It just had to be them. Real Madrid. Pep Guardiola’s oldest professional nemesis thwarted yet another run to the Champions League final for his…
Last week, the former Spain international and legendary Real Madrid winger Francisco ‘Paco’ Gento passed away at the age of 88.
On Monday morning, the Santiago Bernebéu stadium paid him tribute, with the entire playing squad entering the arena wearing his number 11 shirt and the crowd unfurling massive banners thanking the great winger and honorary club president for his service over nearly 70 years.
Real Madrid didn’t quite manage a win in Gento’s honour. Karim Benzema missed a first-half penalty and then limped off injured, and the hosts fell behind 0-2 against unfancied visitors Elche.
But they did manage a late rally. Luka Modrić converted an 82nd-minute penalty and Éder Militão headed home in stoppage time to salvage a point. Fittingly, Real’s current speedy, left-sided winger Vinícius Júnior provided the cross for Militão’s late equaliser.
Paco Gento, or ‘La Galerna’ (the Gale), is widely regarded as one of the fastest players to ever grace Spanish football and spent 18 seasons whizzing down Real Madrid’s left wing.
He’s perhaps best remembered for his lightning attacking runs and crosses to Alfredo Di Stéfano and Ferenc Puskás in the legendary European Cup final between Real Madrid and Eintracht Frankfurt in Glasgow in 1960.
Gento was originally from Guarnizo in the region of Cantabria. He debuted for local club Racing Santander in the 1952-53 season but wasn’t expecting to play when Racing visited Real Madrid in April 1953.
As fate would have it, Racing’s first-team squad had been decimated by flu. Young Gento was promoted to start at the Estadio Chamartín and played a key part in Racing’s 2-1 victory.
Real Madrid was so taken by the young winger that they signed him just three days later. While Gento did not enjoy immediate success in his first season at Real Madrid, he won a powerful admirer in the great Di Stéfano, who insisted the club stick by the young Cantabrian.
Few dared to cross the great and legendarily bad-tempered Di Stéfano, so Gento remained.
The two of them won four La Liga titles and three European Cups in five seasons before an already great Real Madrid team went into overdrive after the arrival of the Hungarian international Ferenc Puskás.
The Di Stéfano-Puskás-Gento trinity remains one of the greatest attacking combinations the football world has seen.
The three combined for two further European Cups, including the demolition of Eintracht Frankfurt in Glasgow in 1960, and another four La Liga titles, before Di Stéfano left the club in a huff after the loss to Inter Milan in the 1964 European Cup Final.
Puskás is credited with 242 goals from 262 appearances during his time at Real Madrid, while Di Stéfano managed 308 in 396 appearances. There are no assist statistics from the time, but I imagine Gento had plenty to do with those extraordinary numbers.
Gento himself is credited with 127 goals in 427 appearances for Real Madrid. In 18 seasons, he won 12 La Liga titles and played in eight European Cup finals, winning six of them.
All of these are records, with only the Italian Paulo Maldini managing to match Gento’s record of playing in eight finals.
After retiring in 1971, Gento had an unremarkable coaching career in Spain’s lower leagues, before becoming an ambassador for Real Madrid and, after Di Stéfano’s death in 2014, taking over as the club’s honorary president.
At a sad time for Spanish football, it’s worth remembering that Gento’s legacy lives on in La Liga. Atlético Madrid’s speedy, left-footed winger Marcos Llorente is Gento’s great nephew.
While his great uncle probably didn’t approve of the move from Real to Atlético Madrid, he would surely have appreciated Llorente’s transformation from middling midfielder to dynamic winger and La Liga champion in 2020-21.
I can only hope that Gento has been reunited with his fellow members of Real Madrid’s great attacking trinity in Valhalla, and that the three of them are already terrorising defenders in the Asgard Premier League.
Ball, P (2001), Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football, WSC Books
BD Futbol, Primera División Round 27, 12/04/1953, Puskás, Gento and Di Stéfano