being a series about managers means we're spared having to dig through his playing career, but...well, Aragones took charge of more Spanish first division matches than anybody, ever.
He managed Atletico Madrid four times. He managed Betis twice. He managed Barcelona, and then his next job was with Catalan rivals Espanyol.
Oh, and he's the most important manager the Spanish national team has ever had. It's a reasonable CV.
Let's start from the start. Aragones hung up his boots at the age of 36, Atletico Madrid's all-time top goalscorer and bona fide club legend. Atleti were a force at the time, thanks in no small part to Aragones' goals, and were only denied the European Cup in his final season thanks to a last minute Georg Schwarzenbeck goal in the final.
Atletico Madrid and losing European finals after conceding last minute equalisers. Some legacies remain.
It took him just 36 days to find a job after retirement; moving to manage – brownie points if you've guessed it - Atleti. His counter-attacking team won the Intercontinental Cup that season, the Copa del Generalisimo (now the Copa del Rey) the following campaign and the league the year after.
|Intercontinental Cup (1974)|
|La Liga (1976/77)|
|Copa del Rey (1976, 1985, 1988, 1992)|
|Supercopa de España (1985)|
|Segunda Division (2001/02)|
|European Championship (2008)|
Then came the lean run. After tasting little but success in his early years in management, Aragones won nothing in 1977/78. Or 1978/79. Nor, indeed, 1979/80. The most he got out of that spell was a third placed finish in the league in '79 and a Copa del Rey semi-final defeat to Real Madrid.
He moved on in 1980, and picked up the reins at Betis the following year. Then he, erm, went straight back to Atleti a year later. Apparently a little time and distance was what that relationship needed, because he was a resounding success, in the context of the club's realities, once again.
With Hugo Sanchez up front, success was rebuilt. No league title came in that stretch, but there was a Copa del Rey victory in the same season as a second placed league finish, and the Spanish Super Cup the following campaign – and a European Cup Winners Cup final, which ended in a stinging defeat at the hands of Dinamo Kyiv.
Aragones may have had another 15-20 years of club management in him, but - poached to come to Barcelona and lead them to glory, only to deliver no more than a Copa del Rey in his single season - the jig appeared to be up. Another spell at Atleti followed, another Copa del Rey, but only two years in the saddle.
It's then that the second phase of his career began; Aragones the journeyman. He went to Sevilla, Valencia, Oviedo, Mallorca, back to Betis. If a half-decent team needed a respected manager, he was there. It was then that he almost picked up his second La Liga title, finishing just four points from glory with a Predrag Mijatović-inspired Valencia side.
|Atletico Madrid (1974-80, 1982-87, 1991-93, 2001-03)|
|Real Betis (1981, 1997-98)|
|Real Oviedo (1999-2000)|
|Mallorca (2000-01, 2003-04)|
They were beaten, of course, by Atleti. Forever intertwined. He even went back to the Calderon for a fourth and final spell when the club were relegated to the Segunda Division, winning the title and securing promotion out of 'hell'.
As with anyone so intertwined with Atleti, he had a certain antagonism with Real, the big boys across the city. One anecdote relayed by The Guardian's Sid Lowe on the occasion of Aragones' death centred on the '92 Copa del Rey final, his last major club trophy. In the dressing room before the match – the dressing room of the Bernabeu, of all places – the man who had given Atleti his whole self picked up a bottle of Coca-Cola.
"If you don't win today," he shouted. "I'll stick this up my arse. You've got to do them. This is the moment you've been waiting for, Real Madrid and at the Bernabeu."
He paused to point at the tactics board. "See this? Well this is irrelevant. What matters is you. Forget tactics, it's Real Madrid. Get out there and stick it up their arses!"
Coarse? Perhaps. But it worked. His words got him in trouble at other times though, one of the few dark clouds hanging over his career. The spectre - late in his career - of racist comments made about Thierry Henry.
"Tell that black sh*t that you are much better than him," he told Jose Antonio Reyes (of Henry). "Don't hold back, tell him. Tell him from me. You have to believe in yourself, you're better than that black sh*t."
"Now, for the first time in his four-year career at the head of the selección, he has the fans on his side, but he really is walking away. And he does so as the most successful manager in Spain's history."
Sid Lowe on Aragones after Euro 2008, The Guardian
The comments came shortly after Aragones had landed the Spain national team job in 2004. Many called for him to be suspended, or sacked. The RFEF declined to do either. UEFA handed out a sizeable fine, but Aragones remained in post - loudly claiming that he had black friends, and couldn't be racist.
The incident overshadowed the start of his Spain tenure, but faded from memory quickly when La Roja started to be...well, good. Really good. 2006 was one cycle too soon, losing to eventual finalists France in the round of 16, but a style had very clearly developed.
Aragones had begun, 30 or more years previous, as a counter-attacking manager, who later found himself overwhelmed with the sheer number of passers he had at his disposal. He changed, altered, and his Spain team began to dominate the ball like few before them.
When he went to Euro 2008, he had Marcos Senna, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Cesc Fabregas, Xabi Alonso, David Silva and Santi Cazorla in his midfield. Tiki-taka was popularised on the commentary of an Aragones-era Spain game, Andres Montes using it when commentating on a 2006 World Cup game against Tunisia.
The foundations that Aragones laid with his style were fundamental in Spain becoming one of the most dominant European teams in history between 2008 and 2013; with Pep Guardiola taking (tik'ing, ahem) up the mantle of passing specialist at Barcelona in 2008, the same summer Aragones stepped down as Spain manager.
He didn't step down without glory though, or lay foundations without ever getting to live in the house. His 2008 European Championship team won Spain's first international title in 44 years, despite losing tournament top scorer David Villa to injury in the first half of their semi-final.
The man who stepped up in his place and scored the winning goal in the final? Fernando Torres, who Aragones had brought through and mentored in his final spell at Atleti. Who Aragones told before kickoff, "Niño, you're going to score today."
Atleti owe Aragones a huge debt. Torres, on that June night in Vienna, went some way to repaying it.
Number 50: Marcelo Bielsa - El Loco's Journey From Argentina to Footballing Immortality in Europe
Number 49: Vic Buckingham - How an Englishman Discovered Johan Cruyff & Pioneered Total Football
Number 48: Claudio Ranieri: A Ridiculed Tinkerman Who Masterminded One of Football's Greatest Ever Achievements
Number 47: Bill Nicholson: Mr Tottenham Hotspur, the First Double Winning Manager of the 20th Century
Number 46: Sven-Goran Eriksson: The Scudetto Winning Shagger Who Never Solved the Lampard-Gerrard Conundrum
Number 45: Sir Alf Ramsey: The Man Behind the 'Wingless Wonders' & England's Sole World Cup Triumph
Number 44: Antonio Conte: An Astute Tactician Whose Perfectionist Philosophy Reinvented the 3-5-2 Wheel
Number 43: Kenny Dalglish: The Beacon of Light in Liverpool's Darkest Hour
Number 42: Massimiliano Allegri: The Masterful Tactician Who Won Serie A Five Times in a Row
Number 41: Sir Bobby Robson: A Footballing Colossus Whose Fighting Spirit Ensured an Immortal Legacy