Guillermo Stábile – The Forgotten Entrenador of Latin America
Guillermo Stábile is often considered to be one of the greatest Argentine footballers and the true hero of the first ever World Cup. However, a fact that has often been overlooked is that he won six South American Championship titles as a manager for Argentina. Srinwantu Dey takes us back to the days before the inception of modern football in Argentina and examines the achievements of the greatest manager in the history of Copa America. You can read the other stories of the Copa America series here.
Known as the “Infiltrator” for his daunting runs piercing the defence, Guillermo Stábile quite justifiably etched his name in the history of football by his heroics in the first ever World Cup. Though he never played for his country after that solitary World Cup outing, he had established his cult status by scoring a hat-trick on debut and being the top scorer of the tournament. However, his aptitude went much beyond his playing career. His managerial profile is fascinating, to say the least—with six South American Championship crowns under his belt (The Copa America was known as the South American Football Championship or the Campeonato Sudamericano de Football before 1975).
The root of his managerial experience goes back to 1931, when he moved to Italy to play for Genova (now Genoa C.F.C.). After an injury he had to co-manage the team alongside “Luigin” Burlando—the then Genova manager who previously represented Italy in both football and water polo. His career in Italy was a fascinating tale of rise and fall. His debut with Genova came with a marvellous hat-trick, that too against the league leader Bologna, which gave him an immediate cult status. Benito Mussolini himself was willing to include him in the Italian team that played in the 1934 World Cup. Unfortunately, two severe injuries in 1931 (he fractured his fibula after colliding with keeper Giuseppe Rapetti) and 1933 (this time he broke his tibia following a clash with Fiorentina Galluzzi)—both in his right leg—diminished his playing career and resulted in unsuccessful seasons in Italy. Later, he moved to Red Star Paris (a club funded by Jules Rimet; and according to some sources Jules Rimet himself gave him the offer) as a player-manager, where he learnt various aspects of managerial practices. Stábile,dubbed “The new idol of Paris” by the local media, led his team to a prestigious ninth position in the 1936–37 season as the player-manager. However, he received the agony of relegation in the very next season. This failure, though, made Stábile even stronger. During the 1938–39 season, his team performed remarkably well to win the Ligue 2 and was promoted back to the Ligue 1. Stábile ended his tenure in Europe on a high note and moved back to Buenos Aires with considerable European experience before the World War broke out in the European mainland.
Guillermo Stábile took charge of Argentina in 1939 from Ángel Fernández Roca, and continued his tenure for the next 19 years. He set a record by managing the Albicelestes for 123 official matches and winning 83 times. He tasted the first flavour of grand success when Argentina travelled to Chile in 1941 for the Campeonato Sudamericano de Football(the precursor of Copa America). Argentina defeated both Uruguay and the host nation Chile in their road to glory. Atlético Tigre’s striker Juan Andrés Marvezzi scored five goals against Ecuador and became top scorer of the tournament. Stábile’s next campaign, 1942 South American Championship, was not much of a success as they lost 1-0 to Uruguay,the host nation. This was despite their hard-earned win against Paraguay and Brazil, and their crushing 12-0 victory over Ecuador, which still stands as the biggest-ever win in the history of Copa America. One of the greatest players of the generation, José Manuel Moreno, scored five goals in that match and became the tournament’s top scorer. Francisco Varallo, the last surviving member of the 1930 World Cup final, had this to say in an interview about him: “People now say that they’ve seen Maradona, but I’ve seen Moreno, from River’s La Máquina, and he comes first. He was amazing, the best player I’ve seen, the one I admired the most.” The left-footed poet helped Stábile win three South American titles.
“People now say that they’ve seen Maradona, but I’ve seen Moreno, from River’s La Máquina, and he comes first. He was amazing, the best player I’ve seen, the one I admired the most.”
