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Luis Aragones: Coach of the European Championship participant Spain

His reputation is somewhat miserable. However, many compatriots and companions who know Luis Aragones well stress that the coach of the Spanish national team is a top-notch individual. After all, he is one of the most well-known personalities in Spanish football that boasts its fair share of star players and coaches. He fought many battles with German Franz Beckenbauer at the highest level as a player. They met in the 1974 UEFEA European Champions Cup final, today’s UEFA Champions League, in Brussels. Aragones and Atletico Madrid played FC Bayern Munich. He scored the first goal to make it 1-0 with a glorious free-kick at the Heysel Stadium.

Luis Aragones, Spain’s national coach, has a hard task ahead as the expectations for his team are very high. (Photo: GES/Augenklick)

As a goalscorer he went down in most statistics simply as “Luis”. Seconds from time Georg Schwazenbeck hit an equaliser with a powerful shot. Because the match remained undecided after 120 minutes it was repeated two days later at the same venue: Madrid and Aragones went down 4-0.

Jose Luis Aragones Suarez Martinez – his complete name – has rarely suffered such a crushing defeat. He achieved many trophies as a player. Madrid-born Aragones won four national titles with Atletico. The striker’s specialities were free-kicks, and his nickname was “Zapatones” (large shoes). He started his career at the age of 19 with FC Getafe, the club from the Madrid region that is back in the limelight since achieving promotion to the Primera Division. Aragones attracted Atletico’s attention during one season with Real Oviedo and three with Real Betis Seville. He played with Atletico from 1964 until 1974 during a very successful era for the club. The club chronicles list 265 matches and 123 goals for Luis, who also earned eleven caps and scored three international goals. After the UEFA European Champions Cup final in Brussels, Aragones retired from his playing career at the age of 36 and immediately took up coaching.

As a player he was four times champion with Atletico Madrid. He also coached Atletico Madrid four times. He coached many clubs in Spain, but never moved abroad. After Atletico Madrid (1974-1980), Real Betis Sevilla (1981-82), Atletico Madrid (1982-87) and FC Barcelona (1987-88) he took a break from football for the first time in 30 years. In Aragones’s second phase he coached Espanyol Barcelona (1990-91), Atletico Madrid (1991-93), FC Seville (1993-95), FC Valencia (1993-95), Real Betis Sevilla (1997-98), Real Majorca (2000-01), Atletico Madrid (2002-03) and again Real Majorca (2003-04). He never joined Real Madrid, neither as a player nor as coach. There were times, however, when leading officials of Real could not hold back their admiration of Aragones, in particular the former president Santiago Bernabeu, who was said to be a great supporter.

Luis Aragones surrounded by media representatives. Football in Spain enjoys almost the same status as politics. (Photo: Firo/Augenklick)

It was logical for many Spanish fans that he, an experienced club coach and former top player, should take over the job as national coach when Inaki Saez resigned after the UEFA EURO 2004™. But there was also dissent. Aragones had not only made friends. The man, who will turn 70 after the UEFA EURO2008™, has his own opinions. He picked arguments with club presidents and stars again and again. Romario at Valencia, Samuel Eto’o at Majorca got to know the displeasure of Aragones, who often presents himself as morose and grumpy. He gave the stars abrupt and rough public tongue-lashings. Eto’o did not hold it against him, admitting the grandpa only wanted to help him. Aragones has been in the spotlight for months because he stubbornly refuses to give Raul a new chance in the national team after 102 caps. He also prefers to do without a second Real Madrid star, Guti. The coach sometimes reacts vehemently to animosities. These attacks usually trigger new debates in the Spanish sports media about his suitability for the job.

Three years ago Aragones made headlines with a racist remark. He insulted Frenchman Thierry Henry in an uncouth manner but was let off lightly with a €3,000 fine. Such incidents are in stark contrast to statements from players and staff who describe Aragones as soft, understanding, fatherly and psychologically emphatic. He is sometimes called the “Wise Man of Hortaleza” by his admirers – albeit not many – with regard to the quarter in Madrid where he was born. This description was worth nothing at the 2006 FIFA World Cup™, for the miserable World Cup history of the Spaniards continued under Aragones. After three wins against Ukraine, Turkey and Saudi-Arabia in the group matches, the Iberians lost to France. Once again the 1964 UEFA European champions returned home empty handed.

Luis Aragones (right) nowadays explains hardly anything to top striker Raul. The national coach no longer nominates Real Madrid’s star for the national squad. (Photo: Baumann/Augenklick)

Since then Aragones has faced even stronger headwinds. But after the World Cup in Germany he convinced himself and others that he should remain in the job. Criticism increased even more when Spain lost their away qualifiers for UEFA EURO 2008™ in Northern Ireland (3-2) and Sweden (2-0) in the autumn of 2006. But then the Spaniards recorded a succession of wins in Group F, apart from a draw in Iceland, and finished top ahead of Sweden. Don Luis will finally retire after the EURO finals in Austria and Switzerland, to be succeeded by Vincente del Bosque.

The coach does not consider his team, which will meet Russia, Sweden and Greece in Group D, among the favourites for the UEFA European Football Championship™. In March he named France and Italy as the first title contenders. After that, his team defeated the French 1-0 in an international match. Luis Aragones has made a promise if Spain win the title in Vienna on June 29. He and his wife will make a pilgrimage to the grave of St. Jacob at Santiago de Compostela.