César Luis Menotti
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Born: Saturday 5 November 1938, Rosario, Argentina
Although he won major honours and reached international level as a player, it is for a managerial career lasting more than 35 years that César Luis Menotti achieved most fame. Having already enjoyed success at domestic level, he ensured his place as one of the most widely respected coaches in the history of Argentinian football when he led his country to their first ever World Cup victory on home soil in 1978.
Born in Rosario on 5 November 1938, Menotti was encouraged to take an active interest in a variety of sports from an early age. He had a particular gift for football and during his playing days was used mainly as a centre-forward. A tall and elegant player, he began his professional career with hometown club Rosario Central in 1960 and by 1963 had earned a call-up to the national team for the South American Championship in Bolivia, although he appeared in just one game.
After moving on to Racing Club de Avellaneda in 1964, he joined reigning league champions Boca Juniors a year later and won the only honour of his club career in Argentina in 1965 as Boca successfully retained their title. Leaving Argentina in 1967, Menotti joined the New York Generals of the National Professional Soccer League in the USA, with whom he went on to appear in the inaugural season of the North American Soccer League a year later.
In 1968 Menotti joined Brazilian side Santos, where he won the São Paulo state title and formed both a friendship with Pelé and an appreciation for Brazilian football which would be very influential in his coaching career. His playing days came to an end with a short spell at another São Paulo club, CA Juventus, and after being further inspired by the play of the winning Brazilian team at the 1970 World Cup he decided to make the move into management.
As a coach Menotti always advocated attacking play over deep defending, emphasising movement off the ball and a quick passing game. He also developed an effective use of the offside trap, to the dismay of some in his home country. Having started his managerial career with Newell's Old Boys, he took charge of Huracán ahead of the 1972 season and it was there that his methods first brought success. In 1973 Menotti led Huracán to the Campeonato Metropolitano, the club's first league success since the amateur days of the 1920s.
After Argentina's relatively poor performance at the 1974 World Cup, Menotti was offered the job of national team manager. He took over at a crucial time for Argentinian football, under pressure to put a competitive team together with the country due to host the next World Cup in 1978. Argentinian football had often suffered from a lack of desire among top players to commit to the national team, but Menotti was able to successfully change the mindset of of his squad and encourage them to see international duty as an honour rather than a chore.
Menotti's first challenge was the Copa América in 1975, which underlined that there was still much progress to be made before the World Cup. In the group stage, they easily beat a poor Venezuelan team twice but were beaten in both games by Brazil and were eliminated. Over the next three years, Menotti put together an experienced team which made use of players who he knew could follow his instructions. He commanded great respect among his squad and was able to motivate them to reach new heights.
It was Menotti who gave a 16-year old Diego Maradona his international debut in 1977, but when the World Cup came round he made the decision to go with experience rather than youth. He left Maradona out of his final 22-man squad, preferring to take veteran Mario Kempes instead. The decision caused great controversy in Argentina at the time, but Menotti's judgement was vindicated in spectacular fashion.
When the finals began, Argentina won their first two games to qualify for the second stage with a match to spare, but their defeat to Italy in the final group game meant that they had to face Brazil in the second group stage. A 0-0 draw between the teams gave Brazil the advantage on goal difference with one game to come and as the games did not begin simultaneously, Menotti's team knew as they kicked off against Peru that a four-goal win would take them through. Amid accusations of bribery, which have never been proven, they won 6-0 and advanced to play the Netherlands in the final.
In the final, Argentina survived the concession of a late equaliser and a Dutch shot against the post in the last minute to record a 3-1 win after extra-time, securing their first world title. Significantly for Menotti, his chosen striker Kempes scored six goals in the tournament, including two in the final, to finish as top scorer. His choice to leave Maradona in the youth team was also vindicated a year later, when between them they led Argentina to victory in the World under-20 Cup in Japan.
Menotti remained in charge of the national team through until their defence of the World Cup in Spain in 1982. Results between the tournaments were unspectacular, with a group stage exit in the 1979 Copa América. When the World Cup came around, Argentina made a poor start. The team, a mixture of the stars of 1978 and a new generation including Maradona, lost their opening game to Belgium. They recovred to reach the second stage, but faced a tough group against Italy and Brazil. A largely ageing defence was found out in those matches, as consecutive defeats ended Argentina's hopes of retaining their title.
Following the tournament, Menotti left his position after eight years in charge but having led Argentina to glory in 1978, his reign will never be forgotten. After a few months out of the game, Menotti returned to management with Barcelona in the spring of 1983. He led the team to victory in the Copa del Rey and the Copa de la Liga at the end of that season, but following a relatively poor campaign in 1983-84 left the club to return to Argentina. He coached both Boca Juniors and River Plate, either side of a brief return to Spain with Atlético Madrid, but was unable to add any further major trophies.
After a short spell in Uruguay with Peñarol, Menotti spent a year and half in charge of the Mexican national team in the early 1990s. Although results were mixed, he played a significant role in regenerating the team after its ban from the 1990 World Cup and setting the stage for improved results in the 1990s. From that point on Menotti did not settle in one job for long, moving around a variety of clubs and also working as a television commentator. He had three separate spells in charge of Independiente and also a short stay in Italy with Sampdoria.
Menotti's final coaching jobs came back in Mexico with Puebla and Tecos before a return to Independiente as general manager, a position which he left in 2010. He has recently been in poor health, but remains one of the most popular figures in Argentinian football as a result of the way he transformed the fortunes of the national team during the 1970s.
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- Published on Sunday, 18 November 2012 00:17