Manuel Preciado – a tribute

Manuel Preciado was once La Liga’s longest serving manager and the death of the man has shocked all corners of the country. The 54 year old Cantabrian was named as Villarreal boss yesterday evening, he was due to be presented on Friday morning, instead it was announced this morning that he had died of a heart attack. He smoked 40 cigarettes a day and liked a drink, but this says a lot about the character of the man rather aswell as to why he died.

Manuel Preciado was seen as one of the most entertaining managers in La Liga

He was from the small shipyard town of El Astillero in Cantabria in Spain, located 20 minutes from the capital of the region, Santander, where Preciado started his career and whom he went on to manage twice. He could have studied medicine and become a doctor but left all of this behind for a career in football. He was mainly used as a defender during his playing days, but he very rarely played in the top flight. His best return of games in the top division was 32 games which also happened to be the season in which Santander were relegated. Manolo left the club in 1982 and it virtually ended his time in top flight football as a player. He became a journeyman defender in the Spanish lower leagues until his retirement in 1992.

His colourful and exuberant journey in football management began in 1995 with Gimnastica, who coincidentally were his last club has a player. This spell lasted only for one year, as he was tempted back to his boyhood club Santander to manage the B team. This also only lasted for one season and after two further brief spells with Gimnastica and the Racing B team, Preciado got his break with the Racing Santander first team. He was in charge for only 18 games but he managed to steer his side to safety. The work at Santander was done for now, as Levante in the second division had come calling.

Aside from Manolo’s time at Sporting, his time at Valencian side Levante is his greatest achievement. Traditionally a lower league side in Spain, the Cantabrian took his new team to promotion in his first season after they had spent years in the wilderness, but he left shortly after promotion. After this, a brief spell at South Eastern side Murcia ensued.

But his stay with Los Pimentoneros ended due to the team being ensconced in the Second division with no chance of promotion. Racing Santander came calling again and as ever, it was impossible to turn down, and yet again, Preciado retained their top flight status by a single point. It was time to say goodbye for good. A small team in Asturias needed a miracle, and he gave them that miracle, and more.

Previous to taking the job at El Sardinero, Manolo’s wife had been battling cancer and she eventually passed away in 2002. It was a tough time for the then 42 year old. Losing your long time partner would be enough to knock anyone out of their stride. But two years later one of Preciado’s two sons died in a car crash. A few years later Manolo said this about both incidents ‘I could have shot myself, or I could have carried on’. As we all know, he carried on, as Sporting were to find out.

Preciado and Jose Mourinho. The Real Madrid manager lead the tributes after Manolo’s death

It had been ten seasons since Sporting had been in La Liga. Prior to that, they had spent 21 successive seasons in the top flight. In the late 70s they finished second, which proved to be there best ever finish. They also spent six seasons in Europe during the 70s and 80s, too.

Whilst it was near impossible to get the team to these dizzy heights again, Preciado made the fans dream. In his second season, promotion was achieved. He became a local hero, and a year later he came to be an even bigger one when he made sure they stayed up after winning their final game against Recreativo Huelva.

He was given a new contract, and they moved on. During 2010 season, Sporting once again hovered around the relegation zone. As with previous seasons, they had the lowest budget of any team in the top flight in Spain, but once again the manager the showed everyone how magical he can be by keeping them up once again. Diego Castro, their captain, lynchpin and top scorer was the main reason for this.

However, the following season started badly. Two wins in 27 games left the manager on the brink. The president wanted to get rid of Preciado. A trip to the Nou Camp beckoned and Manolo decided to rest all of his players. Jose Mourinho wasn’t happy.

After Barca won a tight game 1-0, he called the Sporting manager almost every name under the sun. ‘Cheat’ and ‘scumbag’ were some of the words used. And when Mourinho’s Los Blancos gained revenge at el Molinòn it was rumoured that the president’s wish was about to come true.

Manolo knew this and was about to clear his desk when Manuel Vera-Arango had a change of heart. Or more like his choice to take the reigns decided against it because he didn’t want to be the club to take Sporting down.

They never looked back. Sporting finished the season in superb form, eventually finishing 10th. But perhaps more heartening to the manager was his team’s shock win at the Bernabeu in April. Doing this ensured that he became the first manager in 9 years and exactly 151 games to beat Jose Mourinho on his own patch. An historic day which ended in a war of words between the two men in the car park after the game, such was the life of the Sporting manager.

The summer after that, though, proved fatal. Their captain Diego Castro had offers from elsewhere and decided to jump ship. Other players such as left back Josè Angel and Andre Castro also left. The club’s miniscule budget didn’t allow them to replace these players properly.

When you sell your top scorer, you are going to struggle and in mid-December Preciado claimed that if he lost his next two matches to Espanyol and Levante, he would be fired. He didn’t lose and he wasn’t sacked but that only put things on hold.

In his two spells as president, Vera Arango had prided himself on having never sacked a manger. But, after a 5-1 defeat to Real Sociedad in January, he finally succumbed to temptation and he removed Manolo from his position. Most Spanish football fans were sad. A real character had gone, but everyone thought he would be back.

And when he was named as the new Villarreal manager yesterday everyone thought that it would be only a matter of time before he would be back. His promotions with Sporting and Levante gave him the experience required to take Villarreal back to the big time. Little did we all know that 12 hours later he would be pronounced dead after having a heart attack in Valencia. A huge loss for Spanish football that shocked the region of Asturias to the core.

RIP Manuel ‘Manolo’ Preciado.

1957 – 2012


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