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Valdano, football's renaissance man

Argentina's Jorge Valdano celebrates after scoring the second goal
© Getty Images

"What sets me apart is that I've done a bit of everything within football," Jorge Valdano, and his own summary of his time in the game proves he is certainly not one to shirk new challenges.

"I've been a footballer in South America and in Europe, I've played in the first and second divisions, been a national team player and a coach of small sides such as Tenerife and big clubs like Real Madrid. I've also taken on executive duties in the role of sporting director. All this life experience has given me a very comprehensive view of football."

All this packed into a professional life that began at the age of 18 with Newell's Old Boys. But the former Argentina striker has neglected to mention another key detail; an achievement that would be the pinnacle of any footballer's career. "Winning the World Cup always gives you a feeling of having reached the very top," says Valdano of Argentina's triumph at the 1986 FIFA World Cup Mexico™.

"I can still remember it vividly because it was so significant. Afterwards all the effort put in over many years made sense," added El Filósofo (The Philosopher), a scorer in Argentina's 3-2 win over West Germany in the Final. "I'll always remember my goal in the Final, the moment that I realised that the ball was going into the net."

Though few moments can compare to lifting the FIFA World Cup Trophy, it is just one of many highlights of a 16-year professional career that took in spells at Newell's, Alaves, Real Zaragoza and Real Madrid. "It was very special to have been a team-mate of the Quinta del Buitre *[which comprised Emilio Butragueno, Michel, Martin Vazquez, Manolo Sanchis and Miguel Pardeza]*,"explained Valdano. "It was generation (of youth players) that broke into the Real Madrid side in the 1980s. I was one of the veterans that helped them bed into the team and I was fortunate enough to win two UEFA Cups alongside them."

After hanging up his boots in 1987, Valdano turned his hand to coaching. And having enjoyed the most prolific spell of his club career in Real colours, the Bernabeu was also the scene of the most successful period of his short but impressive coaching career. "I took the job in 1994, charged with putting an end to the dominance of Johan Cruyff's 'Dream Team'. And I managed to help Real Madrid win the title again while playing a very attractive brand of football."

"I consider that a great achievement, but I put an even greater value on having brought the likes of Raul and Guti into the first team. These were players who would shape the club's fortunes over the next few years," continued Valdano, who hails from Las Parejas in the Argentinian state of Santa Fe.

Having taken the post ahead of the 1994/95 season, Valdano was relieved of his duties midway through the following term, and would subsequently spend the 1996/97 campaign at the Valencia helm. He did, however, return to La Casa Blanca (The White House) in 2000 in the role of sporting director, a position he held until 2005.

When asked to choose which job he found most interesting, the ever-adaptable Valdano went for that of coach, "mainly because it includes a bit of everything. You have to start thinking partly like a coach and partly like a director, and not just think about the sporting side of things but also plan strategically for the future."

The modern day
"I'm not haunted by either past frustrations or former glories, I think it's very important to know how to turn over a new leaf once your footballing career is over. Letting yourself get bogged down in nostalgia is dangerous," said Valdano, in his customary thoughtful fashion, before offering a valuable piece of advice for those preparing to call time on their playing careers. "You need to make sure you've plenty to keep you busy once it's all over. That's something I've managed to do."

He is not wrong there. Even now, he remains closely linked to the footballing world in carrying out a huge variety of roles: he is vice-president of a human resources company involved in combining sport and management; a commentator and columnist for a number of media organisations in Europe and South America; a lecturer; a writer; and a director of the Real Madrid School of University Studies and of the Real Madrid Professorship - both of which aim to improve professionalism within sport.

"I'm kept busy but with duties that are much less stressful than the ones I carried out in football," admitted Valdano, who has also managed to find the time to write no less than five books related to the beautiful game. Nor does the Argentinian rule out a possible return to the dugout: "I'm always open to offers. I like to dip in and out. I like to dip in to experience an exciting job first-hand and then dip out again to get some perspective back."

He does admit, however, that one of the most coveted roles in the Argentinian game, that of national team coach, is most likely beyond him. "I never felt like I was in the running for that job and it seems right to me that this privilege should go to those who are part of the Argentinian football establishment. I've always felt better suited to the European game as opposed to going back to Argentina.""All my dreams came true, but a footballer's career is not just about fulfilling ambitions. It's also about struggle and frustration, which teach you more than when your dreams become reality," he concludes. A lesson in life from a man who, since hanging up his shooting boots, has earned a reputation as one of the deepest thinkers in the modern game.

Facts and figures

Position: Striker
Clubs (player): Newell's Old Boys (1973-75), Alaves (1975-79), Real Zaragoza (1979-84), Real Madrid (1984-87).
Clubs (coach): Tenerife (1992-94), Real Madrid (1994-96), Valencia (1996-97)
National team: 22 appearances (11 goals)
Honours: Four Spanish league title wins (1985/86, 86/87, 87/88 as a player, 1994/1995 as coach), two UEFA Cup wins (1985, 1986), a FIFA World Cup winner at Mexico 1986, a FIFA World Youth Championship winner at Japan 1979.

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