He was the esthete among the football teachers, the philosopher on the coaching bench. César Luis Menotti was never just about winning, but always about finding the most elegant way to victory.

“The ball is to the player what words are to the poet: at the foot or at the head it can transform into a work of art,” he once said. “Football gave me a way to express myself.” Now the Argentine world champion coach from 1978 has died at the age of 85.

“One of the great figures of our football has left us,” wrote Argentina soccer star Lionel Messi on Instagram. Lionel Scaloni, who 44 years later led the Albiceleste to their third World Cup title in Qatar at the end of 2022, wrote: “We have lost a master of football, thank you for the lovely conversations with which you shaped us.” FIFA President Gianni Infantino also paid tribute to Menotti: “Many coaches have followed Menotti’s vision of the beautiful game, and his playing philosophy will be his legacy.”

“El Flaco” won the 1978 World Cup title at home

With his first coaching title in 1973 with the Huracán club in the Argentine league, “El Flaco” (the thin one) defined his style: “Offensive, clean, happy” – in contrast to a purely result-oriented game. “The teams that will be remembered are those who won with good play,” he once told the newspaper “Clarín”. This is “left-wing” football.

His greatest triumph came precisely at the time of the military dictatorship in Argentina. The junta around dictator Rafael Videla hoped that the 1978 World Cup in their own country would bring recognition and prestige beyond Argentina. And Menotti – who had even become a member of the Communist Party in his hometown of Rosario – delivered.

In the final, the Albiceleste beat the Netherlands 3-1 and were crowned world champions for the first time. Legend Diego Armando Maradona, whom Menotti had helped make his international debut the year before, was not there. The future world star was just 16 years old at the time, and he led his country to their next World Cup title in 1986. Without Menotti as a coach.

“His passion for the game, his tactical wisdom and his modesty inspired entire generations of players and coaches, including me,” wrote 1978 world champion and World Cup top scorer Mario Kempes (69) on Instagram about Menotti.

Menotti’s rejection of the junta

However, the road to the 1978 final was littered with scandals – the hosts were said to have been favored again and again. The 6-0 win against Peru is considered one of the most controversial games in football history – there is numerous evidence that the victory was simply bought.

Although Menotti did not openly criticize the military, he did let his opposition to the junta shine through. “My players have defeated the dictatorship of tactics and the terror of systems,” he said, for example, after the World Cup victory.

After the Argentine national team failed at the 1982 World Cup in Spain, Menotti was forced to resign from his post. In the following years, the passionate chain smoker trained, among others, FC Barcelona and Atlético Madrid as well as the Mexican national team.

“Dear Flaco, it is incredibly painful to have to say goodbye to you. You left us so much during your time in the national team, for Argentina and for football,” wrote Claudio Tapia, president of the Argentine Football Association, on X.

At the age of 80, Menotti got another job with the Argentine Football Association and became general director of his country’s various national teams. But above all, he was a football philosopher until the end, expressing his thoughts in numerous columns and interviews. He railed against the market logic in football and the economization of the game. “Football is so much more than a business,” Menotti said.