It was the new beginning of an era for Argentine football. After World War II broke out in Europe, Argentina’s football started taking a turn for the better. When the beautiful game ceased to be played in Europe and Asia, Latin America truly showed its colours. Stábile was given the charge of the national team in the same year that Germany invaded Poland (an event that set off the World War II). His first Copa triumph came in the year that Pearl Harbour was attacked. Coincidentally, 1941 remains the most successful year for River Plate and marks the inception of “La Máquina”—arguably the best forward line to decorate Argentina’s football. The dynamic forward line—consisting of Juan Carlos Muñoz, José Manuel Moreno, Adolfo Pedernera, ÁngelLabruna, and Félix Loustau—gave River Plate four Primera División Championships in six years. Stábile employed this highly fluid and attacking band as the core of his national team to achieve even greater success. Argentina was crowned champions consecutively three times in 1945, 1946, and 1947 under Stábile’s management—a record that still remains untouched after 99 years of Copa America. During this historic triple winning campaign,Stábile remained undefeated and his attacking unit scored 67 goals in 18 games. Juan Carlos Muñoz and Félix Loustau were truly instrumental behind Argentina’s 1945 triumph. “El Charro” Moreno also received the best player award in the team’s 1947 conquest after another fulcrum of the team, ‘El Maestro’Pedernera won the crown in the previous edition.
1947 South American Championship also glittered with the global appearance of another legend—Alfredo Di Stéfano. This was the only time that the “Blond Arrow” appeared in Albiceleste colours, and he scored six goals in an equal number of games in the competition. Though the 1940s Argentine side was a truly intimidating force, and the highly efficient force of “La Máquina” was at the heart of them, Guillermo Stábile never had an easy life. José Soriano, the Peruvian goalkeeper of the great River Plate side, revealed in an interview that personalities like Pederson, Labruna and others didn’t have a good relation with Stábile. During a friendly against Racing Club (the club that was managed by Stábile simultaneously with the national side), they even decided to play to hassle Stábile. As a result,Racing barely touched the ball in the first 20 minutes and eventually handed a 4-0 defeat. Handling such superstars was never an easy job. However, for the national side, Guillermo Stábile never let it loose and his wisdom always prevailed. The joker of his pack was Norberto “Tucho” Mendez, who smashed 17 goals and earned a Golden Boot and two Silver Boots respectively in those three championships from 1945 to 1947. The devilish dribbler from the Huracán was probably carrying Guillermo Stábile’s own legacy (Stábile himself was a cult figure at Huracán in the 1920s). Tucho never disappointed him. Stábile took the risk of introducing young Tucho to the world and gradually ratified him for the national squad in 1945. Replacing Vicente de la Mata, another Independiente legend who had already scored two goals in two games against Bolivia and Ecuador in the cup, was never easy. Tucho replaced him in the 62nd minute against Ecuador but couldn’t fire enough to catch attention. In the next game against Colombia, Stábile included him in the starting eleven—replacing the veteran star. This time, Tucho grabbed the opportunity. “Tucho” Mendez scored two goals in Argentina’s 9-1 drubbing of Colombia, and went on to score a blizzard-like hat-trick against Brazil, including a 35-yard thunder strike. His performance in the Copa became part of the folklore of Argentine football, and he became one of Guillermo Stábile’s most dependable “assassins”.
“Tucho” Mendez scored two goals in Argentina’s 9-1 drubbing of Colombia, and went on to score a blizzard-like hat-trick against Brazil, including a 35-yard thunder strike. His performance in the Copa became part of the folklore of Argentine football, and he became one of Guillermo Stábile’s most dependable “assassins”.
Stábile’s partnership with Norberto Mendez was not limited to the Albiceleste colours only; they worked together again during his managerial tenure with Racing Club, along with other menacing names like Llamil Simes, Ezra Sued and “El Atómico” Mario Boyé. Stábile won three consecutive Primera División Championships between 1949 and 1951 and made Racing the first ever “tricampeonato” in the professional era of Argentine football. Tucho (along with Alfredo Di Stefano and Mario Boye—all three were managed by Guillermo at some point of time in their respective careers) was immortalized in the movie Con los mismoscolores which was directed by Carlos Torres Rios. The script was written by famous journalist Borocotó (who actually coined the term “La Máquina”). Norberto Méndez still remains the greatest goal scorer of Copa America’s history, and introducing him to the grand platform was one of Stábile’s biggest contributions to Argentine football. His continuous work with club teams, along with his national job, made him stay connected to the huge talent pool that Argentina had in that era.
