Hasta Siempre Luis Aragones

Written by  //  February 2, 2014  //  Sport  //  Comments Off on Hasta Siempre Luis Aragones

For the first eight minutes of the game between Atletico Madrid and Real Sociedad today, there was an eerie silence in the Vicente Calderon stadium. You could hear the players speaking to each other, coaches barking instructions, goalkeepers cursing their defenders. In the many years that I’ve watched football, I have never before been witness to such a surreal spectacle. Of a crowd of 50,000 watching a game in pin drop silence.

Luis Aragones, who had been a loyal son of Atletico had died earlier in the week at the age of 75. In memory of his jersey number–8, fans paid him the ultimate tribute due to any footballer, something that he would never get in his playing time— complete silence for eight long minutes. And once the eighth minute struck, the whole stadium chanted his name in perfect unison. There was no sophistication, no complexity in the name chanting, no so-longs, no goodbyes, just a simple and repetitive drone of ‘Luis A-ra-go-nes. Luis A-ra-go-nes.’ Nothing could be as heartfelt, nothing more genuine as an expression of deep respect and love.

I remember Aragones as the unlikeliest of saviours of Spanish football. For the nineties and the noughties when football engulfed me as a passion, Spain were beautiful and frustrating; sublime and bizarre; entirely unpredictable, and not in a manner which evokes excitement as much as it evokes disgust. No one encapsulated this better than Raul, Spain’s evergreen boy wonder— immensely talented though entirely incapable of inspiring his country to national glory. Aragones, as an avuncular sexagenarian, was hardly the natural candidate to my mind to change this mentality. My abiding image of him is of an old man standing beside the team benches during Euro 2008 engulfed in deep thought. He gave me and every armchair footballer credibility, demonstrating that perhaps football was won and lost in the mind, and not on the pitch, reaffirming my peculiar love for a game that I was, and am, wholly ill-equipped to play.

It was Aragones’ deep thought that led to a beautifully simple, straightforward and ever-so-effective tactic that would revolutionise Spanish football— the ‘tiki-taka’. What we take for granted from Spain today, the intuitively attractive and never-ending sets of passes designed to tire the opposition out, was Spain’s ticket to Euro 2008 success. Four decades of under-achievement was wiped out by a brand of football, that was not just effective, but beautiful. I was privileged to watch it in person in Gdansk in 2012 when the same brand of football, and a new generation of Spanish players, defended their European title. While watching Spain’s opponents Croatia haplessly chasing shadows, I wondered where Aragones was and whether the balding, bespectacled thinker was having a quiet moment of immense pride in watching what he had created.

I never had occasion to remember Aragones since then till I stumbled upon the Atletico game today. As the stadium remained silent for eight minutes and broke it powerfully in the ninth, there was scarcely an eye that was dry. And sitting miles away in Delhi, I could feel the combination of sadness and pride celebrating a life fully lived, mourning the passing of a son, a saviour, a man, who lived his life, for Atletico, for Spain. I shed a tear for a man who I never met, who I never felt I knew. There was scarcely a connection between us but yet such was the powerful groundswell of emotions at the Vicente Calderon, that I was deeply moved simply by being witness to the power of a man to move a people by doing something that he loved— playing and teaching others to play football. I had remarked earlier this month to someone that complexity is a beautiful thing. There was neither any complexity about the love that those in the stadium felt for Aragones, nor about the football he played and taught others to play. Both were simple and uncomplicated. And despite it, or more likely because of it, it was one of the most touching and beautiful moments I have seen. Of a simple love expressing itself in a simple chant: ‘Luis A-ra-go-nes,’

Hasta siempre Luis. Hasta siempre fútbol.

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