The deaths this week of Real Madrid legend Marcos Alonso Imaz, known in his playing days as Marquitos, and former Poland international Wlodimierz Smolarek have been widely mourned in the football world.
Smolarek, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 54, scored 13 goals in 60 matches for his country and played at two FIFA World Cup™ final tournaments: Spain 1982 and Mexico 1986.
In his letter of condolence to the President of the Polish Football Association Grzegorz Lato, a former international team-mate of Smolarek's, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter recalled the player’s appearance in the first of those world finals: “Smolarek was a member of the great Poland team that finished third at the 1982 FIFA World Cup Spain, which was a phenomenal achievement considering the quality of the other teams in the competition.”
“He was my friend and colleague,” said an emotional Lato, who played alongside Smolarek in Spain. “It’s hard to believe he’s not with us any more. He was always a good person to have around in the team, and his heyday came in the 1970s and 80s, when he sealed our place at Spain 1982.
“I still remember his performance in Leipzig [Smolarek scored twice in a 3-2 defeat of German Democratic Republic in a vital qualifier in October 1981] and in the game against Russia at the World Cup [a goalless draw in the second round at Spain 1982, a result that sent Poland through to the semi-finals].
Smolarek began his career with Polish side Widzew Lodz before moving to Legia Warsaw and then on to Germany, where he played for Eintracht Frankfurt. He then turned out for Dutch clubs Feyenoord and Utrecht before retiring. “He’d been scouting for new players with Polish roots and he was good at it too,” added Lato. “The news of his death comes as a real shock to us.”
Fellow Poland star Zbigniew Boniek echoed Lato’s words: “To look at him you’d think he was pretty shy and withdrawn, but he was very sure of himself out on the pitch. We played a lot of games together at Widzew Lodz and with the national team. It’s a terrible shame.”
Marquitos, a five-time European champion
A member of the legendary Real Madrid side of the 1950s and 60s, and capped twice by Spain, Marquitos died on Tuesday evening. He was 78.
In a letter to the club’s president Florentino Perez, Blatter passed on his most sincere condolences to the former defender’s family, writing: “Marquitos formed part of that unforgettable team that won the European Cup five times in a row. His winning goal against Stade de Reims in 1956 marked the start of a glorious period in Europe that no other club has been able to match since.”
Making his debut for the Madrid giants in 1954, Marquitos would win five Spanish league titles with them, as well as one Spanish Cup, an Intercontinental Cup and a Copa Latina. He left the club in 1962.
Recalling his team-mate of nine seasons at the Bernabeu, Enrique Perez Diaz, aka Pachin, said: “He was good in every sense of the word, but he was at his best in the centre of defence. Then Santamaria came and he had to move out to the right flank.
"He was just the kind of defender you wanted back then and the best I’ve seen. He read the game superbly and was unbeatable in the air. Technically he wasn’t on the same level as today’s defenders but he made up for that with his physique.”
His son, Marcos Alonso Pena, played for Barcelona and Atletico Madrid before going into coaching, and his grandson, Marcos Alonso Mendoza, has maintained the proud family tradition. Currently with Bolton Wanderers, the third member of the Alonso footballing dynasty paid tribute to his late grandfather on Twitter: “I don’t think there’s a prouder grandson in the world than me. May he rest in peace with his five European Cups and watch over us from above.”