MADRID Former coach Luis Aragones, the man who ended Spain's 44-year wait for a major international trophy by winning Euro 2008 and sparking a golden era for the team, has died at the age of 75.
He passed away on Saturday morning in the Centro de Madrid clinic in the Spanish capital after a battle with leukaemia, his family said in a statement.
The RFEF, the country's soccer federation, expressed its sorrow at the loss of the "Spain coach that started their glorious run of success in world football".
Spain lifted the European Championship trophy in 1964 but for several decades after they were regarded as under-achievers.
Aragones changed that perception with his victory in 2008, creating the platform for more triumphs under Vicente del Bosque at the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.
Spain beat Germany 1-0 in the final in Vienna six years ago, Fernando Torres scoring the winner in the 33rd minute.
"Without doubt he paved the way for this latest period that has been so successful. He had a lot of experience as a coach and personally I had a special affection for him," said Del Bosque.
"I knew he had a health problem but I never imagined it would come to this. We will remember this day with a lot of sadness."
Chelsea striker Torres, who was with Liverpool when he appeared in the final in Vienna, also paid tribute to Aragones.
"RIP Luis Aragones. Thanks boss, I will never be able to thank you enough for what you did for me," Torres said on his Twitter feed.
Xabi Alonso, who came on as a substitute in the 2008 final, was also fulsome in his praise of Aragones.
"We have lost a great person, it is a sad day. His personality has marked us for life," Real Madrid midfielder Alonso said on his Twitter account.
Real goalkeeper Iker Casillas, Aragones's captain in 2008, said he would never forget his fellow Spaniard.
"Luis was good because he spoke to you in a friendly and sincere way. I had a great relationship with him," said Casillas.
"It was Luis Aragones that changed the history of Spanish football and everyone has to be grateful to him."
Aragones realised the need to get rid of ageing players like Raul and Michel Salgado, creating a new playing style based on the short-passing football that was bringing success at Barcelona.
The often eccentric coach was derided at the start by the media for dropping the established big names before results started to improve.
Aragones chose to stand down after Euro 2008. He then spent one season coaching Turkish side Fenerbahce before leaving the job in 2009.
"He was loved by everyone at the Spanish football federation. He was an example to follow in Spanish football from the day he started," said RFEF president Angel Maria Villar.
"He was a very special person on a human and sporting level. "We lived with him the start of an extraordinary spell for football and for Spanish society."
Aragones played as a striker for third-tier club Pinar de Hortaleza in the mid-1950s.
He signed for Real Madrid at the age of 20 but never featured in the first team.
Aragones endured a journeyman existence as a player, moving from one team to another before finally finding his feet at Real Betis.
However, it was at Atletico Madrid where he really came into his own and he became a talismanic figure during his 10 years there.
Aragones also went from one club to another in a 30-year coaching career.
He won three league titles with the eight Spanish sides that he coached, including Atletico and Barcelona, before taking charge of the national team in 2004.
(Writing by Tim Hanlon; editing by Tony Jimenez) nL3N0L606Y