In good times and bad, Madridistas always have the same question to ask — does Real Madrid has a structured defence or maybe that thing exists only by name? Some fans assure that Real Madrid’s defensive system is just an illusion because the current defenders are all strikers at heart, and they don’t even try to hide their passion for attack. This seems to be true, as that curious side of the team’s character was mentioned by Marcelo in his autobiographical story for The Players Tribune:
“I love to attack. The defence? If we got a problem, we’ll fix it. We’ll figure it out. But first, we attack.” — Marcelo
But first, we attack. Many football fans are used to thinking that this is so typical of Real Madrid, as has been the case over the last two+ decades, the team has been playing in a style which can be described as “You will score as many as you can and we will score as many as we want”. But, of course, Real Madrid wasn’t always like this.
That’s right — about 80 years ago the club was famous also by its unbreakable defence. Real Madrid had an accurate defensive structure — sounds surreal, I know. But it was absolutely real and the ringleader of that defence was the legendary Jacinto Quincoces. Sadly, nowadays, the name and the story of this footballer are quite forgotten, even though during his career he was known as the best defender in the world and a part of Real Madrid’s superb squad of the pre-war times.
Jacinto’s first steps in football
Jacinto Francisco Fernández de Quincoces y López de Arbina (that’s the full name of the player) was born in 1905, in Bilbao’s commuting town Barakaldo. He was passionate about football since his early years and played it on the streets with other kids. At the age of 13, he joined a small local team, Desierto de Barakaldo, where he played for two years before moving with his family to another city.
That city was Vitoria-Gasteiz, and it’s the location of Alaves football club, which young Jacinto was lucky enough to join. He made his professional debut in a match against Osasuna, but soon he was removed from the starting line-up due to his inexperience. At that time the players were paid only for the amount of played matches, so Jacinto was forced to find another team where he could be able to gain playing time and earn money.
The managing board of Athletic Bilbao seemed to be interested in Jacinto, so they called him to make tests and to play in a friendly game against Real Sociedad. Strange, but the coach of Atletic decided to put Jacinto — who was a central defender — on the right side where the player wasn’t able to play well and fully prove himself. In the end, Athletic Bilbao’s board said that they are not interested in Jacinto and paid him for a ticket home.
He returned to his hometown to join Barakaldo football club on loan. He stayed there for seven seasons showing a good quality of play. In 1927, Jacinto came back to Alaves as a stronger player and helped the team qualify to the first division. That means, after all the movements back and forth between the clubs, Jacinto finally found his place in the professional football team where he could show his talent and great defending ability.
The national team and the rise of Jacinto
Jacinto’s success with Alaves impressed the coaching staff of the Spanish national team, and soon he was included in the squad for the 1928 Summer Olympics. He quickly became a starter player there and helped his team to get into the quarter-finals of the tournament, where Spain lost against Italy.
A year later, in May 1929, Spain reached an important milestone by beating England — a team that had never lost against continental teams before. Jacinto played in the starting line-up and was one of three players with the highest ratings for that match.
Needless to say, Jacinto’s exemplary defending in those matches attracted the attention of other Spanish clubs, so it was time for him to make some important decisions about his future.
Within an inch of Barcelona
Jacinto’s career was definitely taking off, but he dreamed about bigger things — he dreamed to play for Barcelona. And there was a great opportunity for it, as the Catalan club asked him to join their squad for their friendly matches in the USA. Barcelona wanted Jacinto to be a part of the team and they nearly officially signed him, but due to unknown reasons, the transfer failed.
In the 1929-30 season, Jacinto won the Biscay Regional Championship with Alaves. Although it was an important achievement, the player still wanted something else. Soon an invitation by Real Madrid (Madrid FC back then) appeared, and Jacinto accepted it quickly. That was the beginning of a new chapter of his career.
Jacinto never forgot to say some kind words about Alaves, even after his departure from the club. He said in his interview for Fussball-Welt Zeitschrift once: “I became a true player in Alaves and this club will always be in my heart because of those great moments that I lived with them.”
But what about Barcelona? With Jacinto, there could be a huge possibility for them to create one of the best defences in the world, so the fans of the Catalan club were very sad about this missed transfer.
In the meantime, the best defence was in the process of building in a club from Madrid.
Two defenders and a keeper
In the early ‘30s, Spanish sport newspapers used to create a stir with their front pages covered with a rumour: “Madrid FC is going to steady its defence”. And soon it turned into reality — first, the club signed a great goalkeeper in Ricardo Zamora, and then also two talented centre backs in Jacinto Quincoces and Ciriaco.
