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Born: Friday 15 November 1918, Avellaneda, Argentina
Died: Friday 12 May 1995, Avellaneda, Argentina (aged 76)
Nicknamed "El Maestro" (the master), Adolfo Pedernera was part of both the River Plate team which dominated Argentinian football in the early 1940s and the Millonarios team which did likewise in Colombia a decade later. Both a goalscorer and creator, usually from inside forward, he won nine domestic titles during a 20 year playing career and as a coach took charge of the national teams of both Colombia and Argentina.
Born in Avellaneda on 15 November 1918, Pedernera displayed a talent for football from a very early age. His father had been a player with River Plate himself and gave his son a football for the first time when he was just four. It was while practising skills together that the senior Pedernera realised how much talent the young Adolfo had and encouraged him to pursue a career in the game. The opportunity to do just that arrived when he signed first for amateur side Cruceros de la Plata and then professional club Huracán as a teenager.
Although he was most at home at inside-left, Pedernera could play in any of the five forward positions. He was a highly intelligent player with great skill on the ball and an ability to find defence splitting passes. It was only a matter of time before one of Argentina's biggest clubs spotted his potential and in 1933 he moved to River Plate, where he would stay for well over a decade. His first team debut came on 28 July 1935, at the age of just 16.
During the 1936 season Pedernera became a first-team regular and still only 17, formed part of a formidable forward line which swept to the league title, finishing four points clear of San Lorenzo de Almagro. The following year he contributed 11 goals out of River's total of 106 as the title was retained by a even bigger margin, six points ahead of Independiente. Although River missed out on the league title in the next three seasons, Pedernera gradually became more of a prolific goalscorer as well as creating goals for team-mates and after scoring 16 in 1940, was called up to the national team for the South American Championship.
In that tournament in Chile, he played in three of Argentina's four games including the 1-0 win over the hosts in the last match which clinched the title. Establishing himself as an international regular, Pedernera was also an important member of the team which fell just short of retaining that title in 1942, grabbing his first major tournament goal in the astonishing 12-0 thrashing of Ecuador. He did not start the deciding match against hosts Uruguay, only coming on with 18 minutes to go and Argentina trailing 1-0, a deficit they were unable to overcome.
At club level the early 1940s were the best of Pedernera's career in Argentina. River Plate won the league title back in 1941 and retained it in 1942, with Pedernera scoring a career-high of 23 league goals in just 24 appearances. A fifth league title followed in 1945, after which Pedernera was selected for his third South American Championships, this time on home soil. He scored the clinching goal in a 3-1 win over Chile and opened the scoring in the crucial match against fierce rivals Uruguay, which ended in another 3-1 win. With five wins out of five, Argentina won back the title comfortably.
Pedernera's career at River Plate ended after the 1946 season, with River finishing in a disappointing third place. He was offered a million pesos to join CA Atlanta, but in his only season there the club was relegated and he soon moved on again, back to his old club Huracán. In 1949 many Argentinian players were in dispute with the footballing authorities and went on strike, with a number choosing to leave the country and play in Colombia. Pedernera was one of those who went, joining Millonarios in Bogota.
Pedernera was hailed by the media as the man to take Millonarios to great success and his impact was immediate, helping the club to win the league title in his first half-season. In the championship play-off against Cali, he scored in both legs to help seal a 4-2 aggregate win. Playing alongside fellow Argentinian great Alfredo Di Stéfano, who considered him the greatest player he ever saw, Pedernera was part of a team which was so dominant that they could regularly afford to ease off when at least five goals ahead.
After another league title in 1951, Carlos Aldabe, who had persuaded Pedernera to move to Colombia, retired and Pedernera was appointed player-coach. Under his leadership, Millonarios completed a hat-trick of titles with success in 1952 and 1953 and added a cup success for good measure in 1953. The club also toured Europe, with the highlight being a 4-2 win over Real Madrid in the Bernabeu. Pedernera's time in Colombia came to a sudden end in 1954, when all Argentinian players who had left during the dispute of the late 1940s were forced to return to their old clubs. He went back to Huracán and retired soon after at the age of 36.
Continuing with a coaching career, Pedernera took charge of a variety of clubs across South America including Independiente in Argentina, Nacional in Uruguay and America de Cali in Colombia, who he took to runners-up spot in the league. On the back of that success he became coach of the Colombian national team, leading them past Peru to qualify for the 1962 World Cup in Chile. Colombia fell in the group stage after losing to Uruguay and Yugoslavia, but did manage to earn a 4-4 draw with the Soviet Union despite trailing 4-1 with less than half an hour to play.
Back in Argentina, Pedernera came close to winning another title when he led Gimnasia to a third place finish, as well as having a short spell with River Plate's great rivals Boca Juniors. He was appointed manager of Argentina ahead of the qualifiers for the 1970 World Cup, but disappointing away defeats to Bolivia and Peru wrecked their chances and they ultimately finished bottom of their qualifying group, costing Pedernera his job. After coaching several more Argentinian clubs, Pedernera returned to River Plate to work with their reserve teams in 1979, a job he would hold for the rest of his career. He died in 1995, at the age of 76.
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- Published on Saturday, 25 February 2012 21:46