KEIR RADNEDGE REMEMBERS —- Cesar Luis Menotti struck an imposing figure on the days when he opened the gates of Argentina’s Jose C Paz training camp during the 1978 World Cup finals. Menotti, tall with long lank hair, stood head and shoulders above the mad swirl of players and media. He was the personification of calm at the centre of a thunderstorm comprising not merely football’s ultimate pressure job but the mixed-up emotions of a nation under scrutiny like no previous host.

Menotti, who has died aged 85 after a long illness, will be described in revisionist obituaries as a “romantic.”

Maybe he was, compared with Osvaldo Zubeldia whose Estudiantes had kicked and tricked their way to three Libertadores crowns in the late 1960s; maybe he was, compared with Juan Carlos Lorenzo who led Argentina to the 1966 World Cup, who led a bitchy Atletico Madrid to the 1974 Champions League and who simultaneously led two separate Boca Juniors teams to both Argentina’s national championship and the Libertadores.

Argentinian football’s unique history man: Cesar Luis Menotti

But Menotti was a man and a manager who defied any pigeon-holed, revisionist label.

For the media at home he was El Flaco, the Thin Man; for a curious foreign media he was both a philosopher and a football dictator. He was a chain-smoking contradiction in terms, a political Leftist charged by a murderous junta to deliver the sporting glory to gloss over the Ford Falcon death squads, the torture centres (the largest down the road from the Estadio Monumental) and whispers of the airborne death drops out over the River Plate.

If a single label were needed, then “pragmatist” would be the most appropriate.

It was hardly romantic to make the Dutch players stand, nervily and impatiently kicking their heels, while Argentina’s players wound up the crowd by delaying their entry onto the pitch; hardly romantic either to upset them even further with the last-seconds protest at the cast on Rene van de Kerkhof’s injured wrist.

The 1978 World Cup Final was the dirtiest this writer ever witnessed. Italian referee Sergio Gonella would have needed eyes in the back of his head to control the individual skirmishes even if he possessed the will (which he did not). Argentina won 3-1 in extra time. Job done.

Menotti, for his ever-loyal players, yes for President Jorge Rafael Videla and for the people of Argentina was the man who delivered a World Cup triumph demanded ever since defeat in the very first final across the waters in Uruguay in 1930.

He boasted the broadest shoulders of any football manager, at any level, before or since.

Subsequently he would lead Argentina – with a Diego Maradona he had judged too immature in 1978 – to the world under-20 title in 1979 and later, in a role reversal, followed El Pibe de Oro to Barcelona in 1982 for two underwhelming years.

Nothing Cesar Luis Menotti did later – or ever could – measure up to his achievement back in that bleak Argentinian winter of 1978.

** Cesar Luis Menotti: born Ocober 22, 1938 (registered November 5); died May 5, 2024.

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