Forgotten Trinkets – The Angels with Dirty Faces
The greatest national teams of the ‘beautiful game’ may be divided into three groups. The first and most visible are the “Achievers” – teams that won ’em all. The Uruguayan Charrúas of 20s, the Italian Azzuri of 30s, the Brazilian Seleção in late 50s leading up to the legendary West Germans of 70s, the French Les Bleus in late 90s or the current Spanish La Roja, all fall into this category.
In a new series dedicated to the forgotten teams which are not quite well known beyond their own boundaries, Subhodip Basu takes you through a treasure hunt of these Forgotten Trinkets
The second and perhaps more fondly remembered are the “Tragic Heroes”. These are teams of the ‘nearly men’. They often dominated all comers but missed the ultimate prize. The Austrian Wunderteam of the 30s, the magical Magyars of the 50s, the brilliant Oranje in the 70s or the Brazilians of ’82, fall into this category. While the “Achievers” won trophies, the “Tragic Heroes” at least won hearts.
However, there is a third lot, whose saga is even more poignant. These “Hidden Gems” are often not that well known outside their own country. As they seldom made it big in the highest grade, part of their status in football history is driven by myth, imagination and innuendo. Some of them shone brightly for a brief while before suddenly going off boil. On other occasions, they got broken up by events beyond football. Some even existed only on paper, with key players being left out by bizarre selection policies.
The first edition of the series is dedicated to the Albiceleste of the 50s.
The Angels with Dirty Faces: Argentina 1955-59
Getting to Know the Dirty Faces
“Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the prettiest of them all?
It’s the angels with dirty faces!!! The angels with dirty faces!!!”
Well, the only pretty part of the chief protagonists of the 1957 South American champions was their craft with a leather ball. No one really wrote an ode for them, though the above would not have been out of place. The Albiceleste won three South American Championships in the 50s – ’55, ‘57 and ’59. These were won largely without their talented exiles, who had fled to Colombia and then to various countries in Europe post the Argentina players’ strike in 1949.
Thankfully, unlike their contemporary edition, which required middle-aged Juan Sebastián Verón to be recalled to provide some class quotient in midfield, the Albiceleste of the 40s and 50s simply churned out talented creative midfielders and forwards by the dozen. The ’57 team was perhaps their apogee. In another two years, post pocketing another championship, the Argentineans went steadily downhill for almost two decades. However, in ’57, their inside trio of Antonio Angelillo, Omar Sívori and Humberto Maschio, with some help from right winger Omar Corbatta, swept all before them. The nickname “Carasucias”, or dirty faces, possibly due to their heavy Latin American features, was coined soon after. Post their prompt departure to Italy, they subsequently came to be known as the “Angels with Dirty Faces”, after the ’38 gangster classic by Michael Curtiz. As Maschio and Angelillo had striking resemblances to Humphrey Bogart and George Bancroft respectively, while Sívori looked somewhat like Billy Halop and Corbatta like James (“Jimmy”) Cagney, the name stuck.
Lure of Money and Curse of IsolationEver since the Oriundi (or Rimpatriati aka ‘The Repatriates’ as it was known then) like Renato Cesarini, Luis Monti and Raimundo Orsi shifted to Italy in early 30s, Argentina had been a consistent supply line to European clubs, especially Italy. It’s worthwhile to recall that the Oriundi formed the core of the ’34 world champions with Monti organising the defence and Orsi, Enrique Guaita and Attilio Demaría leading the attack. However, till the players’ strike in 1949, inflow exceeded outflow. So as Bernabé Ferreyra and La Máquina arrived along with imports like Paraguayan Arsenio Erico, Spaniard Isidro Lángara, Uruguayans Severino Varela and Walter Gomez and Brazilian Domingos da Guia, exiles were soon forgotten. Post 1949, exodus ballooned and the tap began to dry up.
Also, in the 50s, two significant events took place. First, competitive international club football started in 1955 with the first edition of the European Cup. This increased player demand in Europe, led by ambitious Spanish and Italian clubs. The policy of banning exiles from the national team was common across most nations till the 60s. Even Brazil ignored José Altafini and Dino Sani when they left for Italy. The philosophy was primarily driven by clubs who wanted the best players at home to ensure good gates. Argentina sent a second string team in 1934 and missed ’50 and ‘54 editions due to this. However, with a large exodus, the Federation may have done well to recall the exiles to the national team. Instead, they chose to become completely insular.
Secondly, tactical revolution was at hand with first Hungary and then Brazil doing away with the traditional pyramid formation, with the world following suit. This impacted Argentina even more. Their game, though high on creativity and technique, was slow and tactically naïve. They still played the pre-war Metodo (the method) game with a perambulating centre-half in Néstor Rossi. Hence, in 1958 in Sweden, without their exiled inside trio, they slid to a disastrous 6-goal defeat against a very ordinary Czech team, while Rogelio Domínguez, Alfredo Di Stéfano, and Héctor Rial were gobbling up European cups for Real Madrid.
