Former PH football stalwart Iñaki Vicente dies at 65



MANILA, Philippines – Iñaki Vicente, one of the country's top football center forwards in the 1970s, passed away Thursday, January 9 following a stroke he suffered late October. He was 65.

Vicente was general manager of the Kaya Football Academy at the time of his death. He would be seen guiding kids but the attacking skills he was famous for could hardly be taught.

“He was a goal-getter who is focused on the task at hand. He is like Emilio Butrageno of Spain,” said former San Miguel Corp. teammate Oliver Plagata in a Facebook message. 

Vicente was married to Honeylet Montenegro, daughter of former movie idol Mario Montenegro. 

One of Philippine football's thrills in the 1970s was seeing the fair-skinned Vicente, fed by a short ball, sprinting past defenders to score using his left or right foot. The outcome would be in doubt until the ball zips past the goalie and Vicente would smile in triumph.

“Very hard to guard him because he was tough and really quick. You have to get the ball ahead of him. If he got the ball, watch out!” said Bert Honasan, the best fullback of the 1970s, in a text message.

Vicente belonged to the legendary corps of college stars who were assembled by football officials to form the Kasibulan team in 1971. The team would serve as the core of the youth and national squads and its players would have long fruitful careers.

Vicente belonged to a football clan. His father, Ignacio Sr, played in the Interport series versus Hong Kong. His brothers also suited up for La Salle, like him. 

At the outset, Vicente stood out. Johnny Romualdez, the manager of the Kasibulan team, described Vicente in a text message as ‘”bull-strong and brave.”

“Power on both legs, fast with quick start. Short in height but with good accurate headers,” he said.

Poly Arenal, the midfield boss of the Air Force team that toppled San Miguel in the 1977 Lobregat Cup, said the defense watched Vicente like a hawk. “He is powerful because of his built. He also has a good header.”

Among the deadly forwards of the 1970s, only Vicente could measure up to the bigger and muscular Mariano Araneta Jr, president of the Philippine Football Federation, and the speedy and opportunistic Roberto Benavidez of Air Force, who scored a hat-trick against Brunei in the 1977 SEA Games. Lurking in the wings were Pepito Genato and Tonio Gutierrez. 

Despite his reputation, Vicente was approachable and was easy to get along with, said Arenal.

Plagata remembers Vicente as quiet during San Miguel team meetings chaired by their coach Juan Cutillas but not afraid to speak out.

“He gave the best years of his life to the sport he could not live without,” Cutillas said in a Facebook post as he also credits Vicente for “passing all his knowledge, experience and expertise to young players.”

“All this he did with a smile on his face," he said. "We will miss him as he journeys to a better place.” –