On 13 November 2002, Juan Alberto Schiaffino, one of soccer’s great players died aged 77. He scarcely looked a footballer being dark-haired, pale, and thin. Still, Juan Alberto Schiaffino possessed superb control and exceptional positional play amalgamated to a talent for spotting openings for others and the ability to find them with precision passes. And he could score goals as well. Moreover, he was an elegant player who rarely finished a game with a hair out of place. His only flaw was his temperament, reflected in his nickname of ‘Pepe the Devil.’
Early Years Of Juan Alberto Schiaffino
He was born in the Nacio district of Montevideo, Uruguay, on 28 July 1925. His father was an Italian immigrant, and his mother was a Paraguayan. Juan first played as a youth for Palermo, then Olimpia before joining his older brother, Raul, at Nacional. When his brother’s career was cut short by injury, Schiaffino switched allegiance to their great rivals Penarol. It was 1943, and he was just 17. However, he progressed swiftly through the junior teams and, in 1944, was part of the squad that won the First Division championship. They won again in 1945, with Schiaffino being the league’s joint-top scorer with 19 goals. Although his slender frame was better suited to be an inside-forward or midfielder, he was a center-forward, a role he was to fill in later years.
In 1949, Penarol won the title once more with the help of his eleven goals, and by 1950 he had also become a fixture in the national team. He played a dramatic part in the World Cup finals in Brazil. An opening game 8-0 win over Bolivia in which he scored four, was followed in the final pool by a 2-2 draw against Spain, a 3-2 win against Sweden and, a 2-1 victory over Brazil. This game was effectively the World Cup final as the winner would top the final pool table and thus take the trophy. Brazil scored first through Friaca, and it was Schiaffino scored the decisive equalizer when he crashed in an unstoppable shot. He finished the tournament’s second top scorer with five goals.
By the time he had left Penarol in 1954, he had scored 88 goals and the club had won further domestic titles in 1951, 1953, and 1954. At the World Cup finals in Switzerland in 1954 he was an important member of the team. Uruguay opened their group games with a 2-0 win over Czechoslovakia with Schiaffino scoring the second. This was followed by Scotland’s 7-0 thrashing when he tormented his marker Tommy Docherty. In the quarter-finals they played England and defeated them 4-2 with Schiaffino scoring the third. This victory brought them to a semi-final against Hungary in what is considered to be one of the finest games in the history of the World Cup. Many who saw the match state that he was outstanding but could not prevent the Magical Magyars from winning 4-2 in extra time. The disappointment of this defeat led to a lack lustre display in the match for third place as Uruguay lost 3-1 to Austria.
Move To AC Milan
This was his last international appearance for Uruguay. After the World Cup, Juan Alberto Schiaffino was transferred to AC Milan for a world record fee of £72,000 ($115,000). However, it was not his last international game. Within six months, he was playing for Italy as they took advantage of the fact that he had an Italian father to play him against Argentina in a friendly in Rome. Italy won 2-0. Not surprisingly, he was far from a success and the Italians did not include him again for a further three years. Finally, he was selected for the friendly against Northern Ireland in Belfast in a 2-2 draw. Juan appeared in two more appearances in the 1958 World Cup qualifying games against Portugal and Northern Ireland. This marked the end of his international career.
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AC Milan won the Italian League in 1954-55 by six points. Schiaffino played in 27 games scoring 15 goals. He scored 16 goals in 29 games the following season, but Milan could only finish second to Fiorentina. They regained the Serie A title in 1956-57 (29 games – 9 goals). In the following years, he became more the mid-field general, less the goal-scorer, as the following figures illustrate.
1957-58 17 games – 3 goals (AC Milan 9th)
1958-59 27 games – 2 goals (AC Milan Champions)
1959-60 20 games – 2 goals (AC Milan 3rd)
In the 1957-58 European Cup, he played a prominent part in AC Milan’s run to the final. However, they lost to Real Madrid 3-2, Schiaffino scoring one of the goals. After defeating Manchester United in the semi-final, Schiaffino scoring Milan’s only goal at Old Trafford (lost 2-1) and netting twice in the home leg (won 4-0).
Move To AS Roma
At the end of the 1959-60 campaign, he was transferred to AS Roma, playing 29 games and scoring three goals in 1960-61 but used sparingly in essential games in the following season (10 games 0 goals).
He returned to Uruguay in 1962, where he moved into the real estate business interspersed with a bit of scouting and coaching. He coached his beloved Penarol for a while and had a brief spell in charge of the Uruguayan national team.
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