“It was the happiest day of my sporting career, and I had quite a few happy days”
That was how Miguel Munoz described La Roja’s 12-1 defeat of Malta in 1983, one of the greatest nights in Spanish football history prior to the achievements of the current Spain team.
Munoz’s was Spain’s coach that evening in Seville, which began with his side needing to beat the Maltese by an 11-goal margin to pip group rivals the Netherlands to a place at the 1984 UEFA European Championship in France. Though the Spanish opened the scoring early, their seemingly impossible task was made even harder when the visitors somehow conjured an equaliser, leaving Munoz’s men needing to score 12 in all.
Yet that is just what they did, despite leading only 3-1 at the break. Revealing what the coach had to say to his troops at half-time, Poli Rincon, the scorer of four goals on the night, said: “He told us to go out there and show our unity and love for the national team and put on a show for the fans.”
Speaking after Munoz’s death years later, Vicente Miera – his loyal assistant on the Spain bench and a pupil of his during his playing days at Real Madrid – said: “He was especially happy that night because made the whole country happy.”
Considering the huge success Munoz enjoyed at club level, however, it is a little surprising perhaps that he should remember that epic night as the most pleasing of his career.
As a player in the famous white shirt of Real Madrid, he won three European Cups and four league titles, among many other trophies, forming part of a side that featured luminaries such as Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and Paco Gento, and also scoring the club’s very first goal in European competitions. It was when he switched to the dugout, however, that Munoz truly attained legendary status.
When he hung up his boots in 1958 the club’s president Santiago Bernabeu asked him to coach the reserve side. Though not exactly what he had in mind, Munoz only had to wait 12 months before achieving his real ambition and taking charge of the first team and former team-mates Di Stefano, Gento et al.
The 37-year-old Munoz instantly repaid his president’s faith, becoming the first man to win the European Cup as a player and a coach. Further glories would come in his stay of 13 years and six months, the longest ever at a Spanish club. In that time he won nine league titles, two Copas de Espana, two European Cups and an Intercontinental Cup.
Success based on renewal
Munoz believed luck was on his side. “I have a big flower in my backside”, was his unique way of putting it, though there was more to his achievements than good fortune, not least his gift for handling a dressing room packed full of star players. Silverware aside, his great achievement at Madrid was to renew a side that had won five European Cups and replace his ageing standard bearers with a clutch of emerging talents who would secure the club’s sixth continental title in 1966, six years after their previous one.
That process of change was no easy undertaking either, especially in the case of Di Stefano, of whom Munoz was a great admirer and a personal friend. The Blond Arrow had turned 38 by 1964 and the coach knew his days at Madrid were over, though he delayed taking such a painful decision, even presenting his resignation at one stage to his president.
Bernabeu refused to accept it, prompting Munoz to press ahead with his overhaul of the team, which lost that year’s European Cup final 3-1 to Helenio Herrera’s Inter Milan. When Munoz named his side for the following week’s Copa de Espana quarter-final tie against Atletico Madrid, his friend Di Stefano was a very notable absentee from the list.
The Argentinian was not the only mainstay of that fabled team to be moved aside, as the likes of Puskas, Jose Santamaria and Marcos Alonso (Marquitos) made way for a new generation known as 'Madrid Ye-Yé', a name acquired after four of the players posed for a photograph wearing Beatles wigs. Featuring Amancio Amaro, Ramon Grosso and Jose Martinez, better known as Pirri, Munoz’s revamped young side dominated Spanish football in the 1960s.
Munoz had come a long way from his father’s tailor’s, where he would work as a boy and from where he would escape to watch football whenever he could. His glorious reign ended in 1974, however, when a string of bad results caused the fans to turn against him and led him to resign.
Back on the glory trail
Munoz moved on to Sevilla and then Las Palmas, before the Spanish Football Association came calling in the wake of the national team’s disastrous showing on home soil at the 1982 FIFA World Cup Spain™. Munoz accepted their offer and settled in for a six-year spell in charge.
That 12-1 defeat of the Maltese was just one of many memorable nights he would enjoy with Spain, although his luck would desert him on two very significant occasions, the first of them coming at the 1984 UEFA European Championship. Spain reached the final against hosts France - thanks in no small part to the performances of their keeper Luis Miguel Arconada. But it was Arconada’s mistake that allowed Les Bleus to take the lead in the showpiece match, the Real Sociedad custodian allowing Michel Platini’s free-kick to wriggle beneath him and over the line, with the French going on to win 2-0.
Two years later Munoz took a new-look side that included emerging stars such as Emilio Butragueno and Michel to Mexico 1986, where they became genuine title contenders after beating Michael Laudrup’s feared Denmark side 5-1 in the Round of 16, Butragueno scoring four of the goals. Nevertheless injuries to key members of the side and a stubborn Belgium team put paid to Spanish hopes in the next round, the Belgians advancing to the semi-finals on penalties.
Munoz’s reign came to an end when Spain were knocked out at the group stage of the 1988 UEFA European Championship, a failure that led to him retiring. “Success is the result of discipline and big moments coming together,” said Munoz, who may have been mild-mannered, but had an iron will when it came to running a football team.
He died in 1990 at the age of 68, and is remembered now as much for his achievements at club and international level as for daring to bring the curtain down on the great Di Stefano’s Madrid career.