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José Elgorriaga – Rest in Peaceavatar

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José Elgorriaga at a ceremony honoring him on Jan. 21, 2006.

José Elgorriaga at a ceremony honoring him on Jan. 21, 2006.

Antonio José Elgorriaga, the greatest soccer coach the San Joaquín Valley has been blessed with, died yesterday (Dec. 16) following a long illness. He was 82 years old.

We — both the soccer community, Latinos and the overall community — have lost a great man. Known as ‘The Eagle’ by those in his soccer circle and as ‘El Professor’ in the Latino soccer community — he was a true renaissance man. One hour he would be coaching the Fresno State men’s soccer team, and a few hours later he would be reciting Spanish-language poetry alongside guitar great José Serrano.

When he announced his retirement as coach of the Bulldogs (having amassed an impressive 170-58-20 record and a No. 1 national ranking), players cried. He was a life coach.

I have long admired a man who grew up the son of Basque shepherds, escaped the Spanish Civil War, was as versed in the writings of Miguel de Cervantes and Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer as he was with the formations being utilized by FC Barcelona or AC Milán.

José Elgorriaga began writing a weekly soccer column for Vida en el Valle in 1994 when the World Cup came to the United States. That summer, he also served as an interpreter for the French-speaking Cameroon team. After the World Cup ended, he enjoyed writing his column so much that he continued writing until 2005 when his declining health forced him to quit.

“It has been a pleasure writing the column,” he told me by telephone. “Thanks for letting me write about a sport that I have so much love for.”

Mr. Soccer has left a big footprint in the local community. He was able to resurrect a Bulldogs soccer team and craft a national power (eight straight NCAA tournament appearances!!!). Too bad the university dropped the sport in 2003. Elgorriaga retired in 1992.

He was inducted into the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995.

Here is the final column he wrote for Vida en el Valle on Aug. 10, 2005:

‘Hooligans,’ Havelange, Blatter…
Final musings about ‘hooligans,’ Havelange, Blatter …

This is my last article on international soccer. I leave it with love, a little shaky, and older of course. I began writing under the FIFA presidency of Joao Havelange, who was a dictator — like Franco — but who put it in the map. And I wound up in Sepp Blattner’s, who wanted to democratize it and ended up giving in to the daily pressures.

Havelange had his “hooligans” who globalized the sport, and Blattner his barras bravas in Madrid, Buenos Aires, and Rome. The clubs that dispense all kinds of facilities to the fans are the culprits. New faces, new men, have come into the team, but the sport continues being same.

Blattner has had the good idea of putting into practice the reforms started by Havelange. Soccer globalization, has made it possible for any player to play anywhere. Thus, Real Madrid and Barcelona are full of Argentines, Brazilians, and Cameroonians. You find the same thing in France, Italy, or England.

Havelange has had his Brussels and the deaths of some players, but nothing like Blattner’s whose referee, alleged fixing of lower division games, not only shook his CEO Franz Backembauer but also the very foundation of the World Cup Germany 2006.

You hear that they are not players like they were before and the people don’t realize that the times, and the players have changed. Pelé, Garrincha, and Zarra, are not worthy of soccer knowledge of the Zidane, Ronaldinho or Ronaldo. The former players will not come back, but other new ones will appear.

Soccer, in general, has lost prestige. I leave it with love and passion. To the readers that have followed this column assiduously, thank you for your faithful readership.

Until we meet again. Goodbye, José.

José and Carmen Elgorriaga at 2004 Fresno Fuego match.

José and Carmen Elgorriaga at 2004 Fresno Fuego match.José Elgorriaga with son José Elgorriaga Jr. (left) and wife Carmen (far right).Gloria Verdugo greets José Elgorriaga at 2006 event in his honor.A childhood photo of José Elgorriaga.A slide of José Elgorriaga.

Written by Juan Esparaza

December 17th, 2009 at 11:52 am

Posted in Juan Esparza

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