A gent of football

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February 5

Dear Editor,

A couple of weeks ago the Spanish Real Madrid footballer Gento died at the age of 88, leading to many tributes in the Spanish press and television, and worldwide.

He is often rated as the finest Spanish born footballer ever and possibly the finest left side winger who ever played football, with the Brazilian footballer Garrincha who played alongside Pele often rated at the same heady heights.

In the modern game, the Brazilian wing forward Neymar is probably the player most matching the skill of these two.

Gento was part of the Real Madrid team of the late 1950s and 1960s which singlehandedly transformed football into the modern game.

In 1960 Real Madrid became European Champions for the 5th time in Glasgow, winning 7-3 against the German team Eintracht Frankfurt.

British coaches and managers came away from that game shellshocked by the elegant, silky, mesmerising style of football played by Madrid, with one English manager supposedly commenting ‘Real Madrid are playing a different game, English managers will have to go back to the drawing board’.

So what was so special about Gento?

Well, first of all, he had the speed of an express train, and when attacking at high speed his control was such that the ball often appeared to be almost glued to his left foot.

At the same time he was able to twist and turn and change direction so rapidly that he could leave defender after defender flailing and floundering on the ground in his wake, much in the same way as George Best was able to do.

Also, whilst running at high speed he was able to cross the ball from extreme angles on the left wing with great precision usually setting up a goal for centre forward di Stefano (often rated in the best three footballers ever after Pele and Maradona) or midfield powerhouse Ferenc Puskas.

Finally he had a frighteningly powerful cannonball shot and often scored goals that way when cutting in from the left.

In other words, as a winger he had it all.

Gento was one of the last remaining players from the great Real Madrid team of the late 1950s and 1960s which set the template for modern football.

His death a couple of weeks ago marks a sad day for football… he was quite simply an astonishing, mesmerising wizard of a player, who took your breath away with his skill.


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