In years to come football historians may look back and recognise Luis Aragones as ‘only’ the manager who ended 44 years of hurt – as the English would have it – by guiding Spain to victory in the 2008 European Championship.
His role could even be overlooked in a misguided, short-cut perception that Vicente Del Bosque was the founding manager of the treble dynasty – two Euros and one World Cup – rather than benefactor of a triumphant legacy.
Indeed, the so-called ‘Sage of Hortaleza’ who has just died at 75 may even be denied the respect his playing career deserved because, throughout it, he was known not as Aragones but as plain ‘Luis.’
That was a playing career which began as a home-city teenager at Real Madrid. But Luis was a centre-forward and – as every Spaniard in that role has found with the exception of the admirable and under-rated Carlos Santillana – this is a role reserved for a big-name, high-cost foreigner.
Hence Luis was released. Rejection was the making of him. He went to Betis and scored 33 goals in three seasons in Seville to earn a return to Madrid, not with Real but Atletico. In a decade with the Colchoneros he scored 123 goals in 265 games, won three league titles and two Spanish cups and was once joint league top scorer.
Luis also scored three goals in 13 appearances for Spain while edging back into a support role linking midfield with attack.
Tall and one-paced, he made up with a shrewd football brain and a decisive, powerful shot. His last, big-occasion goal for Atletico also illustrated his talent at bending free kicks around defensive walls. Such a goal gave Atletico a 1-0 lead in extra time over Bayern Munich in the 1974 Champions Cup Final in the old Heysel in Brussels.
Atletico were within seconds of winning the European Cup, too, but the very last kick – a speculative long-range effort by Georg Schwarzenbeck – bounced beyond keeper Miguel Reina to earn Bayern a draw. Atletico, undermined by distress, injuries and suspensions, crashed 4-0 in the event’s one and only replay.
Bayern were not interested in taking on Argentina’s Independiente for the World Club Cup so Atletico eagerly took their place. Yet they started the next season so badly that coach Juan Carlos Lorenzo was sacked and Luis, at his team-mates’ insistence, was appointed as caretaker.
Atletico beat Independiente 1-0 in a one-off match and Luis was carried shoulder-high from the pitch in triumph by his players.
Of course, from such a ‘high’ there was only one way Luis could go and down he went, through a coaching career of a record 757 games with eight clubs (including Atletico five times and Barcelona). In 2004, after a 30-years ‘apprenticeship’, he was handed the sunset challenge of the Spanish national team.
The rest is modern football history. Luis, blessed with Barcelona’s stylistic and personnel foundation, and a thick skin with which he grumpily defied media criticism from both Catalonia and Castille, wrought a tactical and team spirit unity which brought Spain the European title for the first time since 1964.
As his goalkeeper-captain, Iker Casillas, said: “Luis Aragones changed the history of Spanish football and for that we will always be thankful.
Now 69, Luis judged it the perfect moment to bow out. He was persuaded, against his better judgment and for the sake of financial rather than football sense, to go to Turkey with Fenerbahce but soon realised his mistake and quit within months.
His place in history was assured.
José Luis Aragonés Suárez Martínez (born Hortaleza, July 28, 1938; died Madrid, February 1, 2014).