Francisco “Paco” Gento is a player with a special place in the hall of fame of European football as well as the Los Blancos, Real Madrid.
It is hard not to think of Real Madrid when you think of great European sides. Particularly, the Madrid sides during the late 1950’s, which dominated all that came before them. With the likes of Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, Raymond Kopa as well as Francisco Gento, they were simply unstoppable.
Between 1956-1960, the Los Blancos lifted the coveted European Cup a total of five times as Di Stefano, Puskas and Gento amongst many others cemented their place as legends of the club.
Gento played a key role and was one of Spain’s best attackers at the time. Cutting inside from the left, he scored plenty of spectacular goals and laid on assists for his team-mates as well.
This was Real Madrid’s era under new president Santiago Bernabeu. The policy of signing world-class players began under him. However, in Gento, they had a boy whose origins were embedded in the spirit of Spain.
Hailing from the village of Guarnizo in the autonomous region of Cantabria, he made his professional debut for Racing Santander in 1952. After making just 10 appearances for the club, he was swooped up by Real Madrid, and thus began his famed trophy haul with Los Blancos.
Paco complimented the stars around him
With stars like Di Stefano, Puskas and Kopa in the side, it is hard to imagine players standing out. Nonetheless, Gento did it all the same and even complimented their strengths.
The Spaniard was given the no.11 jersey upon signing with the club. The number has been associated with his greatness, ever since.
Di Stefano and Puskas operated up front and in more central areas of the pitch. Whereas, Gento loved to carry the ball with his feet and drive with his majestic pace at defenders.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Gento’s style of play was just how terrifying he looked in possession. Even if he wasn’t the tallest of players around, Gento was strong on the ball. Quicker than most around him, Gento used his thrusting runs to leave defenders behind.
It is said that defenders were almost sick at the sight of watching him tear them apart with his pace. However, Paco wasn’t just all about the pace. The Spaniard had a great degree of pomp with the way he carried himself on the pitch.
Gento’s close control was mesmerizing to watch and had an absolute determination to keep the ball and drive past defenders.
Scoring 128 goals for Los Blancos over 428 appearances was a staggering record from the Spaniard. He also had a brilliant left-foot with which he crossed the ball immaculately for his fellow attackers. At times, even attempting to defend against him seemed futile. He was just that good.
As is the case with every other footballer’s career, Paco’s success was a combination of both hard-work and a little bit of luck as well.
Joining the right club at the right time
Having impressed with his brilliant displays at Santander, Gento had caught the eye of then Madrid president Bernabeu. The Madrid President wasted no time in securing the signature of the youngster after just one season of top-flight football.
In hindsight, this seems significant, because Madrid were a side still in the works. Bernabeu’s rebuilding job at the club, which began with his arrival in 1945 was still ongoing, when Gento joined.
Only 19 at the time, the young Spaniard was also joined by a certain attacker from Argentina, the duo immediately blended with the club’s identity of becoming a footballing dynasty.
Bernabeu was building something special at Madrid and signing Gento and Di Stefano was just the beginning of things to come.
Success on home soil and in Europe
Over the course of 18 years at Real Madrid, Gento was part of 12 La Liga winning sides, no other Spaniard has come close to that record. A certain Argentine currently plying his trade in Catalunya might come close to Gento’s record in the coming years. However, for the time being, he is still Spain’s most successful domestic champion.
Gento was also part of each of the European-Cup winning sides from 1956-1960. Lining up alongside Puskas, Kopa and Di Stefano, he was part of a side that humbled every opponent that came before them. Their most memorable final together, however, was the one at Glasgow’s Hampden Park, in 1960.
In front of a soldout crowd of reportedly 127,000 people, the whites of Real Madrid took on Germany’s Eintracht Frankfurt. The Germans shocked Madrid by taking an early lead in the game. However, Madrid’s winning mentality was not to be shaken, as they quickly equalised in the matter of two minutes, as Di Stefano scored the first of three goals in the final to restore their advantage.
Personally, for Gento the most memorable final came much later. In 1966, he led a team of young Spanish stars onto the field in the European Cup final against the Serbian Champions, Partizan Belgrade.
With talented youngsters including the likes of Pirri and Amancio, that whole group of players was popularly known as Ye-yé.
Gento was their proud captain.
The theory behind the name is that the group was likened to the Beatles at the time. Their popular song “She Loves You” has a line that says “Yeah, yeah, yeah”, which is where the name originates from.
Gento cementing his iconic status
The final against Belgrade was another occasion where Madrid fought back from falling behind.With goals from from Amancio and Serena, they went to scoop up the prized European Cup once again. A moment of pride for the captain Gento.
The Gale of the Cantabrian Sea as he was popularly known, retired at Real Madrid in 1971. His achievements with the club will forever be etched in the history of football.
In 2016, following the passing of Di Stefano, Gento was appointed honorary President of Real Madrid.
Although Cristiano Ronaldo has recently picked up the mantle of being Real Madrid’s Mr. Europe, there is no doubt that Paco will forever be Real’s original Mr. Europe.