Cesar Luis Menotti: Chain-smoking Argentina legend's jousts with Scotland and jibe about Wembley goalposts

Menotti’s Argentina met Scotland in two memorable encounters in the late 1970s

It is sometimes described as the Scotland football team's greatest year. And right in the middle of a glorious and sometimes tempestuous 12-months came a date with Argentina.

It was June 1977 and Ally MacLeod's side were prepping for World Cup glory. That was the plan at least but they had to get there first. That came later in the year against Wales at Anfield.

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A summer tour to South America, where one of the games was against World Cup hosts Argentina, seemed, on the face of it, an eminently sensible arrangement. It will certainly never be forgotten, not least because the first assignment was against Chile, then under the rule of former army chief Augusto Pinochet. Not so sensible. It was dubbed “the match of shame”. The SFA came in for heavy criticism for organising a friendly in a stadium where just a few years earlier thousands of opposition supporters had been tortured.

Cesar Luis Menotti: New York Cosmos v World All Stars in August 1978, shortly after leading Argentina to World Cup glory in 1978 (Photo by Colorsport/Shutterstock)Cesar Luis Menotti: New York Cosmos v World All Stars in August 1978, shortly after leading Argentina to World Cup glory in 1978 (Photo by Colorsport/Shutterstock)
Cesar Luis Menotti: New York Cosmos v World All Stars in August 1978, shortly after leading Argentina to World Cup glory in 1978 (Photo by Colorsport/Shutterstock)

The match itself passed off peacefully enough, Scotland winning 4-2 to record their first ever victory on South American soil. It was a different story in Buenos Aires a few days later in a clash brought to mind because another of the protagonists from a wild evening at the La Bombonera, the historic home of Boca Juniors, has died. It came as a surprise to some that Cesar Luis Menotti, the long-haired, chain-smoking former manager of Argentina, was even still alive.

A propensity for smoking often as many as 40 cigarettes during a match did not seem like the recipe for a long life, though that is what someone known as El Flaco (The Slim One) was blessed with. He passed away on Sunday at the age of 85 and over three years after the death of the player to whom he famously handed a debut.

No Diego Maradona obituary worth its salt failed to mention Menotti and no eulogy to Menotti could fail to reference Maradona, who the manager controversially left out of Argentina’s World Cup winning squad in 1978. He himself said Maradona never forgave him.

Menotti had already handed the player his full international debut and later watched from the dugout as the squat Maradona scored a first-ever international goal against Scotland at Hampden Park in June 1979.

Kenny Dalglish (r) is fouled by Argentina player Americo Gallego during the 1-1 draw in 1977 (Photo by Don Morley/Allsport/Getty Images)Kenny Dalglish (r) is fouled by Argentina player Americo Gallego during the 1-1 draw in 1977 (Photo by Don Morley/Allsport/Getty Images)
Kenny Dalglish (r) is fouled by Argentina player Americo Gallego during the 1-1 draw in 1977 (Photo by Don Morley/Allsport/Getty Images)

The player was still just 18. Menotti, meanwhile, was a gaunt but interesting-looking 40. He was still in his mid-30s when asked to take over Argentina at a time when the country was suffering the tyranny of the right-wing military junta. Scholarly-looking and left-leaning, with long sideburns and open-necked shirt, his message was not simply to win the match, but play good football. “Menottismo” it became known as.

He instilled flair but was not above gamesmanship, as Scotland discovered to their cost on 18 June 1977 in one of the unfriendliest international friendlies ever played.

“Scotland are in South America to learn what football’s about in this neck of the woods,” wrote Doug Baillie in the Sunday Post. “And if Martin Buchan and Co.