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Analysing Miguel Muñoz: The Ye-Ye era

Final article on Real Madrid’s iconic coach.

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Real Madrid v Partizan Belgrade

This is the second of two articles. Check out the first one by clicking here!

The summer of 1964 was one of the most uncertain at Real Madrid since the 1940s. Having once again failed in Europe, this time at the hands of former Barcelona manager Helanio Herrera, press and fans were demanding change.

In itself, replacing a side that, even then, was considered one of the best teams of all time, was extremely difficult, however, Spain’s failure at the 1962 World Cup made it even harder. Fearful that foreign players were damaging the chances of young Spanish players, the Sports delegation banned foreign transfers following La Roja’s group stage exit in Chile. This ban meant that Madrid couldn’t approach their squad rebuild the same way that they built the Di Stefano squad.

Perhaps these demands for Madrid to explore new avenues was why Bernabéu opted to not just keep Muñoz on as manager, but also to trust him to rebuild the team.

This sort of power entrusted in a manager was very unusual, not just for Real Madrid, but also for this period of football history. Managers at this time were merely seen as short term physical trainers at football clubs. Their role in any team success was merely incidental as they had little control over transfers, which were controlled by the board, or on-pitch performances which, obviously, was controlled by the players.

Real Madrid were no exception to this rule. Few club executives in Europe were as overbearing and intrusive as Bernabéu was. He was a mirco-manager who insisted on controlling everything from ticket prices to the press (he used to pay for good press). He had sacked 13 managers in his 17 years as coach, including seven when the club was winning back-to-back European Cups, mostly because he disagreed with them.

Take Luis Carniglia for example, whom was sacked not just because he lost the league title to Barcelona, but also because he froze Ferenc Puskas out of his team for the European Cup final.

One can only theorise where Bernabéu suddenly found the trust to believe in his manager’s process and, like anyone interested in this sort of thing, I have a few.

Firstly, I think Bernabéu liked Muñoz which can’t be understated. Don Santiago is often touted for sharing a father-son relationship with his players and Muñoz, as a former player, would have had that sort of relationship with Bernabéu. It’s also worth considering that the Real Madrid president actively encouraged Muñoz to go into coaching which might have made him something of a pet project to Bernabéu.

There are also clear pragmatic reasons for keeping Muñoz. With a rebuild on the cards, Madrid needed a stabilising figure and Muñoz was that type of character. Though ambitious and clearly a man with a clear vision for what his team should look like, Muñoz was also a people person. Phil Ball told me during a podcast that he had what the Spanish described as mano izquierda meaning he could deal with people without shouting at them.

It’s hard to ever know for sure, however, what is sure is that neither president or manager rested on their laurels that summer. Di Stefano was dropped for the next game after the European Cup final defeat. That summer, Muñoz wrote a report recommending that Di Stefano take a non-playing role at the club and Madrid backed their manager by deciding not to extend the Argentine’s contract. Hurt and feeling back-stabbed, Di Stefano left Madrid for Espanyol that summer.

Much to the Argentine’s frustration, many of his teammates were allowed to continue playing. Ferenc Puskas and Jose Santamaríá retired at Madrid in 1967 and 1968 while the younger Paco Gento was chosen to lead the next generation. That next generation would become known as the Ye-Yes, a nod to the Spanish mispronunciation of “yeah, yeah” in the Beatles hit “She Loves You”.

The nickname first appeared as the caption of a photo in Marca, two days before the 1966 European Cup final. The photographer, Felix Lazaro, had taken a photo of four Real Madrid players wearing Beatles wigs with the caption “Introducing Madrid’s ye-yés: perfect camaraderie and a contagious youthful happiness.” The photo features midfielder Manuel Velázquez, the defender Pedro de Felipe , goalkeeper Antonio Betancort, striker Ramon Grosso, centre back Manolo Sanchis, and the legendary Pirri.

Missing from the photo but still iconic names when it comes to the Ye-Ye era is Amanico Amaro, the forward and oftened touted as the first in a long line of legendary number sevens that have played at Madrid. Iganico Zoco is another alongside captain Paco Gento. The team had arrived from all walks of life, Velázquez, de Felipe, Sanchis and Grosso had been promoted by Muñoz from Madrid’s cantera. Amaro and Zoco had been bought from Deportivo in 1962 and Osasuna in 1964 respectively while Pirri had arrived from Granada.

It’s strange how in the space of a year how different Madrid looked, but, the Ye-Ye certainly didn’t take long putting their own distinctive stamp on post Di Stefano Madrid. Quality footage is hard to find so being specific about roles in this team is difficult, however, there are some general points that can be raised. Unlike the Di Stefano era, the Ye-Ye were more than the sum of their parts with the poster boys aforementioned all standouts.

They were fantastic dribblers of the ball and I have footage coming from out of my eyeballs of Grosso (first), Gento (second), Amaro (third) and the team’s other winger, Fernando Serena beating their markers with a clear flick or a breathtaking piece of individual play. Reading accounts of this team, words like youthful and happy often pop up and watching them, one can see why, the Ye-Ye team made football look like alot of fun.

At the back, its hard to ignore Manuel Sanchis Senior, the defensive face of the Ye-Ye era. From the games I watched Sanchis appears to be the sort of defender who quietly goes about his work, generally covering for a high flying full back. As much I can see Sanchis’s quality, Zoco is the real eye-catcher in defence.

In contrast to his defensive counterparts, Zoco was an all action destroyer. The Spanish midfielder makes defending noteworthy, probably due to his love of a well-executed slide tackle.

