Spain victorious as Aragones departs

June 30, 2008

Spain won the European Nations cup gloriously. Much credit goes to the departing manager Luis Aragones. But the media had reasons for downplaying the role played by the controversial coach

Victory for the national football team is accompanied by praise for the ‘genius’ of the winning manager. But when Spain won the European Nations Cup in June 2008, there were few accolades for the manager Luis Aragones. This, despite the victory being the first by Spain after forty four years without a major trophy, and despite the clear evidence of the tactical and strategic insights of the veteran manager known as the wise one.

Why?

Maybe because Aragones has a reputation. An earlier controversy [in 2004] saw him branded as a racist, after training ground exchanges were overheard by journalists.

Transmitted around the world, his comments were interpreted as racist, at best revealing a flippant insensitivity towards racial issues. He denies such an interpretation. His subsequence defence revealed that his attitude to such matters were of the casually insensitive type.

As the BBC reported it

The row over Aragones intensified ..as he attempted to justify his comment [about Henry, earlier in the season]. He told Spanish newspaper El Mundo:
“Reyes is ethnically a gypsy. I have got a lot of gypsy and black friends ..
All I did was to motivate the gypsy by telling him he was better than the black..
I consider myself a citizen of the world, I don’t care about their skin colour. I feel I have been the victim of a lynching..
I didn’t use the term ‘black’ with any racist meaning.”

Remember Big Ron?

In that respect the decline in reputation of English coach and TV pundit Ron Atkinson comes to mind. Atkinson was a journeyman player, later an ebullient and outspoken coach. His media career came to an abrupt end after remarks off camera a few months before those of Aragones were transmitted world-wide, and regarded as racially offensive and unacceptable.

A question mark now hangs over his future after he resigned from ITV Sport following a racist comment made “off-air” in the wake of Chelsea’s defeat to Monaco on Tuesday.
The 65-year-old former Manchester United and Aston Villa manager has attracted attention in the past for his often clumsy on-air comments and eccentric turn-of-phrase.

Like Aragones, Atkinson denied accusations of being a racist, pointing to an exemplary record of advancing the careers of black players.

In England, debate over the latest Atkinson blunder raged in pubs and papers. For some, it was an example of what is now called political correctness run mad. And just a bit of banter. For others, it confirmed worries about casual and ‘institutionalized’ racism in football, but also as evidence for a wider cultural issue.

An established Spanish custom

The Aragones business might be dismissed as an example of an established Spanish custom. Which is itself arguably a racially offensive bit of stereotyping. Or a harmless metaphor. Depending on your point of view.

The context of racism in football in Spain at the time added to the sensitivity of the Aragones issue. It remains a hot issue today.

Aragones and leadership

Over the next few days, expect to read descriptions of Aragones as a charismatic but personally flawed leader. But that’s a more grown-up version than struggling to divide leaders up into good and bad in their professional roles, and heros or villains ethically.

Acknowledgement

The image is of a robot and not a bit like Luis Aragones.