Cesar Luis Menotti. Alamy Stock Photo

Argentina World Cup-winning manager Cesar Luis Menotti dies aged 85

Cesar Luis Menotti famously coached Argentina to their first World Cup triumph in 1978.

CESAR LUIS MENOTTI, who led a dashing Argentina team to victory in the 1978 World Cup, has died aged 85, the country’s football federation announced on Sunday.

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

He is best remembered for leading Argentina to the 1978 World Cup 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 World Cup final hosts Argentina defeated the Netherlands 3-1 after extra-time with flamboyant man of the tournament Mario Kempes scoring 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 El Grafico. “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 the “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 Falklands 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 moved to Boca Juniors, where he won an Argentine title, then to the New York Generals and from there to Santos in Brazil where he played alongside Pele.

He became an assistant coach at Central’s city rivals Newell’s Old Boys.

In 1973, he led Huracan to their only league title since 1928. He became national 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 Grafico, an Argentine sports magazine, that “it was better to fight from the inside than from the outside.”

– © AFP 2024

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