An Ode to ‘El Tel’
The football world is in mourning after the tragic passing of Terry Venables at the age of 80 after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s.
Venables, who managed England, Tottenham, Barcelona, Leeds and a host of other clubs and countries was a true maverick of the game - a boy from a council estate who honed his talent in the streets.
When he assumed control of the Three Lions in the mid-1990’s, my interest in the national team had begun to wane after a series of disappointing performances at international tournaments. Yet Venables changed the reputation of the game forever and revived the interest in England in the same way Sir Bobby Robson had done before him.
Having broken through at Chelsea as a cheeky-grinned midfielder whose boyish charm epitomised the ‘Swinging Sixties’, arthritis stopped Venables from playing at the age of 31 and a move into coaching made complete sense, despite his age.
Success at former clubs Crystal Palace and Queens Park Rangers earned him a stunning move to Barcelona where, after learning Catalan and addressing the Camp Nou crowd before his first game, he led Barca to their first league title in 11 years and he was duly christened ‘El Tel’ by the Spanish press.
The world of showbiz and entrepreneurship regularly clashed with his football career and business ventures such as ‘Thingamywig’, a dining club and a tailors coincided with script-writing, song-writing and singing at the Hammersmith Palais.
Yet what endeared me to Venables, and virtually every pro he managed, was his personality and charming disposition. Gary Lineker considered Venables ‘the best English coach we've had’ and likened him to Pep Guardiola, saying ‘He was charming, charismatic, witty but he was also tough — and that's what you needed to be. He understood football — he had an incredible football brain.’
Football has lost one of its greatest characters and, although he was never defined by his successes, one of the most magnetic individuals we have ever seen and a true champion of the sport.
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