What a fantastic combination!
Lately, followers of the bouncing ball had a fabulous time watching the crème de la crème of world football, in exhibition and competition.
Eleven days ago, Barcelona’s Nou Camp hosted most of the world’s current best footballers who provided a rare spectacle and raised millions of euros in aid of the tsunami victims. The Brazilian Ronaldinho and the Ukrainian Andrej Shevchenko who each have at least a 50 million euro tag on their head led two multi national selections formed of different sizes, colour and creeds, but with the common coefficient of being able to provide real champagne football. Maybe that match was not real. No marking and nothing much at stake except entertainment. But even the midweek euro crunches which were not played for fun or for charity provided breath taking moments. The teams on duty included a high number of wizards who in the end proved decisive. Their sheer class and individual technique provided not only emotions and a spectacle, but in the end proved decisive.
Football evolves but everyone loves a star!
All this artistry from so many brilliant performers reminded me of one of the greatest players in the history of football, who passed away a few days earlier. Poor Enrique better known as Omar Sivori, who died at his home in San Nicolas de los Arroyos, 300 kms from Buenos Aires, was a master of dribbling, back heels and ‘tunnels’ without an equal.
The transfer market
Rich clubs all over Europe are known for spending millions to sign the best players available on the market. This practise did not come into effect because of the Bosman rule or when the Russian billionaire Roman Abramovic bought Chelsea Football Club. European clubs, particularly Spanish, German, Italian and French always had foreigners in their side. More than half of the current UK Premiership are foreigners.
International transfers are an integral part of football. This situation was clearly evident when Arsenal faced Bayern Munich and had only Ashley Cole with a British passport, while Inter fielded just one Italian Materazzi, for the Coppa Italia match with Atalanta.
But history shows that Liverpool fielded eleven Scotsmen when they played their first official match on September 3, 1892! They also had eleven foreigners when they defeated Everton in the Football League Cup final in May 1986.
World-class players add style, class, strength and more often than not an increase in revenue.
Juventus’ signings of Omar Sivori and John Charles in the mid fifties brought them three titles in four years and an impressive balance sheet.
Without going into the merits of whether the game was better or worse then, let’s admit that it was different, without undue pressing. Players had more time and space. Then there was the added spice of a few wizards who donned the number ten shirt. They came from a very rare breed indeed. Sivori was one of them. He had insisted on taking it from Giampiero Boniperti, who was one of the most brilliant Italian players of all time and the idol of the club’s owners, the rich Agnelli family.
Omar Sivori was a member of the ‘trio de la Muerte’ (trio of death), otherwise known as ‘the angels with dirty faces’. The other two were Valentino Angelillo and Humberto Maschio. The three moved to Italy after clinching the South American championship in Peru in 1957, for Argentina. The small, dark and infinitely elusive dazzling inside-left was only 21 when Juventus paid River Plate a world-record transfer fee of £91,000 for his services.
‘King John’ or ‘The Gentle Giant’ as the Welsh favourite was known, joined Juventus from Leeds United in 1957 for £65,000 and a £10,000 signing-on fee. At that time, the Turin club faced the spectre of relegation. The deal with the club was concluded in minutes in room 223 of the luxurious Queen’s Hotel in Leeds thanks to the efforts of the popular Gigi Peronace, a Lazio fan who became the first real agent in England. He had also negotiated the transfers of Dennis Law and Joe Baker, and was the one who organised the popular Anglo-Italian tournament in the seventies and eighties. The loveable Gigi who I knew well, died in the mid eighties. After sorting the clubs’ agreement, Peronace helped Charles with his personal contract.
Discussions in the next room took much longer and were only concluded in Turin when the famous player agreed to the lavish bonuses to back his modest salary. During his five-year spell with Juventus he was simply brilliant, and in 155 appearances scored 93 goals. Though he was big (6’2” and weighing 15 stones!) Charles was an elegant gentleman. According to Bobby Charlton, Charles would have been worth £70m in to-day’s transfer figures. Charles died in February last year aged 72. Sivori a fortnight ago!
Sivori made a striking contrast with big centre-back turned striker Charles, but their combination was absolute chemistry. It became legend.
Sivori always played with his socks round his ankles - shin pads became obligatory much later. He was a prolific goal-scorer and during his time in Italy scored 135 goals. He had a difficult character and when Heriberto Herrera became manager they clashed. Sivori had to go. He moved to Naples and pocketed a $24,000 signing-on fee but had a rather tempestuous four years. Ironically his last game was against Juventus when he was sent off for kicking Erminio Favalli and was suspended for six matches. He went to back to Argentina and never played again.
As a TV pundit he was never lost for words. He once quoted Maradona as telling him that ‘football was a very beautiful game. To-day only the ball is clean in this game; and that only when the pitch is not muddy!’
He had played nine times for Italy as ‘an oriundo’. In a friendly match against England he scored a brilliant goal, and indulged in his customary mazy dribbles and pushing the ball through his opponents’ legs for the favourite ‘tunnel’. It was from one of these personal antics, that he lost possession and England went to score the winning goal in a 3-2 victory.
Omar was somewhat a dwarf compared to the ‘gentle giant’; he was a dribbler par excellence, his left foot deadly; John Charles was technically supreme in the air but did not have the polished artistry of Sivori. The Argentinian was arrogant, and undisciplined; he always wanted to ridicule his opponents. He could retaliate and kick players, and received marching orders on many occasions for his pains, whereas the Welshman was a clean and elegant performer with an impeccable record, and was never sent off throughout his fifteen-year career.
Memories of yesteryear flashed before my eyes as I was thrilled by the spectacles that were offered during a number of second round Champions League matches that were played on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The best and most expensive players were on show. They may not have heard about John Charles and Omar Sivori. In forty years time very few of the paraded stars who entertained millions all over the world with their skills will be remembered. Sivori’s name may remain immortal though!
After all, he considered himself as the world’s best ever... after Pele!
Thanks for the memories, Omar and King John!