1705377392 Jorge Griffa Atletico de Madrid legend and teacher to footballers

Jorge Griffa, Atlético de Madrid legend and “teacher” to footballers, has died

Jorge Griffa Atletico de Madrid legend and teacher to footballers

In his WhatsApp profile, Jorge Bernardo Griffa, who died this Monday at the age of 88 in the city of Rosario (Argentina), has alternated in recent years with cards from his time as a Newell's player – from the album Fulbito, a classic from the 1990s, 1950s and 1960s in Argentina – with photos of his legendary time at Atlético de Madrid, a symbol of the umbilical cord that bound him to the club until the end of his days, which he said in 2022 in one of his last interviews considered him his ” great love”. Both images, dressed in red and black in Argentina or white and red in Spain, were accompanied by a Latin phrase, Memento mori, meaning “Remember that you will die,” although his legacy will be timeless. Generations of athletes who describe the “Griffa-Rivilla-Calleja” trio as synonymous with a mythical defense and a victorious era remember the Argentine, but he also transcended his role as a footballer.

Already retired, Griffa was nicknamed Maestro for his new job of training players, initially at the quarry of the only Argentine club he had played for, Newell's. Under his influence, the Rosario club discovered and trained – on and off the pitch – an endless list of young talents who, after making their debut in red and black in the Argentine First Division, cemented themselves in the Albiceleste team or in Europe, including Gabriel Batistuta , Jorge Valdano, Maxi Rodríguez, Abel Balbo, Américo Gallego, Gabriel Heinze, Gerardo Martino, Mauricio Pochettino, Eduardo Berizzo and the current world champion coach Lionel Scaloni.

But although he didn't play more than a handful of games as a player, perhaps Griffa's greatest student in player development was Marcelo Bielsa, with whom they traveled across much of Argentina in search of talent to strengthen Newell's youth teams. Then, already in Boca, the maestro would discover Carlos Tevez – “in a small field” – Fernando Gago and Ever Banega and prepare them for the Bombonera.

“We deeply regret the death of Jorge Bernardo Griffa. The Maestro, the undisputed symbol of Newell, was a player, youth coach and the creator of the leprosy hotbed that gave the world enormous numbers. Your legacy will always be part of our history, may you rest in peace,” the Newell’s account on X (formerly Twitter) posted this Monday afternoon. “The red and white family mourns the loss of one of our great legends: Jorge Griffa. You will always be in our hearts. Rest in peace,” Atlético’s social network joined him a few minutes later, already on the Spanish night.

If football is a bridge, sometimes between families and sometimes between countries, Griffa was a bridge between continents: He united America and Europe when almost no footballer did, least of all powerful defenders – attack dogs – like him. After his debut in Newell's Primera in 1954, he joined the Argentine national team and became champion of the South American Championship – the current Copa América – in 1959, when it was his turn to face the first god of world football, the then 18-year-old Pelé points years old and brand new world champion in Sweden 1958.

“It was going well for me and Don Arturo Boghossian, an Armenian businessman who worked as an intermediary, told me: 'Hey, I'm taking you to Europe,'” Griffa reconstructed in an interview with EL PAÍS in his apartment in Buenos Aires in 2022. Although the businessman said “Barcelona” first, Griffa ended up in Madrid in 1959 and, from a sentimental point of view, would stay forever. In football he played for ten years, until 1969, winning five titles, including two Copa del Rey against Alfredo Di Stéfano's Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabéu. There was tension and chemistry between the two Argentines.

“I called him 'bald.' We had a very good relationship off the field, but inside we were dog-nosed. I remember a dialogue with Di Stéfano as the second final came to an end. There were five minutes left, we were winning 2-1 against Real Madrid and Alfredo told me: “You beat us again, Jorge, we will lose to you again.” I replied: “Yes, and don't come near here , because you will not only lose the game, but also lose your mind.” He still had a very good relationship, for example with [Héctor] Riyal. There was a big difference between America and Europe, and being with Argentinians in Spain was like being with family,” he remembers.

Since his time in Madrid, Griffa always valued the partnership with Isacio Calleja, his teammate and roommate: “I told him: 'You will teach me how to live off the pitch and I will teach you inside'.” Calleja was an example , I lived in an apartment with him. He was a lawyer and helped me develop: I was able to help him grow as a footballer because I had excellent football fitness. “He in life in society and I in football.” In 1963, Luis Aragonés arrived from Betis and Griffa once again loved a duo, one of whom commanded the defense and the other the attack, to the point that El Sabio de Hortaleza , the coach who led Spain to Euro 2008, He even said: “Griffa taught me how to win.”

“Atlético de Madrid arrived second row and I asked: 'Why second row when we can be first?'” My message to the Atleti people was: You have to be a winner by nature. And so we were champions. It was a time when if you walked away you would essentially lose the game and I said, 'I don't care who we play, we're going to win, here we forget to think about losing.' And so Atlético's winning mentality took effect. There were several in this setting, like Adelardo, Calleja, [Feliciano] Rivilla, [Miguel] Jones and many others. “Atlético was my great love,” said Griffa, explaining Aragonés’ praise.

After a spell at Espanyol, the Argentine returned to Rosario, but failed in his brief adventure as a first division coach: in 1972 he barely managed a few games at Newell's. What he didn't know was that first in the Rosario club itself, from 1972 to 1995, and then in Boca, from 1996 to 2007, he immediately became an outstanding explorer and coach of footballers. Perhaps his secret lay in the fact that Griffa did not expect the young people to come to him: he would look for them, even in the most uncharacteristic ways. “With Bielsa we find [Mauricio] Pochettino at a championship in Murphy, south of Santa Fe. We looked for him in the house. I don't know if it was two in the morning or midnight, but there was no doorbell and we knocked on the door. We told the father we loved him. He told us that he had a deal for another club, the one across the street. [Rosario Central]. “But has he signed yet?” we asked him. 'Did not answer. And then we convinced him,” he remembers. Although Rosario has always been a city that produced football players – Lionel Messi and Ángel Di María, among others – Newell's began to multiply the championships when the young people trained by Griffa reached the First Division.

In 2019, the Argentine – who strangely said he had never met Diego Simeone – walked into the new Metropolitano, embraced several of his old teammates (Jorge Mendoza, Adelardo, José Gárate) and Atlético treated him like a legend, which he certainly did He will do it again this Thursday, ahead of a new clash against Real Madrid, this time for the Copa del Rey. One of those duels that the master knew how to win.