Following Paco Gento’s passing yesterday, I was asked about him and I explained that he was a player who would put the whole Bernabéu on its feet. At first, fans mocked his wild, crazy runs down the left flank during his first season at the club but that soon became his defining trait - one which delighted the home crowd and terrorised rivals. It was Di Stéfano who saved him from being sent back to Racing at the end of that first season, he convinced Bernabéu to keep him on. "He has pace like no one else and a fierce shot. As for everything else, we can teach him," he argued. It was also on Di Stéfano’s advice that Bernabéu brought in Héctor Rial, an exquisite winger who matched Gento’s dazzling speed over on the opposite wing. Rival players would approach him, and just as they made a lunge for the ball he would kick the ball past them then set off after it at breakneck speed.
Power and pace
He was intimidating for opponents. I can still remember the gasps and murmurs in the cinema when the NO-DO report showed how Barça’s midfielders and defenders retreated en masse whenever Gento got the ball. He wasn’t a stylish player, but his acceleration and power put him above two other extraordinary left wingers - Atlético’s Enrique Collar, a great player who, precisely because of Gento, played only a few games for the national team and Manolín Bueno, the player who spent 12 years as his substitute while Madrid systematically rejected offer after offer for his services from Barça, who during those years were weak in that position. No one could match Gento. He joined Real Madrid aged 20 años and retired at 37. Up until his passing, he was honorary president at his lifelong club.
Gento's unrivalled honours list
He won 23 trophies during his playing career, in the days before there were Super Cups. Of those, 12 were LaLiga titles and six were European Cups, an extraordinary record. He played in the solemn England versus the Rest of the World Centenary match. He also played at two World Cup finals. If you want to watch an example of the kind of move which defined him, there is a Youtube clip of one his runs in the match against Mexico at Chile ‘62; it’s a shame he was wearing the No.9 shirt during that game and not his traditional No.11 - the reason being, that team was numbered alphabetically. He was a good man, always content with life's small, simple pleasures - his family, his friends and taking his dog out for a walk. He left us silently, but in his day he was a powerhouse - both on and off the field. It was very fitting that he was nicknamed The Gale of the Cantabrian Sea ('La Galerna del Cantábrico'). Rest in Peace.