The most successful player of the most successful football team of all time passed away this Tuesday at the age of 88. “Paco represents all the values Real Madrid stands for,” writes the ‘Royal’ in response to his death of the club. “We are heartbroken.” On the same website, the Spanish football hero is depicted with the six European Cups and the headline: ‘Hasta siempre, Gento’.
The lightning-quick left winger Francisco ‘Paco’ Gento – nicknamed ‘The Wizard of Cantabria’ – belonged to a star team that included Hungarian Ferenc Puskás, Frenchman Raymond Kopa and Argentinian naturalized Alfredo Di Stéfano. Together they won five consecutive European Cups between 1956 and 1960 – a record.
Gento was the only one who was also in the next European cup victory in 1966, as captain in the meantime. He is still the only player to have won the European Cup I (now Champions League) a total of six times. His record with eight European Cup finals (lost two) was equaled in 2007 by AC Milan’s Italian Paolo Maldini.
Gento won twelve league titles with Real. He scored 182 goals in 600 games, a very high average for an attacker who was not a center forward but a classic left winger, playing with number 11, usually in the pristine white home shirt. And all this under the supervision of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, almost at every home game in the grandstand in Estadio Bernabeu.
Gento, who came over from the northern Spanish Santander in 1953, became a club icon of Real. He has been honorary president of the Madrid club since 2016, succeeding Di Stéfano, who died in 2014. They were lifelong friends, as NRC reporter Guus van Holland described in his report during a joint visit to Amsterdam in 1998:
“They look tired. Possibly from the many white wine and countless cigarettes they’ve already consumed this warm afternoon, possibly from the tropical years they had as the world’s best footballers. Alfredo Di Stéfano, nicknamed ‘the blond arrow’, wipes his sweaty forehead with a handkerchief and eagerly accepts a cigarette that Gento offers him. Faded glory in a corner, almost forgotten.
“During their walk along the Amsterdam canals, only one man recognized the illustrious duo. A Spanish tourist asks for an autograph from the two old people. Cyclists pass the company indifferently or snarl that old men should not walk in the street. Suddenly Gento is standing in the middle of the Keizersgracht bridge. A bare-chested boy, wearing only a pair of leather shorts, cycles up. Gento steps in front of him, feints his body, first to the left, then to the right, then kicks a can into the canal with his left foot. The boy is startled and scolds the old man. Di Stéfano laughs and applauds. Gento can still do it!”
After his retirement in 1971, Gento trained a number of smaller clubs, but he was not very successful in the dugout. He was and remained the winger who delighted the crowd with his dribbling and goals. And set record after record.
Last Sunday, left back Marcelo equaled another record of Gento: 23 titles with Real. The Brazilian won the Spanish Supercup in Saudi Arabia, a trophy that did not exist in Gento’s time. As if timed, the multiple record holder died two days later.