The Best of the Rest
Whatever their tactical limitations, when in full strength, the teams that won three championships were full of very high calibre players. If you add exiles such as Di Stéfano, the team took world-beater proportions.
Minding their goal was Amadeo Carrizo. Nicknamed Tarzan, Carrizo was a pioneer in goalkeeping techniques, being the first in South America to wear gloves, venture out of the penalty area and use long goal kicks. Peruvian Ramón Quiroga, Colombian René Higuita and Paraguayan José Chilavert are all said to have been influenced by him. Even Pele has spoken about his mental block of scoring past him. Carrizo was ably backed up by the more traditional, but not less brilliant, Julio Musimessi.
In defence, there was liberal sprinkling of both elegance and thuggery. The elegance department was led by Juan Francisco Lombardo, Federico Vairo and Eliseo Mouriño, all extremely high quality defenders. Pedro Dellacha and Vladislao Cap were the thugs. Interestingly, post the disaster against Czechs in ’58, the thug quotient increased. During the Copa winning effort in ’59, Jorge Griffa was added. This tendency reached alarming proportions over the next decade, with notorious hard-men like Rubén Navarro, Roberto Ferreiro, Thomas Rolan and José Albrecht typifying their defence. A similar trend followed among halfbacks, where the slow but classy Néstor Rossi and Juan Héctor Guidi gradually gave way to the more abrasive José Varacka and Antonio Rattín.
As we are speaking mostly of a pre-1958 Argentina, it’s the attack that defined the team. Potentially there was Alfredo Di Stéfano, who did not even play for them in this decade, having left for Millonarios of Bogota and then to Spain. With him was Héctor Rial, an old-style goalscoring inside forward for Real Madrid’s all-conquering team. Other high scoring strikers were Ernesto Grillo of ’55 Copa vintage who shone in AC Milan, Roma legend Pedro Manfredini of the ’59 team and José Sanfilippo of San Lorenzo and Boca, the most prolific of the lot. Each managed at least a goal every two games throughout their careers, with Sanfilippo managing a 70% strike rate.
The team had many brilliant wingers, none more so than Oreste Corbatta. Widely regarded as their best ever on right wing, he was also a penalty specialist. His career was often interrupted by injury breaks, caused by brutal kicking, due to his tendency to toy with defenders. He remained to make the ’58 trip, where he became the top scorer. Eduardo Ricagni of Milan was the other wing wizard, winning two titles with the Rossoneri, and maintaining quite an unbelievable goalscoring rate of almost 50% as a wingman. Even the second rung of Rodolfo Micheli on right and Ernesto Cucchiaroni on left would have made it to most international teams save perhaps Brazil. Micheli was actually the top scorer in ’55 Copa with 8 goals. Finally there was the “Trio of Death” – Maschio, Angelillo and Sívori.
The Carasucias and Their Legacy
.Omar Enrique Sívori was perhaps the best of the trio and the only one to make good of his Italian move with three scudetti and a European Player of the Year award. Despite playing primarily as a schemer to John Charles, he still managed 2 goals every three games, all the while taking added pleasure in audaciously nutmegging defenders. Humberto Maschio, a Hidegkuti-like withdrawn striker, had a 100% scoring rate with Argentina. But with less talented colleagues, who could not read him, his goalscoring dropped to a goal every three games. He was also unlucky not to hit it off with Helenio Herrera at Inter and missed out on the Nerazzuri golden run. Ironically, Luis Suárez and Alessandro (“Sandro”) Mazzola at Inter were perhaps the support he needed to explode. The story of Angelillo is even sadder. Unlike Maschio, his game was simpler and he started very well at Inter, maintaining an 80% strike rate. However, in came Herrera, and promptly confined the opinionated Angelillo to the bench. Off he went to Roma, picked up an alcohol addiction, gained weight and lost his touch. However, when all three were together and in form, few could keep up with them. In the ’57 Copa, Uruguay and Brazil (the latter admittedly without Pele and Garrincha) were brushed aside 4-0 and 3-0, respectively.
The story is incomplete without understanding their interdependence. The trio clubbed with Corbatta had high technical ability, and each had individual flair to boot. Apart from Sívori, the rest failed to reproduce the same magic with others. It did not help that football was fast becoming very rough and defensive in both Argentina and Italy where the four plied their craft. With each other, for Argentina, the trio averaged almost 3 goals every game as a unit. What they might have achieved together for the Albiceleste, is anybody’s guess. What we do know is that only one other inside trio has a similar record, the troika of Sándor Kocsis, Nándor Hidegkuti and Ferenc Puskás. With Corbatta on the right wing to support them, they could have well become the team to beat in the 60s, rather than Brazil.
In reality, a potentially beautiful team soon degenerated to a cynical and despised football culture during 60s. This reached its nadir during the infamous forays by Independiente, Estudiantes and Racing Club in the Intercontinental Cup. Alas, for the stupidity of the Argentinean Federation and the lure of the lira!