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Born: Wednesday 15 May 1901, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Died: Friday 9 September 1983 (aged 82)
Argentinian half-back Luis Monti holds a unique place in the history of football, as the only player to have appeared in the World Cup final for two different countries. He developed a reputation as one of the toughest tacklers in the game, but also had considerable skill on the ball. That combination helped him to define the position of attacking centre half in the revolutionary Italian 'metodo' formation of the 1930s.
Born in Buenos Aires on 15 May 1901, Luis Felipe Monti grew up in the city's sizeable Italian community. His combination of strength and an ability to cover a wide area of the pitch made him ideally suited to the position of centre half, and it was there that he would spend most of his career. Monti's playing career began with Huracán in 1921, and in his only season there he helped the club to claim one of two league titles which were available at the time.
In 1922, Monti joined Boca Juniors but before he could make any competitive appearances for the club moved on again to San Lorenzo. His time with San Lorenzo would coincide with a very successful period for the club, with league titles being won in both 1923 and 1924, and by the end of the second of those seasons Monti had forced his way into the national team. His first two appearances both came against Uruguay in August 1924, but those games were followed by a gap of more than three years before another international appearance.
Claiming his third league title with San Lorenzo in 1927, Monti was back in the national team for the South American Championship in Peru at the end of that year. He played in all three of Argentina's games, all of which they won to take the title and with it qualification for the following year's Olympic Games in Amsterdam. In the Olympic tournament, Argentina cruised into a final against Uruguay, defeating the USA, Belgium and Egypt by a combined margin of 25-3. The final was much closer, going to a replay after a 1-1 draw. After Argentina fell behind in that replay it was Monti who kept their chances alive with a second half equaliser, but hopes of gold ended with a late Uruguayan winner, giving Monti and Argentina the silver medals.
International opportunities remained limited over the next two years, but in 1930 Monti was back as a vital member of Argentina's squad for the first World Cup in Uruguay. To begin with, Monti's World Cup was very successful. His strong defending helped Argentina through to the final, and he also scored two goals in the tournament including his country's first ever World Cup goal in a 1-0 win over France. However, the final against hosts Uruguay was to be one of the most controversial games in his career. Monti had received death threats aimed at his mother before the match, and he did not appear to be in any frame of mind to play. Although Argentina led 2-1 at half-time, they would lose the match 4-2 and Monti would only play one more game for his native country.
In the 1930s, rules regarding eligibility for international football were not as clearly defined as today, and the ruling regime in Italy wanted to make use of players with Italian ancestry to improve their national team. Monti was one of those they targeted, and it has been suggested that there was Italian involvement in the threats he had received at the World Cup in an attempt to discredit him in his own country. He was offered a large pay rise to move to Italy, and in 1931 left San Lorenzo to join Juventus.
Initially he was made to undergo extra training as he was somewhat out of condition on his arrival, but his time at the club would ultimately prove to be very successful. In his first season Monti made 29 appearances and scored two goals as Juventus took the title. That 1931-32 success was the first of four consecutive league titles he won with the club, and he also won the Italian Cup in 1938 as well as making more than 200 league appearances before leaving the club in 1939.
At international level, Monti had made his debut for Italy in the autumn of 1932, on the back of his successful first season with Juventus. As Italy built towards the 1934 World Cup which they would host, he played a crucial part in their early games in the Central European International Cup, which they would go on to win in 1935. His only goal for Italy came in one of those games, a 5-2 win over Switzerland. Italy had to play one qualifying match to reach the World Cup, and successfully did so to give Monti the chance to improve on his runners-up finish with Argentina four years earlier.
It was in that tournament that Italy perfected the 'metodo' formation developed by their coach Vittorio Pozzo, and Monti was the crucial link in this formation as he linked the defensive position of centre half to the forwards in one of the earliest recognisable midfield roles. Italy beat the USA and Spain to reach a semi-final against highly fancied Austria, and that match would prove to be another controversial one for Monti. He was chosen to man-mark Austria's inspirational playmaker Matthias Sindelar, and his tough tackling (often ignored by the match officials) rendered Sindelar largely ineffective.
Italy won the semi-final 1-0, before coming from behind to beat Czechoslovakia 2-1 in the final to give Monti a World Cup winner's medal at the second attempt. As in 1930, the final had been a difficult experience for him as the pressure placed on the team by the fascist regime in Italy was enormous. It was rumoured that the players' lives may have been in danger had they lost, but Monti would later explain how having won, they became the most privileged people in the country.
Monti played just three more internationals after the World Cup, including another controversial match against England at Highbury in November 1934 where he was injured by a tough tackle early on and had to leave the game. Following his injury, the match degenerated into a violent tussle and is still known as 'The Battle of Highbury'. In total, his international career spanned 12 years, bringing 34 caps for Argentina and Italy and six goals. Monti's playing career ended at the start of the Second World War, but he would go on to enjoy a career in management throughout the 1940s.
Monti managed several clubs in Italy, beginning with Triestina in 1939, and he also took charge of former side Juventus for a short time during the war years. In 1947 he also made a brief return to another of his former clubs, spending a year back in Argentina in charge of Huracán before ending his managerial career back in Italy with Pisa. After leaving Pisa in 1950, Monti retired from active involvement in football. He died in 1983, at the age of 82.
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- Published on Tuesday, 13 December 2011 17:15