The Devil with the Angels
Guillermo Stábile was probably one of the few great managers who had the opportunity to work with two of the greatest generations of footballers. During the 1940s, his operation with the core of “La Máquina” crafted an illustrious history. In the 1950s he managed another dream team known as “Los Carasucias” or “Angels with Dirty Faces”—a team composed of the lethal “Death Trio” of Antonio Angelillo, Omar Sívori, and Humberto Maschio, with help from Omar Corbatta and Oscar Cruz. Before this sublime team was developed, Argentina also won the 1955 tournament in Chile with the help of an outstanding show from their Independiente striker Rodolfo Micheli, who smashed eight goals to claim the Golden Boot. Stábile developed this 1955 team using the entire attack line of Independiente—Mono Bonelli, Rodolfo Micheli, Carlos Cecconato, Ernesto Grillo, and Osvaldo Cruz. He even called up 37-year-old veteran Ángel Labruna[i] to guide the team, who scored three goals in the campaign. After eight years of absence, the neo-Argentine team of Stábile returned to the South American championship, winning the tournament undefeated. 1956 was not a successful campaign for the Albicelestes, where they were not only finishedthird, but also suffered a defeat against Brazil due to a late strike from Corinthians legend Luizinho. It was the first time since 1922 that Argentina had been defeated by Brazil in the tournament. It was also Stábile’s first taste of defeat since 1945, after a record streak of 26 wins in the South American Championship. From this year onwards, Latin American competitions started becoming very tough. Uruguay was still a heavyweight, Brazil was coming back strongly from the debris of “Maracanaço”, and Chile was playing some inspirational football led by their spearhead Enrique Hormazábal. “The Infiltrator” had to retort strongly, and he did. If 1955 was clinical, then 1957 was lethal, with ”Los Carasucias” in the armoury. Argentina scored eight goals against Colombia, three against Ecuador, four against Uruguay, and six against Chile before facing a formidable Brazilian team led by a certain Didi who had already scored eight goals in the tournament. Stábile deployed the River Plate medio Nestor Rossi to mark Didi in order to annul his effect, which turned out to be a great strategic success. On the other side, the trickery of the “Death Trio” dominated the Brazilian defence and made them look ridiculous. Angelillo, Maschio, and Cruz—all of them found the net and destroyed Brazil 3-0 to another Copa America glory.
The Fall of La Nuestra
The dream team of 1950s was dissolved soon as AFA couldn’t prevent the migration of Maschio, Angelillo, and Sívori to Italy. Hence,Stábile had to go to Sweden for his first World Cup venture as manager in 1958 without his best forwards. This was Argentina’s first appearance in the World Cup after 24 years of hiatus. Surprisingly enough, Guillermo’s solitary World Cup campaign faced an abrupt end. Argentina had already been given a reality check by West Germany through a 3-1 drubbing. Even then, they needed only a draw to progress against a Czech side yet to win in the competition. On the D-day, they were humbled by Czechoslovakia (6-1) and knocked out in the first round. The poor performance was known as “El desastre de Suecia” (The Sweden disaster). Stábile’s team couldn’t cope up with European power play and speed. He faced strong criticism both from media and his own team members, leading to a halt in his managerial career after the World Cup. Though he returned later in 1960 for a small spell and won the Pan American Games for Argentina, his glittering career had started to end with the shocking World Cup exit. Many pundits think that Argentina might have dominated world football in this era with their pool of talents, but unfortunately the second World War and certain incorrect decisions by AFA prevented that from happening.Furthermore, their lack of knowledge of European football did cost Stábile heavily. However, despite the only failed World Cup venture, Argentina quite significantly dominated South American football for almost two decades and Guillermo Stábile definitely deserves his due credit. Historian John Presta once claimed that “he was a romantic who knew nothing of tactics only chose the best and put them to play”. After his departure, Argentina introduced a complete renovation of their artistic style of game (that had been prevailing since the 1930s), replacing it with a pragmatic and competitive approach. Perhaps Guillermo Stábile’s greatest impact on the game was that he was the last of the greats who dominated the romantic culture of Argentine football—”la nuestra”. After his departure in 1960, Argentina was able to win Copa America only two times (1991 and 1993 under Alfio Basile). Stábile will always be known as one of the grandest legends of Copa America with his six Copa titles—a feat that appears to be untouchable.
Labruna still holds the crown of record goal-scorer in the Super clásico history (16).