The Spanish footballer Paco Gento, who has died aged 88, played in all five of Real Madrid’s successive victories in the European Cup between 1956 and 1960, and captained the Real team that won that cup for a sixth time in 1966, giving him more wins in Europe’s biggest competition than any other player.
One of the greatest Spanish footballers, he never missed a European Cup match between 1955 and 1970, making 80 appearances altogether. In all he took part in eight European Cup finals, won 12 Spanish championship winner’s medals, and was capped 43 times for Spain between 1955 and 1969, appearing in the 1962 and 1966 World Cup finals.
Alfredo Di Stéfano, the grand panjandrum of Real Madrid, could find Gento blindfold: with an orthodox pass to the left-wing, or even a backheel. Then away would go the short, sturdy figure of Gento, an outside-left with remarkable pace, to finish with a shot or a centre. Di Stefano was his foil, but it was Real’s Argentinian inside-left of the early 1950s, Héctor Rial, who taught Gento how to use his frightening speed, which had earned him the nickname La Galerna del Cantábrico – the Gale of the Cantabrian Sea.
Born in the village of Guarnizo in the Cantabria region of north-west Spain, Gento was playing for the nearest major club, Real Santander, at the age of 19, but had time to appear in only 10 league games before Real Madrid snapped him up in 1953. By 1955 he had gained his first Spain cap in a 1-1 draw against England in Madrid, and in the following year he was appearing in his debut European Cup final, against Reims in Paris. He set up the winning goal for Rial, 11 minutes from the end of a pulsating, fluctuating game that Madrid won 4-3.
In the 1957 European Cup final at Real Madrid’s home ground, the Bernabéu, he scored Real’s second goal in a 2-0 success against Fiorentina, and another vital Gento goal was to come in the final of 1958, against Milan in Brussels, when in extra time he got the winner after 107 minutes, shooting through a group of players and past the unsighted goalkeeper, Narciso Soldan, to make it 3-2 to Madrid.
Further European Cup winner’s medals, although no goals, followed in the finals of 1959 and 1960, against Reims and Eintracht Frankfurt. As Real’s tight hold on the cup was loosened, there were then losing appearances in finals in 1962 and 1964 before Gento skippered his side to a 2-1 win in 1966 against Partizan Belgrade in Brussels, providing him with his record haul of six victories in the competition.
His team failed to appear in a European Cup final for the rest of his career, which lasted until 1971, but he did feature in the 1971 European Cup Winners’ Cup final, for victors of domestic competitions, which Madrid lost 2-1 in a replay to Chelsea.
Gento’s trophy cabinet also contained a dozen La Liga medals, one for almost every season of his sojourn at the Bernabéu, during which Madrid utterly dominated the domestic competition. In all he scored 182 goals in 600 appearances for the club.
Gento’s international career was rather less stellar, not through any fault of his own but due to the fact that Spain were not a significant footballing force during his era. He played in all three of Spain’s matches in the 1962 World Cup finals in Chile, captaining them against Mexico, but they were eliminated in the group stages, as they were again in 1966 in England, where he played in two of Spain’s three matches, both as captain.
Despite his successes and his status as one of Europe’s finest players, like many a winger Gento yearned for a supposedly more influential position. “I am a dissatisfied player,” he once confessed. “Not with my club, my contract, nor my way of life. But with myself and these raw, bubbling elements of my ability which I try so hard and constantly to improve, and to make more efficient. I am also dissatisfied with my position as a left winger; accepting it gladly only because I know it to be the one in which I am of most value to Real Madrid.” He would have preferred to be an inside-forward.
After he retired from a playing role at Madrid, Gento coached lower Spanish league teams in the 70s and early 80s, including at Castellón, Palencia and Granada, before taking on a long-term ambassadorial role for Real Madrid, where he was an honorary president until his death.
He is survived by his wife, Mari Luz, his sons, Francisco and Julio, and granddaughters Aitana and Candela.
• Paco (Francisco) Gento López, footballer, born 21 October 1933; died 18 January 2022