Settling for just a league title in 1964-65 and a European Cup exit in the quarter finals at the hands of Benfica, Muñoz’s Ye-Ye pushed on in 1966. After beating Kilmarnock in the first round, Madrid were drawn against their first real challenge in Anderlecht in the quarters. The Belgians knocked Los Blancos out in 1963, however, Madrid managed to squeeze by them with a 4-3 aggregate win. The semi-final produced a match-up against the holders, Inter Milan or “the bogeymen” as Amanico dubbed them.

Most of the team that played those two semi-finals openly admit it was a bigger set of games than the final itself, however, Amanico goal at the San Siro sealed a famous 2-1 aggregate victory and sent Madrid into the final against Partizan Belgrade. The eastern Europeans had knocked Manchester United in their semi-final and even took the lead in Brussels however goals from Amanico and Serena finally sealed a sixth European Cup for Real Madrid after six long years of waiting.

Above anything else, the sixth European Cup cements Muñoz’s legacy as one of the game’s finest managers, not just Madrid. The club empowered the Spaniard in a unique sort of way in 1964, even backing him when he recommended the club’s greatest ever player be moved on. With the power he was given, Muñoz overcame every obstacle in his way of winning. He was able to build a European title winner made solely from a country that, even Amaro admits, wasn’t really producing quality footballers at the time. He wasn’t hindered by the fact that all his best players, barring Gento, were very young and was able to profoundly advance the careers of the likes of Amaro, Grosso, Sanchis, Zoco etc in a short space of time.

Amanico scoring the equalizer during the 1966 European Cup final.

Real were considered to be finished among their European rivals. Inter boss and longtime foe Helenio Herrera had booked Inter’s hotel for the final before the semi-final against Real. He declared that Madrid had eclipsed. La Sexta was a firm rejection of this notion and reasserted Madrid’s position as European top dog.

The cup also holds a unique place in Spanish history as well. 1959 onward saw an easing of the conservative Catholic dictatorship that characterised Franco’s regime until that point. In 1961, there were twelve cars in Spain per thousand people, it was more than six times that figure within the decade. The country opened to tourism, a million had visited Spain in 1954, by the end of the 1960s that figure stood at 30 million. The country began to embrace modern culture with the Beatles coming for their first concert in Madrid in July 1965.

As ever, this political change in Spain was defined by its sporting successes. Two years before Madrid’s European Cup success, Spain had unexpectedly won the European Championship at home with some papers claiming in reaction that “Spain is a nation every day more orderly, mature and unified, and which is steadfastly marching down the path of economic, social and institutional development.”

The following summer, Manolo Santana became the first Spaniard to win at Wimbledon, wearing the Real Madrid shield during the final and dedicating the cup to the club. It seemed in every aspect of life, Spain was demonstrating itself as just as good as the rest of the world and no sporting victory represented that feeling more than Real’s European Cup success. During the darkest years of the dictatorship, where Spain was cut off from the rest of the world, Real Madrid represented Spain abroad. The president of the Madrid Press Association told a banquet audience in 1968 “As you’re young, you probably don’t remember that during the diplomatic blockade of Spain, when from every corner of the world they strangled us, there were three embassies: the girls from the Coros y Danzas, the Manolete and the goals of Real Madrid scored; together they made up the best Diplomatic Corps. Spain’s great counterattack”.

In a sense, Real Madrid had guided the country through a difficult time on the international stage and now a modern, young, Beatles mad generation of European Cup winners were there to represent a new Spain. “That win represented Spain, it’s resurgence. We had no reason to have a complex, no reason to feel inferior. That helped Spain. It was a way of saying, “hey, over here we too can do things that people over there can do” Iganico Zoco told Sid Lowe, summing up the sentiment perfectly.

Unfortunately for Muñoz’s shining new stars, Madrid never hit the same European heights again. Domestic continued however, with three more league crowns. In 1966–67, Real went 27 games unbeaten and were only denied an unbeaten campaign thanks to a 1–0 defeat to Elche. By the close of the decade, public opinion had turned against Muñoz as Real continued to continued to flounder in Europe. In 1970-71, the club went trophyless for the first time in 19 years and a miserable loss to Chelsea in the European Cup Winner’s Cup marked the first “Muñoz fuera” (Muñoz out) shouts that would marr the end of the Spanish manager’s Madrid career. Many believed his methods to be outdated, however Muñoz was nothing if not spiteful. He brought in Carlos Santillana in 1971 and won a ninth league title in 1972–73.

Munoz holds aloft the league title in 1972–73. It was his last piece of major silverware as Real Madrid manager

Gento had retired following the Chelsea defeat with goalkeeper Antonio Betancort, Pedro De Feilpe and Sanchis following suit quickly after. Muñoz eventually fell during the 1973-74 season, leaving the club in Janaury 1974 with Real in seventh. “I do not like to see people suffer and Miguel Muñoz has been suffering for a long time; there is more to see in his appearance. I had no choice but to accept his resignation. This could not be prolonged, but it leaves an indelible memory between us,” said Santiago Bernabéu’s statement, which had more than a hint of respect for Muñoz.

Despite questions around his methods, the Spaniard continued to coach for another 20 years. His last job in football was with the Spanish national team whom he led to the 1984 European Championship final, losing to France. He died in July 1990.

In terms of legacy, Muñoz’s legacy would certainly earn him a place on Real Madrid’s Mount Rushmore, however, managers are strange beasts at Real Madrid. None before and few after have commanded the power and respect at Real Madrid in the short term, let alone for 16 years. That no has even been able to come close to following him up was probably the worst thing that could have happened for his legacy with history simple reverting to the norm of managers at the club, namely them not really amounting to much.

Regardless, such an assessment can’t be given to Miguel Muñoz. To this day, he remains Real Madrid’s greatest ever manager and it seems like we are some way off from anyone changing that fact.

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