No sooner had the news of his death emerged than warm tributes began to flow for Spain's UEFA EURO 2008-winning coach Luís Aragonés, with goalkeeper Iker Casillas among those to credit the former Club Atlético de Madrid striker as the man who "changed Spanish football history".
Appointed in 2004 to lead La Roja – a nickname he himself coined in reference to the red of Spain's shirts – Aragonés moulded a side that went on to taste UEFA European Championship glory and which formed the base of one of the most successful international teams of all time.
"Luis took some decisions and gambles in his day for the good of Spanish football and we have to thank him for what he gave us in 2008 because that changed everything in terms of what we achieved afterwards," said Spain captain Casillas.
A Spanish international on 11 occasions during his playing days, Aragonés knew a shift in mentality was needed if his country were to end a 44-year drought and succeed in a major tournament for the first time since 1964. "We had to work to exorcise ghosts from the players' minds," Aragonés explained as he looked back on UEFA EURO 2008, Spain's history of underachievement having deeply affected their psyche.
"This work was fundamental for me," he continued. "The players were technically good, but there was a slight sense of them thinking 'We've never gone beyond a [certain stage]' and that really affected them. Slowly, the team – based on their ability – started to become convinced they could win. We forged a squad that was subsequently not satisfied with losing."
It was that winning attitude that also made 'The Wise Man of Hortaleza' – the district of Madrid in which Aragonés was born – a legendary figure at Atlético, where flags flew at half-mast on Saturday following the news of his death. The former striker registered 172 league goals in 370 appearances over 11 seasons for the Rojiblancos, during which time he won three Liga titles, two Copa del Rey trophies and a European Champion Clubs' Cup runners-up medal. He was also the first player to score at the Vicente Calderón.
"Atlético means everything to me; the club is practically my life," Aragonés said in a recent interview. "I was fortunate enough that Atlético allowed me to be a player for 11 years and a coach for nearly 20." In charge of the team from the banks of the river Manzanares on four separate occasions, he steered his beloved side to a league championship, three Copa del Rey wins and an Intercontinental Cup triumph, among other titles.
Aragonés's extensive coaching CV also features teams such as Real Betis Balompié, FC Barcelona, Sevilla FC, Valencia CF, RCD Mallorca and Fenerbahçe SK, but it is for his feats with Atlético and Spain that the Madrid native has now entered the pantheon of Spanish football.
"Without doubt, he paved the way for this hugely successful period [Spain are enjoying]," noted current coach Vicente del Bosque. "He had great experience as a coach and I had a lot of time for him." Those sentiments were echoed by Casillas: "He really influenced our generation of players. He was an endearing and special person."
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