After Barcelona recently secured their eighth LaLiga crown in 11 years, many Spanish football pundits and historians were left rolling back through the record books to find a comparable era of dominance. They would have found only one such team that can almost match this Barcelona side blow for blow and, perhaps to the relief of many league starved Madridistas, that team was Miguel Muñoz’s Real Madrid, who took eight of the ten titles up for grabs during the 1960s with five of those titles coming in succession, the first side to achieve the feat.
Although Muñoz’s Blancos started their league winning spree in 1960–61, its worth casting ones gaze back further, to the end of the 1950s. While Real Madrid dominated in Europe, their grasp of top spot at home had run loose with Helanio Herrera’s Barcelona taking the title away from Los Blancos in 1958–59. Two weeks before their European Cup semi-final against the Catalans, Real Madrid lost 3–1 at the Camp Nou, a defeat which effectively lost them the title despite leading the pack for much of the league campaign. The defeat proved costly for Madrid manager, Fleitas Solich, and he was sacked in response to the club’s domestic failure.
In his place, Bernabeu appointed the recently retired Miguel Muñoz, whom had been managing the reserve team since calling time on his playing career in 1958. The young coach had taken the reigns of the senior side for a short time midway through previous season as Luis Carniglia dealt with illness. Although his short foray into top flight management probably would have provided little help, that didn’t stop Muñoz from (spoiler alert) successful guiding Real to their fifth European Cup at Hampden Park. A sixth European crown would elude Madrid until 1966, however Muñoz would stick around for the next 14 years due to his Madrid’s side stranglehold on the domestic game.
Muñoz’s time at Real Madrid can be split into two eras, the Alfredo Di Stefano-Ferenc Puskas five league titles in a row at the start of the 1960s and the Ye-Ye generation between 1964 and 1974.
As suggested in the previous paragraph, Madrid’s first five titles of the 1960s were largely the coup de grace of two of Real Madrid’s most legendary forwards. Surprisingly enough, Puskas was the more prominent goalscorer, winning the Pichichi twice and narrowly missing out on it in 1960–61. He was joined up top by Amanico Amaro, who had been bought from Depor in the summer of 1962, and Paco Gento out wide. Mueller, Felo and Di Stefano made up the midfield while the backline consisted of long time Uruguayan defender Jose Maria Santamaria, alongside Isidro, Miera and Pachín. Iganico Zoco, a defender from Osasuna who was bought the same summer as Amanico, also featured prominently.
Unlike sides of the recent past, Muñoz’s team rarely gave up much when they took the top of the table. In his first full league season in charge, Real Madrid finished a record 12 points ahead of second place and would equal the feat in 1962/63. The following season, Los Blancos won their first domestic double, finishing a narrow three points clear of second this time and beating Sevilla in the cup final. If it wasn't for a Eusebio brace in the European Cup final, Real Madrid could have very well won their first European treble, alas it was not to be. Two more titles would follow suit, in 1964, Madrid conceded just just 23 goals, the best record since Real Betis let in just 19 in 1935 and they played eight games less than Real.
Madrid’s form in 1964 was particularly standout as they free scored their way to the European Cup final in Vienna as well, however, the goalscoring party came to a clattering stop against Inter as Real were dispatched 3–1 by old foe, Helanio Herrera. The loss in Vienna would prove a turning point for Madrid after, “the club began a renewal process,” Amanico Amaro recalled, “It was a time of transition, more casero, homemade.”
That renewal process started with Di Stefano, the 38-year old Argentine was increasingly beginning to look like a shadow of his former self and, as one local source observed about the balding blond arrow, he was no longer blonde nor in possession of his arrow-like speed. Having enjoyed being the de-facto leader of Real Madrid during the 1950s, Di Stefano was also beginning to clash with Muñoz having disagreed with his tactics for the final against Inter.
Di Stefano was dropped for the season opener against Atletico Madrid at the start of the following season. When the forward asked why, Muñoz replied: “I don’t have to give you explanations.”
He would later write a report recommending that the forward take up a technical role within the club: “We could not continue like this,” he later recalled. His pride hurt, Di Stéfano moved to Espanyol that summer, joining up with former Barcelona forward, László Kubala. Di Stefano maintained his contract was terminated con nocturnidad y alevosía (under the table) “Muñoz told me to fuck off,” Di Stefano claimed, “and they kicked me out of the club because I told him to fuck off back.” Di Stefano’s bitterness and departure caused quite a stir with Bernabeu who claimed the Argentine would never return to Madrid while he was in charge (he would play a testimonial against Celtic at the Bernabeu a mere 3 years later).
Madrid’s first game of the 1964–1965 season was against Espanyol, they won 2–1 and Di Stefano failed to score, he never scored against Madrid and retired at Espanyol at the end of his second season. Madrid snatched the 1964–65 league crown and continued to rebuild in the post-Di Stefano era, it wasn’t an easy task. Not only was Muñoz tasked with replacing the greatest player in Real Madrid’s history, but he also had to do it without purchasing any foreign stars. Following failure at the 1962 World Cup, the Spanish Sports delegation placed a foreign player ban on the league which would last until May 1973.
