The Spanish soccer world on Thursday mourned the death of Manolo Preciado, the former Sporting Gijón coach. Preciado, 54, died of a heart attack 24 hours after agreeing a deal to coach Villarreal next season.
Tributes poured in for the departed manager, who was widely regarded as the most likeable man in La Liga. First and foremost was a statement from Sporting, the club he coached to Primera División and kept there for three-and-a-half seasons until he was sacked on January 31. Few observers were surprised when Sporting went down in May. With extremely limited playing resources it was largely the affection that Preciado earned from his players that allowed Sporting to achieve results beyond the club’s meager budget.
“Sporting convey its great sadness for the loss of someone who wrote his name in our history in golden letters and sends its condolences to his family in these painful moments,” reads the statement on the club website.
In homage to Preciado, the flags at El Molinón are flying at half-mast until the weekend and all activity at the club’s various sports teams has been halted during the same period.
A great football figure leaves us and above all a very special person,” said José Mourinho
“I don’t know any player who did not love Manuel Preciado,” said the president of the Spanish Association of Footballers, Luis Rubiales.
Preciado started his coaching career at Gimnástica de Torrelavega, which he led from Tercera División to Segunda B in 1995-96. He was later snapped up by Racing B, where he had served as a player, leading the reserves to promotion to Segunda B in 2002. That sufficed for Preciado to be offered the first-team role, upon which he kept Racing in Primera División. He would return to the Santander team in 2005-06, again keeping it in the top flight, albeit by the skin of its teeth.
But it is Sporting with which Preciado will always be associated. He spent six years in charge from 2006 to 2012 and guided the Asturian team back into Primera in 2008 after a 10-year spell in La Liga's second tier.
Among Preciado’s peers he enjoyed a reputation for honesty, forthrightness and principles that José Mourinho, with whom Preciado had a minor war of words in 2010, said he admired in a statement posted on Real Madrid’s website on Thursday.
“Manolo was always a worthy opponent. He had everything I like in people and sportsmen; character, transparency and the ability to fight against setbacks that were particularly cruel in his case. A great football figure leaves us and above all a very special person.”
Preciado lost his wife to cancer in 2002 and his 15-year-old son in a car accident two years later. Last year, his father was also killed by a car in Santander.
Preciado termed Mourinho a “swine” for suggesting he had fielded a weakened Gijón team against Barcelona in November, 2010. Later that season Sporting won 1-0 at the Bernabéu, bringing an end to Mourinho’s remarkable nine-year undefeated home record in league soccer.
The Portuguese visited Sporting’s locker room after the match to congratulate Preciado and his players and this March he invited the Cantabrian coach to Real’s Valdebebas training complex.
Preciado had signed a deal with Villarreal the day before his death. The president of the Yellow Submarine, Fernando Roig, described the coach’s passing as a “tremendous blow.”
“We want to stand by the family in the wake of this misfortune. We want to be by their side because he was a great person. We ask that the pain of his family be respected and we are going to help them to the best of our ability. It is a difficult moment for them and for all fans of Spanish football.”
The leader of the Regionalist Party of Cantabria and a former regional premier, Miguel Ángel Revilla, also paid tribute to Preciado. “A man who was all heart has, curiously, been taken by his heart.”