Radomir Antic, a legend of Spanish football and only man to have coached Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico

Ben Hayward
AFP via Getty Images

When Radomir Antic passed away on Monday at the age of 71, Spanish football lost a legend.

The Serbian will be remembered by Luton Town fans for the goal which saved the Hatters from relegation in a crucial game against Manchester City and famously made David Pleat dance a jig on the pitch in 1983, but the majority of his coaching career was spent in Spain.

To this day, Antic remains the only man to have trained the nation's three biggest clubs: Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico. And it is at the last of those where he enjoyed his happiest and most successful times as he led the Rojiblancos to a league and cup double in 1995-96.

Atletico have won 10 leagues in total, but just two in the past 40 years and one of those was claimed by Antic, a popular and approachable coach who believed strongly in strengthening the human aspect within a squad in order to achieve results.

An accomplished defender in his homeland, Antic spent seven years at Partizan Belgrade and then a sole season at Fenerbahce before moving to Real Zaragoza in 1978.

After four years at Luton as a player and then three at Partizan at the start of his coaching career, which included back-to-back league titles, Antic returned to Zaragoza and took the Aragonese outfit into the UEFA Cup. "For me, Zaragoza has been more than a city," he later said. And later on, it would be relevant once more.

'Delighted': Barcelona were happy with Antic but a change of presidency led to a switch in the dugout in 2003 (Bongarts/Getty Images)

But Real Madrid came next. The Serbian led Los Blancos to a third-placed finish in 1990-91 (they had been seventh when he arrived) and was replaced by Leo Beenhakker the following season with the team at the top of the table at the halfway stage.

"I didn't expect it," midfielder Luis Milla said at the time. "It has left me cold. We were working well with him. The season was going well. It's a bit strange."

Antic shrugged it off later on. "I was relaxed because I did everything I could," he said. "These things happen at big clubs." Barcelona, three points behind when Antic left, went on to win La Liga.

After a spell at Real Oviedo, the Serbian then returned to Madrid and steered Atletico to a historic double. The Rojiblancos claimed La Liga by four points from Valencia, with Johan Cruyff's Barcelona three further back, and beat the Dutchman's Dream Team in the Copa del Rey final back in Zaragoza thanks to an extra-time winner from compatriot Milinko Pantic.

"We were a family," he said years later. "Every Friday we went out for some beers and tapas. With [Diego] Simeone, we would have barbecues in Boadilla."

And on his decision to join the Rojiblancos, he added: "I chose Atletico Madrid because it was the most difficult club in the world at that moment. I wanted to prove to myself that I was able to make it work in those circumstances."

Before his arrival, Atletico had gone through a number of managers under eccentric owner Jesus Gil, but the Serbian brought stability and success on the pitch in a fine team which featured current coach Simeone, Bulgarian forward Lyuboslav Penev and Spain striker Kiko.

"What he did with us was a miracle," the latter said on Monday. "I will always remember him fondly. He made me better. Playing under Antic, I did things I didn't know I could do,"

The rest of his tenure was less successful as key players were sold and he could not prevent relegation as he returned for a second spell late in the 1999-2000 season.

Later, he would coach Barcelona as well, steering the Catalan club clear of the bottom following a disastrous start under Louis van Gaal and securing a UEFA Cup place on the final day of the season. In the Champions League, they lost out narrowly to Juventus in extra time.

Presidential elections that summer meant changes and Joan Laporta appointed Frank Rijkaard. "[Txiki] Begiristain told me they were delighted with me, but 'new president, new coach'," Antic said. "They were grateful to me for not causing any difficulties."

After a brief spell at Celta Vigo, Antic went on to coach Serbia for two years, leading out his nation at the 2010 World Cup and later finishing his career with two short stints in China.

"Thanks to everyone," his daughter Ana, a well-known celebrity stylist, wrote on Instagram in a message from all the family on Monday which she finished with a quote from her father.

"Life is a joy for those who play to win," it said. As an epitaph to a great football man who brought happiness to so many, it could hardly have been more fitting.