Left with few alternatives, Muñoz trusted youth and the Ye-Ye generation was born. Famous for being an all Spanish squad, the team featured a few standout stars. Firstly, the winger, Manuel Velázquez alongside defender Pedro de Felipe and midfielder Ramon Grosso. All three came through Real Madrid’s youth teams and were complemented by a few young faces brought in around the league. Among the arrivals was midfielder, Pirri, who was bought from Granada in the summer of 1964 and the more experienced but still youthful Amanico Amaro in 1962. The name Ye-Ye was derived the end of the main chorus of The Beatles song “She Loves You” and the Spanish persistence that every language can be made to obey the phonetic rules of the Spanish language.
The Beatles came to Madrid in July 1965 and played the song much to the joy of a reported mellow Spanish crowd. “She Loves You” was quite a popular song among Spanish youths in the 60s as the lyrics were easy to learn and the song got alot of airtime, however, Real Madrid and the song had little to do with each other until Felix Lazaro came to the team hotel six months before the 1966 European Cup final. He was looking for a few players to take a photo wearing Beatles wigs as a joke to put in the newspaper. Naturally, Ramon Grosso, Pedro De Feilpe, Manuel Velazquez and Pirri all volunteered and the photo was taken.
As there was no room on the front page, it was stored away until two days before the final when Lazora remembered it and had it published on the front page of Marca. The caption for the photo read “Introducing [sic] Madrid’s ye-yés: perfect camaraderie and a contagious youthful happiness.” Despite the emphasis on youth, there were still some old heads knocking about the Real Madrid dressing room. Paco Gento captained the Ye-Ye squad during the 1960s having been among the youngest members of the 1950s vintage, Ferenc Puskas was still knocking in goals until his retirement in 1967 and might have even tarted the 1966 European Cup final if it wasn't for his contributions in the quarter and semi-finals taking their toll on the then 38-year old.
Los Blancos took their sixth European crown with a 2–1 win over Partizan Belgrade (the subject of another article), however they were denied a sixth successive league title by the slimmest of margins by none other than Atletico Madrid. Though El Clasico takes centre stage these days, it was the Madrid derby that was at the centre stage of Spanish football through the 1960s and early 1970s. Atleti had finished runners up to Real three times over the preceding five years and had beaten their city rival in the 1961 Copa del Generalismo final to deny them the dobelete.
The respect for Los Rojiblancos echoed throughout the squad. When Real encountered Atletico Madrid in the semi finals of the 1958–59 European Cupg, Puskas described Atletico Madrid as “our great rivals”. Indeed the heated nature of the derby stretched as far back as the early 1950s, Alfredo Di Stefano said “Barcelona had a good team then: very, very good. But for me the rivalry at the time was with Atletico Madrid,” the Argentine claimed Real Madrid “couldn't even smell” Barcelona, whether he was trying to wind Blaugrana supporters up, we will never know, though his words aren’t worth taking for granted. Speaking of a later era, Pirri said “Barcelona mattered of course, but for us back then the bigger rival was Atletico Madrid.”
Great teams are made by great rivals and it speaks to how far Atletico Madrid and Barcelona (post 1966) pushed Real in the league. The Ye-Ye had completed its ultimate goal with the sixth European title, however they showed no signs of stopping and closed the 60s with three more league crowns. In 1966–67, Real went 27 games unbeaten and were only denied an unbeaten campaign thanks to a 1–0 defeat to Elche. Atletico Madrid once more put a stop to their city rivals dominance in 1969–70, however, entering the new decade the cracks were beginning to appear in Miguel Muñoz side. Having narrowly avoided it with a Copa Generalismo victory in 1970, Real went trophyless for the first since 1952–53 the following season. The poor campaign also ended Real’s 14 year long streak of qualifying for the European Cup.
A narrow league title in 1972–73 silenced the critics for now, however shouts of “Muñoz fuera” (Muñoz out) were beginning to be heard at the Bernabeu through the 1973–74 season. The arrival of Johan Cyruff at Barcelona that summer put a nail in the Spaniard’s coffin, he left the club in Janaury 1974 with Real in seventh. “I do not like to see people suffer and Miguel Muñoz has been suffering for a long time; there is more to see in his appearance. I had no choice but to accept his resignation. This could not be prolonged, but it leaves an indelible memory between us,” said Santiago Bernabéu’s statement, which had more than a hint of respect for Muñoz.
It effectively put an end to the Ye-Ye generation. By 1977, Velázquez, Grosso and Amanico would be gone and the German revolution would be full swing at the Bernabeu. No manager has enjoyed the job stability that Miguel Muñoz did at Real Madrid. The Spanish manager firmly set the bar with a decade of success both at home and abroad and, as of writing, only Zinedine Zidane comes close to the 14 trophies he collected across his 12 years in charge of Madrid.
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