César Luis Menotti, Who Coached Argentina to a World Cup, Dies at 85

César Luis Menotti, the charismatic coach who in 1978 led Argentina to its first World Cup title, achieving that milestone in the country’s capital, Buenos Aires, has died. He was 85.

The Argentine Football Association announced the death on Sunday but did not give a cause or specify where or when he died. Local media reports said that he had been admitted to a clinic in March with severe anemia. He reportedly underwent surgery for phlebitis in April and then returned home.

Passion for soccer and a sharp ability to explain its mechanics were Menotti’s hallmark characteristics as a trainer. He was considered one of the most emblematic and influential coaches in Argentine soccer.

Menotti, whose nickname was El Flaco (The Thin One), coached Argentina’s national team from 1974 to 1983. He was convinced that the team did not get the recognition it deserved when it won the World Cup because the country was ruled at the time by a military junta responsible for widespread human rights violations.

His detractors often recalled a photo in which Menotti, after Argentina defeated the Netherlands in the final, 3-1, shook hands with Jorge Rafael Videla, who was the head of the junta. The victory came at the height of the so-called dirty war, in which thousands of political opponents of the regime were tortured, killed or “disappeared.”

On the eve of the World Cup, Menotti left a 17-year-old Diego Maradona off the squad — a decision that the coach later said had soured their relations for years after Maradona had become one of the sport’s biggest stars.

Menotti coached Mexico’s national team in 1991 and 1992. He also led Barcelona (1983-84), where he had Maradona on his squad; Atlético Madrid (1987-88); Uruguay’s Penarol (1990-91); Italy’s Sampdoria (1997); and Mexico’s Tecos (2007), his last coaching job.

For years Menotti often had a cigarette hanging between his lips, but he mostly quit the habit in 2011 after a three-day hospitalization stemming from his tobacco addiction.

He also was known for wearing his hair long but neat. He said he didn’t rely on hairdressers.

“I cut my own hair,” he said. “I take the scissors, I cut the ends.”

He was born in 1938 — some sources say Oct. 22, others Nov. 5 — in Rosario, in the northern Santa Fe Province in Argentina.

He began his career as a player for Rosario Central (1960-63 and 1967), then played for Racing Club (1964) and Boca Juniors (1965-66), all Argentine clubs.

Menotti played for the New York Generals (1967) of the National Professional Soccer League and then for Brazil’s Santos (1968) and Italy’s Juventus (1969-70).

At Santos, he played alongside Pelé, who he never hesitated to say was the best player in the world.

Menotti was a political activist and an affiliate member of the Argentine Communist Party. He was also a boxing fan and an admirer of the works of Latin American writers, including Gabriel García Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges.

“Once I was interviewed by Borges,” Menotti said in one of his last interviews, “and when I asked him if it bothered him that I smoked, he told me, ‘What intoxicates me is not the cigarette, but the stupid conversations.’”

“So I asked about everything,” he said, adding, “But not about soccer, because I know about soccer!”

The New York Times contributed reporting.

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