Those three players were from the same squad of the Spanish national team, so they already knew each other and even had a good friendship. At first, the club’s fanbase wasn’t happy about these transfers and was cold to the trio, as in the starting line-up they replaced the previous players that were close to the hearts of Madridistas.
However, soon Quincoces, Ciriaco and Zamora acquired the fans’ support by showing their high quality. They formed a solid defence based on technique and strength which made Real Madrid’s style much more masterful and powerful. At that time the team played according to a 2-3-5 formation, so there was no need for Quincoces and Ciriaco to attack. But, at the same time, these two players had to be very concentrated in protecting the goalposts, as they were the only ones who really defended.
Their first season in Real Madrid was incredible — the team didn’t lose one game, and conquered its first La Liga. In the following season, Real Madrid achieved the gold medals again, becoming the first team to win the tournament twice. That squad was confident and nearly undefeated, and its key element was the famous secure defence.
The world’s best defender
In the summer of 1934, Jacinto Quincoces became one of the main instigators of Spain’s good results during the World Cup. Although Spain was knocked out in the quarters by Italy, the team showed a brave and nice style of play. At the end of the World Cup, Jacinto was awarded as “the best defender of the tournament” which also meant he could be construed as the best defender in the world.
Jacinto’s retirement as a player
The Spanish Civil War started in 1936 and brought a hiatus to any football activity in the country. The league was stopped and the national team wasn’t able to play as well. The chaos didn’t seem to end and Jacinto started to think it all would finalize his sporting career forever, as he was already 34 at that moment.
Nevertheless, soon the War was over and Jacinto resumed his career in Real Madrid. He spent a couple more seasons there and then played his farewell match on 8 December 1942. It was a league game against Sevilla, and afterwards Real Madrid made a beautiful ceremony honouring the career of one of the best players of that era.
A good coaching career
Jacinto didn’t want to leave football permanently, so he decided to try his hand at coaching already in 1942. He started with Zaragoza, but didn’t achieve much success there and left the club after one season.
A new challenge for Jacinto arrived in 1945. After managing the Spanish national team for only two matches, he was hired by Santiago Bernabeu as the head coach of Real Madrid. The result of it was not really good — the team reached only fourth place in La Liga.
Working in Real Madrid was too stressful for Jacinto, so he left the club and started his new coaching adventure with Valencia in 1948. He managed this team for six years and achieved two Spanish Cups and one Eva Duarte’s Cup (the previous version of the Spanish Super Cup).
His next workplace was Atletico Madrid where he worked only for one season in which his team finished eighth in La Liga. Then he came back to Zaragoza and coached for a few more seasons there without reaching any interesting achievements.
Jacinto retired as a manager in 1960, after another two seasons in Valencia. He’s still remembered as a legend of this club with his 229 games in all official competitions (only Di Stéfano coached Valencia more). With his three cups, he also shares first place with Rafael Benitez as a manager with the biggest number of trophies won with Valencia.
Jacinto once described his coaching career in the interview for Fussball-Welt Zeitschrift:
“The most important thing for me was to create a friendship and partnership between the players, to create a group where everybody collaborates with each other. Once it’s reached, the team is able to achieve everything.”
Here’s another interesting phrase said by Jacinto:
“One thing I do know for sure is that the players form the coach. If you are a coach of a great club, then it’s clear that all the players you have in the squad are already good, they stand out, so nobody would learn them how to play. The coach has to know his players well, that’s the key to everything. When the players feel comfortable with the coach, they make that coach great. It always goes like this.”
A passion for pilota
Basque pilota is a handball sport played on a court with a ball and a racket. There are many variations of the rules of this game, but usually, it involves two teams face-to-face, separated by a line on the ground.
Jacinto Quincoces took a fancy for pilota at a young age, even before he became a professional footballer. It was like a hobby for him, or maybe something more. After finishing his football career, he was chosen as the President of the Valencian Pilota Federation. At this new job, Jacinto produced some interesting ideas and promoted new measures that resulted in a profit for the Valencian pilota.
A star of Spanish cinema
The proverb “A talented person is talented in all spheres of activity” describes Jacinto Quincoces perfectly. Beside his careers in football and pilota, he was also attracted to acting and even took part in some remarkable Spanish movies.
It all started in 1943 when Jacinto and his ex-teammate Ricardo Zamora were invited to play in a comedy movie called “¡¡Campeones!!” that narrates a footballer from a small team who was involved in blackmail and some intriguing situations.
