Player Rating (click to rate):
( 11 Votes )
Born: Saturday 28 September 1918, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Died: Monday 19 September 1983, Buenos Aires, Argentina (aged 64)
Position: Inside Forward
Ángel Labruna formed part of River Plate's legendary forward line 'La Máquina' (the machine) during the 1940s. Often being used as the main goalscoring threat despite playing in the usually deeper position of inside-left, he scored almost 300 league goals in a club career lasting more than 20 years and remains in second place in the all-time goalscoring list for Argentina's Primera División. He later went on to manage River Plate with great success.
Labruna was born in Buenos Aires on 28 September 1918. He grew up supporting River Plate and as a teenager his hero was River legend Bernabé Ferreyra, with a signed photograph of Ferreyra being one of his most prized possessions. From an early age it was clear that Labruna was a gifted sportsman and he excelled at both football and basketball. With prospects of a career in either sport, he eventually chose football and joined River Plate in 1938, at the age of 19.
Midway through the 1939 season, Labruna got his chance in the first team during a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Estudiantes de La Plata and went on to score seven goals in ten games during that season. As his career began, River were regularly playing second fiddle to either Independiente or Boca Juniors in the league but soon build a formidable forward line with Labruna at its heart. Although he was an inside forward, the club would regularly play with centre forward Adolfo Pedernera in a deeper role to allow Labruna to lead the attack.
River's attacking principles, encapsulated in coach Carlos Peucelle's statement that his team played with ten forwards, was perfect for Labruna. That team delivered the league title in 1941 and was well on the way to what would be a successful defence of their crown the following season when Labruna received his first call-up to the national team. His international career began with a five minute run-out in a game against Uruguay in Montevideo.
In 1943 River lost their title by the narrowest of margins, finishing one point behind Boca Juniors, but Labruna still finished as the league's joint leading goalscorer with 23. After another second place finish twelve months later, he scored a league high 25 goals to help win the title back from Boca in 1945 and finall became a regular in the national team. His first goal for Argentina came against Brazil in December 1945 and he was selected for the South American Championship on home soil early in 1946.
In that tournament, Labruna scored two goals in a thrashing of Bolivia and two more against Chile, adding his fifth of the tournament in a vital 3-1 win over Uruguay which put the host nation in pole position to go on and win the title. His five goals gave him a share of second place in the scoring charts. However, that tournament would remarkably be Labruna's last international action for some four years.
With a young Alfredo Di Stéfano now leading the attack, Labruna won a fourth league title in 1947 but had to miss a significant portion of the season when he fell seriously ill. The wrong medication made his condition worse and suffering from an inflamed liver, he was out of action for about six months. Once he had regained his health, several years of frustration were to follow as the great team of the 1940s began to break up.
By 1952 a new generation of players helped to bring another title to River Plate, with a successful defence a year later giving Labruna his sixth championship success. However, Argentina withdrew from both the World Cups of 1950 and 1954, denying him the chance to appear on the global stage while at his peak. His next international tournament appearance would be the South American Championship of 1955, a full nine years on from the last one.
Just as in 1946, Argentina won that tournament. Labruna's most significant contribution came against Uruguay, where he scored twice before being substituted late on. However, when his replacement was knocked unconscious he was allowed to return and completed his hat-trick in the closing minutes. Labruna appeared in one more South American Championship in 1956, scoring both goals in the 2-0 win over Chile, but a loss in the final game against hosts Uruguay ended hopes of another triumph.
At domestic level, the second great River Plate team of Labruna's career won three more league titles in a row from 1955 to 1957. Despite approaching the age of 40, he was still a virtual ever-present, missing just one game and contributing 13 goals to the 1957 success, the ninth of his career. That form was enough to keep him in the national squad for the World Cup qualifying campaign, which Argentina successfully negotiated to reach the finals in Sweden in 1958.
Less than four months short of his 40th birthday, Labruna was the oldest player in the tournament, appearing in the group games against Northern Ireland and Czechoslovakia. The second of those however ended in humiliation, as Argentina lost 6-1 to crash out of the tournament. Labruna did not play for his country again. After one more season with River, the club released him after the 1959 season, something which saddened Labruna greatly having served them for more than 20 years. With 293 top flight goals, he remains second on the all-time list just two behind Arsenio Erico.
He did not retire right away, appearing for both Rangers de Talca in Chile and Rampla Juniors in Uruguay before returning to Argentina to end his playing career with Platense at the age of 42. In retirement, Labruna became a successful coach. He was an assistant coach at River Plate, before managing a variety of clubs including Platense, Racing Club and Lanús. In 1971, with two championships now being constested each year, he led Rosario Central to the title in the second half of the season.
In 1975, Labruna returned to River Plate as manager. The club had not won a league title since the last of his playing career in 1957 but he quickly put that right, winning both championships during his first year in charge. One year later, he took the team all the way to the Copa Libertadores final, losing out only to a late goal in a third match against Brazilian side Cruzeiro. In a remarkably successful six seasons in charge, Labruna blended young and experienced players to win six titles, including both stages of the league again in 1979.
His final coaching job came with Argentinos Juniors in the early 1980s. In 1983, having led his team to the semi-finals of the championship, he was taken ill. Having initially appeared to be recovering, Labruna suffered a heart attack and died a few days before his 65th birthday. With 15 league titles as a player and manager with River Plate and more goals than any other player in derbies against fierce rivals Boca Juniors, his place in the history of the club is assured.
References (all accessed 24 February 2012):
- Published on Friday, 24 February 2012 15:17