Sadness as Spanish football loses one of its most loved figures

As the wonderfully potty-mouthed Manolo Preciado himself would have said, “f**k”.

At around the same time as football fans were reading in Thursday’s morning papers that Preciado had been named as the new Villarreal coach and was to be presented on Friday, the news began filtering through that the 54-year-old had passed away overnight having suffered a heart attack.

Instantly, the front pages of the four main sports sites in Spain lead with the news of the loss, firmly relegating the European Championships into second place. This may not have been the case for any other manager with CV such as his. Preciado was a Cantabrian coach who had roots at Racing Santander - where he had spent time as a player in the late 70s and early 80s, but who found most success at Sporting, a side whom he lead into la Primera in 2008 and staying there against the odds until this summer. In an unhappy end to his time at El Molinón, Preciado was sacked mid-season after nearly six years at the helm.

However, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Manolo Preciado was one of the most loved and respected figures in the Spanish game, which is why tributes poured in so rapidly when the news broke of such a tragic loss to the sport.

In his first season at Real Madrid, José Mourinho found out to his cost, when he made the terrible mistake of suggesting that Preciado’s Sporting side had no desire to beat Barcelona in fixture at Camp Nou. The newcomer to la Liga quickly discovered that to doubt the integrity of figure who was so utterly passionate about the game was the gravest of insults. Later in the season, Sporting won 1-0 at the Bernabeu.

Although the start of their relationship was spiky - Preciado even suggesting Mourinho watch the Sporting vs Real Madrid with his team’s Ultras to by way of punishment - a capacity for forgiveness and a kind soul saw the pair becoming friends. Indeed, one of the Real Madrid manager's first acts after his side won the Copa del Rey in 2011 was to call Preciado to offer his condolences after hearing that his father had died in a traffic accident that day.

Sadly, heart-wrenching, personal tragedy was almost constant in Preciado’s life, with his wife passing away in 2002 and then the youngest of his two sons dying in a car crash two years later. “Life has hit me hard,” said Preciado, “it could have made me vulnerable and it could have ended with me shooting myself, or I could have looked to the heavens and carried on. I prefer the second option.”

Although he was by no means an angel, and could be as prickly and gruff as they come, it was this incredible ability to battle through despite such awful circumstances that made Manolo a figure to be both respected and loved. Preciado took his football very seriously indeed, despite the jokes and swear-fests after the game, delivered in a low, gruff grumbling voice shaped by a big love of a cigarette or two.

Sporting’s struggles last season deeply affected Preciado, who could do little to prevent the slide into la Segunda of a team that had been punching above its weight for some time. He lead the scrap from the front, with the full support of the fans and players who adored him. But as with other challenges in his life, Manolo was determined to bounce back after January’s sacking.

“I’m taking advantage of unemployment that I hope that won’t be too long to learn, improve methods, see colleagues and enjoy myself,” he explained earlier this year.

That period on the sidelines spent traveling the country watching other teams train didn’t last long at all. Preciado was set for another football battle, the one to put a broken Villarreal back together again and return the team to la Primera.

Sadly, we’ll never know whether the manager would have succeeded, as Spanish football and this blog mourns one of its dearest, most cherished figures.

Rest in Peace Manolo.