Touched by tragedy, the man who toppled Mourinho & had Sporting in his heart: Manolo Preciado
The Cantabrian coach passed away on Wednesday night, just hours after it had been announced he was to coach Villarreal in 2012-13
He may be gone, but he won't be forgotten. Manolo Preciado was one of football's true characters, a man who spoke his mind, stood up for what he believed in and never stopped fighting. But his was a life touched by tragedy - right until the very end.
Preciado passed away following a heart attack in the early hours of Thursday morning. He had been suffering with a virus for several days, but was relaxing on the coast in Valencia ahead of what was to be his next adventure, as coach of Villarreal.
The 54-year-old was due to be unveiled on Friday by the Yellow Submarine, earmarked as the ideal man to take the club back to the Primera Division following the disappointment of relegation.
Preciado's pedigree appeared ideal: the charismatic coach had won promotion on five separate occasions and taken two of those teams to La Liga. He was the right man for the job.
The fact that he will now not get the chance to coach the club close to Castellon is the latest in a long line of woes for the popular Cantabrian.
Preciado had already lost his wife to skin cancer in 2002, seen his youngest son die in a car crash in 2004 and his father perish in a freak accident last year, when the 84-year-old helped push-start a vehicle on a ramp, slipped, was run over and later passed away in hospital.
"Life has hit me hard," Preciado said. "I could become vulnerable and end up shooting myself, or I could look up to the sky and grow. I prefer the second option."
So he kept growing.
Preciado turned out in La Liga for Cantabrian club Racing Santander, playing mostly in central defence but on occasions in the full-back positions. Rash at times and prone to conceding penalties, he is remembered as a whole-hearted defender who was popular with the fans due to his commitment and affable attitude.
Most of Preciado's playing career was spent in the lower divisions, but it is as a coach that he will be remembered most. Following a successful spell at Racing B, he was handed his first big coaching role with the senior side but resigned after the club was purchased by controversial Ukrainian businessman Dmitri Piterman, who had intended to train the team himself.
He then took Levante back to the top flight the following season, only to be replaced in the summer, before another spell at Racing in which he was unable to save the side from the drop and resigned before the campaign's conclusion.
In what would be his last role, however, everything clicked. Preciado took Sporting back to the Primera following 10 seasons in the Segunda and comfortably saved the side from relegation in the next three terms, finishing 14th, 15th and then 10th in 2010-11.
There was also a bitter war of words with Jose Mourinho, who accused Preciado of handing victory to Barcelona on a plate after the Cantabrian coach made nine changes for a league match at Camp Nou. The Spanish coaches rallied round the Sporting boss, but he needed no help in defending himself. "Mourinho is a swine and a bad colleague," he told reporters and later that season he had the last laugh, too, as his Sporting side ended the Portuguese's nine-year unbeaten record in league matches at home by claiming victory at the Santiago Bernabeu. That result, ironically, also all but ended Madrid's chances of claiming La Liga in 2010-11.
Preciado and Mourinho later made peace and made friends, too, with the Portuguese expressing his disappointment as the Cantabrian was axed by Sporting the following season, after 232 games in charge at El Molinon.
Subsequently, he had been preparing for his next role and visited both Mourinho's Madrid and Pep Guardiola's Barcelona to take a look at their coaching methods. "You never stop learning," he said. And he never stopped fighting, either.
Sadly, tragedy intervened once more.