Paco Gento spent 18 years as a Real Madrid footballer, almost two decades in which he won everything: 12 Leagues, two Cups, six European Cups, one Intercontinental Cup and two Latin Cups. A total of 23 titles that continues to be a record equaled by Marcelo with the Super Cup won last Sunday. Ramos looked out at that figure, who will no longer be able to surpass him after leaving the club last summer. But Gento didn’t always have it easy; its beginnings, in fact, were full of rejection by the Bernabéu stands.
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Gento arrived in Madrid in the summer of 1953, after barely half a season at Racing de Santander in his native Cantabria, ten League games and four Cup games in which he stood out, in an operation that included the loan of another winger, Espina, to Racing. His first white course was one of much suffering and little reward: 17 games out of 30 in the League, not a single goal, barely participating in the second part of the season. The fans soon took it up with him because of his electric and very fast style, so much so that many times the ball was left behind; his shots rarely went to the goal, a problem that until recently afflicted another madridista like Vinicius.
And to top it off, Espina shone in Santander, with six goals in 23 games, so much so that Bernabéu wanted to undo the operation, return Gento to Racing and bring Espina to Madrid to join the white attack. That’s where the figure of Alfredo Di Stéfano appeared to dissuade the legendary Madridista president: “He has speed and hits the ball like a cannon. You don’t learn that, you bring it. We can teach you the rest.” Bernabéu, grateful to the Blonde Saeta, who had led Madrid to its first League in 20 years with 27 goals in 28 games, granted him that wish; also that of signing Rial from the Nacional de Montevideo.
Rial, Gento’s best partner
The inclusion of Rial in the scheme, especially when he was placed inside left, was vital to exploit Gento’s qualities. “When I have the ball, come to me: I give it to you, you return it to my foot and run. I’ll put it in the background, in your career. While you and I pass it around, Alfredo shoots up like an arrow, to get to the auction. And if you catch it before, we do it the other way around, but with one more touch: you give it to me, I give it back to you, you give it to me again and then I throw it to you”. A very simple explanation that premiered at 2-4 at home del Alavés, and that was the first stone in that Rial-Gento couple, with Di Stéfano reaping the fruits of it, which led Madrid to win the 1954-55 League, which gave access to the first European Cup. The rest is history…
Of all the partners with whom he played, Di Stéfano felt a special admiration for Gento. So much so that Pachín, a newcomer to the club, was surprised: “Everyone made the ball to Gento. Even Di Stefano. Him more than anyone. I told him: ‘Let’s see Paco, how are you?’ And he was beating his heels on the locker room floor, tapping very fast, with both feet, like sprinting without moving from his spot, and that sounded like a finely tuned engine. And then Alfredo said: ‘Paco is fine, we can go out’. I was amazed.”
Di Stéfano himself, in conversation with Alfredo Relaño, former director and Honorary President of AS, calibrated the importance of Gento in the successes of that Madrid of the five European Cups: “It was a safe start for us. The worse we were, the more we used him and he always offered us an escape. I think that throwing to feet I would have chosen him the first “. The Cantabrian also greatly admired the Hispanic-Argentine: “Without him we wouldn’t have won anything we did. He was the one who did it all. He didn’t let us rest on the pitch or in training. Not even on trips, when there was an important game. He turned everything around, explained everything. I knew everything.”
Gento flew without the sodas
He also established a special relationship with Rial, first on the pitch and then off it. “I gave her the ball and she ran away, Rial threw the ball to me and I arrived at the site at the same time as her. All the credit went to Héctor”, explained the Cantabrian about those first experiments, to which he gradually added improvements in the auction. When the pass was on the inside and Gento found a shot profile, he hit a left-footed shot that grabbed the goal more and more easily: he ended up scoring 182 goals in 605 games for white; the 1959-60 season was the best in that sense, with 19 goals, and he chained 14 courses scoring at least 9 goals, at a time when he rarely exceeded 40 games per season.
Rial also enhanced Gento’s game by perfecting his lifestyle: He advised him to abandon the soft drinks with which he used to accompany meals and to replace them with water, convinced that this would make him feel lighter on the pitch. The Spaniard paid attention and the results were not long in appearing, giving more brilliance to that electric dribbling at speed that he combined with dry braking, which the defenders rarely used to follow. So much so that it became common for rival teams to flood both sides of the field to prevent the Galerna’s driving from being so fluid.
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