Real Madrid is a club richly steeped in footballing history. It is one of the richest clubs in terms of revenue and has a fan base that is spread to every corner of the world. But why are Real Madrid so famous? To find the answer to this fact, we need to go back to the 1950’s.
In 1955, the concept of a European cup was implemented. The champion of each country was invited to participate. The Franco-backed Real Madrid were Spain’s representatives. They had a team that was filled with skill and pace. Coached by Jose Lorente, the team had the mercurial Di Stefano, Fontana, the long throw expert midfielder Rial, and a left winger who was the quickest footballer in the world. The left winger grew up in poverty and had to quit school at the age of 14 years to help his family financially. Like many others, football was his way out of the quagmire of poverty. He had been quick since childhood, and after dabbling in athletics, he settled on football.
His name was Francisco Gento Lopez but he went by the name of Gento. Purchased in 1953 from Racing Santander, he had been endorsed by the then Real Madrid vice-president Alvaro Bustamante. He came to play for the Los Blancos, but in his first season he was a miserable failure. Going through opinions on Gento by journalists at the time, one finds that while Gento was full of pace, he lacked finesse and technique. At times he was so quick that he left his team far behind, and sometimes he even ran quicker than the ball and was unable to control it. It looked as if the lightening fast winger would be a failure. Today, we all rave about the pace of Ronaldo and Bale. Gento clocked 10.9 seconds for 100 meters, with the ball at his feet.
Next season though, came in Uruguayan Hector Rial. Rial was a number ‘10’ by trade. He was a master of long balls played into space, and was a brilliant thrower from the sidelines. He combined with Gento instantaneously, and soon they were unstoppable. Gento was a smart player and always sprung the offside traps of opponents. Because of his phenomenal pace, he almost always got the ball first, and ran through to put a team-mate in on goal, or score himself. But to say that Rial was the reason for his success would be very superficial. But yes, Hector Rial gave Gento the confidence to improve, to become such a phenomenon that he is considered the best left winger in the history of the game.
Gento soon developed into a mature player and worked very hard on his technique. By the 1955 season, Gento’s fame had spread far and wide. His speed was undoubtedly his ‘X’ factor but he also developed into a brilliant finisher, and was credited with having an unwavering temperament. We have all heard of the scoring exploits of Di Stefano and Puskas. Although records from the time are not available, the legends acknowledge that most of their goals were due the pace and crossing ability of Gento. Inadvertently, Gento drew the attention of opponents which left geniuses like Kopa, Del Sol and Di Stefano free to wreak havoc.