Julio Cesar Benitez arrived on Spanish shores at the end of the 1950s looking to make a career in LaLiga. After spells at Real Valladolid and Real Zaragoza, the Uruguayan ended up at Barcelona.
During his years in Blaugrana colours, he fought many a battle with Real Madrid’s Paco Gento, acting as a kryptonite of sorts against the famous Spanish attacker.
However, on April 6, 1968, a day before the pair were due to meet again on the football pitch in another Clasico, Benitez died suddenly in Barcelona.
Four days earlier, the 27-year-old was told to go to the doctor by coach Salvador Artigas after he’d pulled out of training feeling unwell. The following day, he spent the day at home with a fever before returning to training the day after. From that point on, his condition worsened quickly.
On April 4, Benitez was ruled out of the upcoming match against Real Madrid, as rumours began to grow over his state of health. It was said that he’d suffered food poisoning from some mussels and there was concern over possible hepatitis.
Medics in hospital at the time said that he was being treated for what they thought was an intestinal infection. His teammates were updated on his condition. In the end, he returned home, where he died on April 6.
Official medical statements said that Benitez had died from sepsis – a generalised infection – of which the cause wasn’t determined.
The match between Barcelona and Real Madrid was suspended for just two years, with Gento visibly upset when it did take place. The result was a 1-1 draw.
At his funeral, Benitez’s casket was carried to the cemetery at Les Corts by his Barcelona teammates, who went on to dedicate their Copa del Rey victory that season to him.
To this day, Benitez is remembered with a mixture of fondness and sadness at Barcelona.
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