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César Luis Menotti, coach who led Argentina to its first World Cup title in 1978, dies at 85

César Luis Menotti, the charismatic coach who led Argentina to its first World Cup title in 1978, has died, the Argentine Football Association said Sunday. He was 85.

“Goodbye, dear Flaco!” the association’s statement added, using Menotti’s nickname which means “the thin one.”

The association did not give a cause of death. Local media reports said Menotti was admitted to a clinic in March with severe anemia. He reportedly underwent surgery for phlebitis in April and subsequently returned home.

Passion for soccer and a sharp ability to explain its mechanics were Menotti’s hallmark characteristics as a trainer, and he was considered one of the most emblematic and influential coaches in Argentine soccer.

Menotti was a political activist and an affiliate member of the Argentine Communist Party, a boxing fan and an admirer of the works of Latin American writers Mario Benedetti, Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Mario Sábato and Joan Manuel Serrat, among others.

“Once I was interviewed by Borges, and when I asked him if it bothered him that I smoked, he told me: ‘What intoxicates me is not the cigarette, but the stupid conversations,’” Menotti recalled in one of his last interviews.

“So, I asked about everything … but not about soccer, because I know about soccer!” he added.

He launched his career as a player for Rosario Central (1960-1963 and 1967), then went to Racing Club (1964) and Boca Juniors (1965-1966), all Argentine clubs. Menotti played for the New York Generals in the U.S. (1967), followed by Brazil’s Santos (1968) and Italy’s Juventus (1969-1970).

At Santos, he played alongside Pelé, whom he never hesitated to qualify as the best player among legends.

Menotti coached Argentina’s national team between 1974 and 1983. He was convinced the side did not get the recognition it deserved when it won the World Cup in 1978 because the country was ruled by a military junta responsible for widespread human rights violations. His detractors would often recall a photo in which Menotti, after the World Cup victory, shook hands with Jorge Rafael Videla, head of the military junta.

On the eve of the World Cup, Menotti left a 17-year-old Maradona off the squad — a decision the coach later said soured their relations for years.

Menotti coached Mexico’s national team in 1991-1992. He also led Barcelona (1983-1984), where he had Maradona on his squad; Atletico Madrid (1987-88); Uruguay’s Penarol (1990-91); Italy’s Sampdoria (1997) and Mexico’s Tecos (2007) — his last coaching job.

For years, Menotti often had a cigarette hanging between his lips, but he mostly quit the habit in 2011 following a three-day hospitalization stemming from his tobacco addiction.

He also was known for wearing hair long but neat. He said he didn’t rely on hairdressers. “I cut my own hair. I take the scissors, I cut the ends.”

Menotti began leaving his hair long in the early 1970s. “One day I said to myself: ‘I won’t cut my hair until we lose’. And we went 10 games undefeated, so it all started as a joke,” he said.

In his later years, Menotti said he didn’t fear death. “It’s the only thing I’m sure of. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t died at some point,” he said in 2014.

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