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SPORTS | 05-05-2024 18:42

Former World Cup winning coach César Luis Menotti dies at 85

César Luis Menotti, the endearing football romantic who led the Albiceleste to first World Cup triumph in 1978, has died at the age of 85.

César Luis Menotti, who led a dashing Argentina team to victory in the 1978 World Cup, has died aged 85, the Argentine Football Association (AFA) announced on Sunday.

"The Argentine Football Association regrets to inform with great sadness the death of César Luis Menotti, current Director of National Teams and former World Champion coach of Argentina," read a statement.

Menotti had been hospitalised in March for a "severe case of anaemia" and was discharged in mid-April. Although there was no official confirmation of cause of death, local media reports said he had passed away on Sunday "from stomach cancer."

Menotti, who was born in Rosario in 1938, won 11 caps for the Albiceleste in the 1960s and then managed 11 clubs, some more than once, and two national teams in an epic coaching career that lasted 37 years.

He is best remembered for leading the national side to its 1978 World Cup triumph and the Under-20 title the following year and for his commitment to a romantic ideal of football at a time when Argentina had developed a reputation for a cynical approach straying into violence.

In the 1978 final, staged on the watch of a murderous dictatorship, he led hosts Argentina to victory over the Netherlands 3-1 after extra-time. Flamboyant star of the tournament Mario Kempes scored twice against a Dutch side shorn of Johan Cruyff, who had refused to play in the tournament.

The triumph was accomplished with flair but was surrounded by controversy. Many felt Argentina's repressive junta made it an unsuitable host.

Menotti also opted not to pick 17-year-old phenomenon Diego Maradona, who had made his international debut the year before.

"I did what I thought I had to do. To take care of him more than anything else, I was infatuated with Diego," Menotti told the legendary El Gráfico magazine.  "He was so young, so small."

In the second group phase, Argentina kicked off their last game shortly after the final whistle in Brazil's victory over Poland, knowing they needed to beat Peru by at least three goals to reach the final.

They won 6-0 with Kempes and Leopoldo Luque each scoring twice. Even though Argentina played well, the victory has long attracted suspicion.

Menotti, fondly known as 'El Flaco' ("Thin One"), presented a memorable figure on the touchline, smoking and staring impassively from under his shaggy mane.

"I never go to the barber. I cut my own hair," he said.

Even though his father died of cancer when Menotti was 16, he too became a heavy smoker. It was "my friend in loneliness," he said. He quit after a lung operation in 2011.

In 1979, with Maradona in the squad, Menotti led Argentina to the under-20 World Cup, beating the Soviet Union 3-1 in the final.

His reign ended after the 1982 World Cup in Spain, which kicked off just before Argentina surrendered in the Malvinas (Falkland) War. Argentina were eliminated by Brazil 3-1 in a second-round defeat that ended with Maradona being sent off.

Menotti won two cups in two seasons with Barcelona, the last trophies in a coaching career that took him to Italy, Mexico and Uruguay and back to Argentina.

He maintained a lifelong feud with coaches in the more pragmatic Argentine tradition and believed football styles are political.

"Left-wing football is generous and committed only to the public," he told German magazine Kicker in 2006. "It is sincere and does not put the result above everything."

Menotti, a striker, started his playing career with the club he supported, Rosario Central. 

He then moved to Boca Juniors, where he won an Argentine title, to the New York Generals and from there to Santos in Brazil, where he played alongside Pele.

Moving into coaching, Menotti later became an assistant coach at Central's city rivals Newell's Old Boys.

In 1973, he led Hurácan to their only league title since 1928. He became national team manager in 1974 and, despite being a member of the Communist Party, stayed on when the military seized power in 1976.

In 2018, he told El Gráfico that "it was better to fight from the inside than from the outside."

National team captain Lionel Messi was among those to pay tribute to Menotti on social media. 

"One of the greats of our football has left us. Condolences to his family and loved ones, QEPD," wrote Messi.

Menotti also had a very good relationship with Lionel Scaloni, the coach who led Argentina to their third crown at Qatar 2022.

Scaloni paid tribute to his "dear friend" as he posted a photo of Menotti with the World Cup on his Instagram account and wrote: "We lost a master of football, thank you for those endearing talks in which you left your mark on us."

Kempes, the star of Argentina's 1978 World Cup, also bid the legendary coach farewell on social media.

"The departure of such an iconic and beloved figure in the world of football is an irreparable loss. César Luis Menotti was much more than a colleague, he was a friend and an invaluable mentor to me," said Kempes.

 

– TIMES/AFP

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