Here’s a short clip from the movie. You can spot Jacinto (in a black suit) attending a pilota game. He is also having a conversation with a woman in the last seconds of the video.
Jacinto liked the process of starring in films so much that he decided to continue to work in this sphere. Here’s his filmography:
1943 ¡¡Campeones!! (Champions)
1943 El camino del amor (The road of love)
1945 Tierra sedienta (Thirsty land)
1954 Once pares de botas (Eleven pairs of boots)
1956 La Saeta Rubia (The Blond Arrow)
1971 Ciento catorce goles (One hundred fourteen goals)
Jacinto as an inspiration for poets
Jacinto Quincoces was an outstanding professional, so it’s no wonder that his life story and career in Real Madrid have been an inspiration for artists. For example, two great Spanish poets dedicated their works to the player.
One of those poets is Federico Muelas — his long poem “Ode to Jacinto Quincoces” was published in 1943, in the “Garcilaso” magazine. This small part of the poem describes how Jacinto was defending against an opposing team:
“Sobre el verde tapiz, la geometría
Delirando en los pies del delantero;
Página de sutil caligrafía
Buscando el “visto bueno” del arquero:
El inútil vigor de la estirada
Dejándola por siempre rubricada.”
“There is geometry on the green tapestry
The feet of that forward are like in a state of delirium
The page of a thin calligraphy
By looking for the sign from the goalkeeper
The power of the stretch is useless
By leaving it with an impress forever.”
Another famous Spanish poet José García Nieto decided to write a “sequel” to his colleague’s poem. It was published in the following issue of the same magazine and includes a few lines dedicated to Jacinto’s retirement.
“No canto ya el tapiz que, verdecido,
Era a tus pies tejido vulnerado,
Ni canto ya las fuentes del ruido
Cuando por ti el extremo era driblado
Canto el sueño del travelling, Jacinto,
Que presta a tu perfil su laberinto.”
“I don’t sing anymore about the green tapestry
That was scratched under your feet
And I don’t sing about the source of a sound
Of a moment when the extreme came into your view
I sing about the dream of travelling, Jacinto,
That takes your silhouette for its labyrinth”
I decided to join this “challenge”, and write a poem about Jacinto Quincoces as well. So, here’s mine:
“This story happened many years ago
It was in Spain, whose sun is never cold
Before that chaos caused by the War
Real Madrid’s defence was like a wall
For sure, Jacinto’s glory will remain
It will help us when we start to fall
But now the team is not the same
Now the defenders attack more
Their positions exist only by name
And they only dream to score a goal
To celebrate it and to bask in fame
So the keeper is forced to fight alone
Maybe it all has changed this game
The modern football is another world
Now our rivals score when they can
But we score when we want”
January 2019, “Defence”
Jacinto’s kerchief and other stories about him
- Jacinto used to wear a white kerchief on his forehead during matches. Legend says, this life-hack helped him control the ball when playing with his head.
- Jacinto was so focused on defence that during his long career he didn’t score a single goal.
- Jacinto’s nickname in Real Madrid was “Autogiro” (Autogyro). He got it for his quickness and deftness on the pitch.
- Jacinto once said that at first his salary in Real Madrid was even smaller than in Alaves, but there were some rewards to make up for it. He also said that he spent his first paycheque by on “a fast car that girls liked”.
- There’s a street named after Jacinto in Vitoria-Gasteiz — the town where the legendary defender spent his youth.
Nowadays, if the time comes to highlight the weaknesses of Real Madrid’s defence or to compare it with other teams’ defences, Madridistas usually turn a blind eye or say that defending is just not in Real Madrid’s DNA.
This article was written to remind the fans that Real Madrid has a background full of great players that were focused only on defence and never on attack (for example, Jacinto Quincoces). This is an important part of the club’s history, so we can’t cut it out of as if it were a film footage.
The popular phrase “There are too many attacking players in the current squad to have a good defence” is something like an excuse in that case. I’ve already mentioned that in the ‘30s, the team played according to a super-attacking formation and, despite this, was able to form one of the most solid defences in the world. Yes, the game was different back then, but anyway — football is always football.
The team is struggling this season, and the tactic “The best defence is a good offence” doesn’t seem to work as much anymore. Personally, I believe that someday Real Madrid will have a confident and secure defence again. Maybe it will be so good that the fans will hardly believe their eyes that day, or they’ll even say “Lights, camera, action!” to make a movie out of it — just like the ones with Jacinto Quincoces.