Sharp-tongued, often surly, a born competitor and lover of good football, few people have left such an indelible mark on the Spanish game as Luis Aragones. A veritable institution at Atletico Madrid, a club where he enjoyed success as both a player and head coach, it was as Spain supremo that he would earn universal acclaim. Leaving the side’s former nickname of La Furia Roja (The Red Fury) in the past, in came the ‘tika-tika’ style that drove his 'La Roja' to glory at UEFA EURO 2008, thus kicking off a trio of successive major title triumphs.
On the first anniversary of his passing, FIFA.com pays tribute to El Sabio de Hortaleza (the wise man from Hortaleza) by bringing together a selection of some of his most notable quotes, including his footballing ideology, his relationship with the press and his time in charge of Spain – all in his characteristically forthright manner.
"Winning and winning and winning, winning again, and winning and winning and winning… That’s football."
How he once summed up the essence of the sport.
“I think that if you’re a football coach, you should go to matches in a tracksuit.”
On his old-school dress-code ideas.
“The ball is musical and you have to know how to play it properly.”
Espousing the virtues of stylish one-touch football.
“You don’t play finals, you win them.”
Stylish football yes, but without neglecting the result.
“What pleases me most is being able to dedicate myself to this profession. I get a buzz just from the smell of the turf when stepping onto the pitch.”
Aragones spent his whole professional life in football, finally announcing his retirement in 2013 at the age of 74.
“There are sections of the media that want to kill me. [Go ahead and] kill me, but don’t tell lies.”
Enjoying an up-and-down relationship with the media over his lengthy career, this was Aragones’ reaction to criticism received and reports of dressing-room unrest, just months prior to winning EURO 2008.
“I prefer the nickname Zapatones (Big boots) to Sabio (Wise man), because I know full well that I know nothing.”
Discussing the merits of two of his sobriquets, the first of which was due to his distinctive walk.
“Why don’t you look me in the eye?”
While coach of Valencia, in a training-session showdown with wayward Brazil star Romario.
“They key to lasting such a long time in the game is being genuine, the truth is overwhelming. Players won’t put up with being lied to for long.”
His recipe for earning players’ respect.
“When I feel like I need to make a change then I make it, although of course I might get it wrong. But at that moment I genuinely feel I’m doing the right thing and a substitution is needed, whether it’s [Samuel] Eto’o, Romario or even Pele who’s being subbed.”
Outlining his belief in his own decisions, particularly relevant to his time at Mallorca working with a young Eto’o who, on more than one occasion, reacted badly to being substituted. The Cameroonian superstar would in later years praise the impact his “father-figure” Aragones had on him.
“I know how it feels to be a player out there, listening to the national anthem. Footballers are like actors: they want to go out there, score three goals and be cheered by the fans.”
Aragones’ insight into a footballer’s mind-set.
“I’d like our national team to have a name, an identity. Just as everyone knows Brazil as A Canarinha and Argentina La Albiceleste, I’d like Spain to be La Roja.”
Putting his own stamp on proceedings, shortly after taking over the Spain reigns in 2004.
“Our work was based on two key concepts. The first was the style of play, which was based around getting our best players on the pitch in order to control possession of the ball. I used to say again and again that our innate physical make-up meant we couldn’t compete with the likes of Germany, while now it’s opposing teams that can’t keep up when we get our one-touch game going. And the other key was getting rid of any egos.”
Explaining to sports daily AS, several years after EURO 2008, how he created that title-winning team.
“God doesn’t get involved in this kind of thing, he’s very impartial. He doesn’t favour Spain or anybody else even if, well, Russia is atheist.”
After being handed a small prayer card by a journalist in the days leading up to EURO 2008.
“I took over a national squad, but I plan to leave behind a team.”
The main objective he set himself on being appointed Spain boss.
“Do you know how many World Cups Raul has been too? Three. Do you know how many EUROs he’s been to? Two. Now tell me, how many of them did we win?”
The subject of a barrage of criticism from many sections of the media and public alike after dropping Raul from La Selección, this was his response to one fan’s plea to recall the Real Madrid striker.
“There were some things that needed to be done for the good of Spanish football. There were other players that never got back in the national squad either, not just Raul. Certain players, like him, were no longer performing the way I’d have liked them to.”
Outlining the tough decisions to be made in his bid to turn the national side into more of a team, decisions that would be proved right with time.
“Is that clear? I’m asking you, is that clear? Yes? Well, this and this (thumping the tactical whiteboard with his fist) means nothing. What matters is that you’re better than them and I’m fed up to the back teeth of losing to this lot, in this stadium. You’re Atletico Madrid and there are 50,000 fans here who’d die for you. For them, for the shirt, for your own pride, you have to go out on the pitch and show that there’s only one champion and they’re dressed in red and white.”
An excerpt from one of his best-known team talks, with Aragones thus inspiring his beloved Atleti to a 2-0 win over Madrid in the 1992 Copa del Rey final in the Santiago Bernabeu.
“Don’t you step on that badge.”
With Spain taking on Slovakia in a play-off for Germany 2006 at the Vicente Calderon, Aragones reprimanded the fourth official for daring to tread on an Atleti club badge painted on the turf.