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Born: Sunday 24 July 1938, Piracicaba, Brazil
Position: Centre Forward
Brazilian-born centre-forward José Altafini spent most of his club career in Italy, where he remains one of the highest goalscorers in the history of Serie A. Having dual citizenship, he represented both his native country and his adopted country in the World Cup finals and was part of Brazil's first World Cup winning squad in 1958. In Brazil, he is known as 'Mazzola' due to his resemblance to Italian legend Valentino Mazzola.
Altafini was born in the town of Piracicaba in São Paulo state, on 24 July 1938. Having Italian grandparents, he held Italian citizenship from birth. Although not the tallest of strikers, he was an extremely intelligent and quick player and was strong enough to cope with physical battles against opposing defenders. Having played for CA Piracicabano as a youngster, Altafini began his senior career in 1954 with XV de Novembro before moving on to one of São Paulo's biggest clubs, Palmeiras, while still only 17 years old.
Palmeiras finished fourth in the state league in Altafini's first season and at the beginning of the 1957 campaign, he was called up to the national team for the first time. His debut came in a 3-0 win over Portugal in São Paulo, in which he scored one of Brazil's goals. Despite Palmeiras having a poor season in 1957, Altafini was nevertheless selected for Brazil's World Cup squad the following summer.
Still just 19 years old, he was in fine form in Brazil's pre-tournament friendlies and was chosen to lead the forward line in the opening game of the finals against Austria. Altafini scored twice in a 3-0 win, but as the tournament progressed found himself out of favour and overshadowed by Vavá and an even younger teenage star, Pelé. After failing to find the target in the group game against England or the quarter-final against Wales, Altafini was not used again in the competition and missed out on Brazil's final victory over hosts Sweden.
Despite that disappointment, Altafini's performances had attracted the attention of leading Italian clubs. He almost signed for Roma, but eventually moved to AC Milan and went on to spend the next eighteen years playing in Serie A. His first season in Italy was a resounding success, bringing 28 league goals as Milan finished three points clear of Fiorentina at the top of the table. Finishing third and then second over the next two years, Altafini was scoring at least 20 goals a season and by 1961 there was great demand for him to be brought into the Italian national team.
Unlike today, his appearances for Brazil did not exclude him from playing for Italy and he made his second international debut in a World Cup qualifier against Israel in October 1961. He scored in the 4-2 first leg win, as Italy went on to win 10-2 on aggregate to reach the finals in Chile. That proved to be just the start of one of the finest seasons of Altafini's career. His 22 league goals gave him a share of the 'Capocannoniere' title as leading scorer in Serie A, whilst helping Milan to another title as they finished five points ahead of city rivals Internazionale.
At that summer's World Cup, Altafini appeared in Italy's first two games as they drew 0-0 with West Germany and lost an extremely violent game 2-0 to hosts Chile. By the time he missed out on the final game win over Switzerland, Italy were already eliminated and with their exit from the finals, his international career came to an end. In total, Altafini scored four goals in eight official internationals for Brazil and five in six games for Italy.
In 1962-63, Altafini played a pivotal role as Milan enjoyed a fantastic run in the European Cup. In the first round against US Luxembourg, he scored five goals in the first leg and three more in the second as Milan won 14-0 on aggregate. He scored four more goals, including a second leg hat-trick, in the quarter-final against Galatasaray. Milan's semi-final final win over Dundee set up a final against holders Benfica, where Eusébio gave the Portuguese side a first half lead. Altafini however equalised just before the hour mark, before going on to score what proved to be the winner 20 minutes from time, giving Milan their first European Cup. His 14 goals in one season remain jointly a record for the competition, matched only in 2011-12 by Lionel Messi.
Altafini remained with Milan for two more years, although without winning any more major trophies. His appearances were limited as Milan finished second to Inter in 1965 and that summer he moved on to Napoli, where he remained for seven years. During Altafini's time at the club, Napoli were regular contenders at the top end of Serie A, finishing second in 1968 and third in both 1966 and 1971. The only silverware he won in Naples was the minor international 'Coppa delle Alpi' tournament in 1967.
In 1972 Altafini moved on again, this time joining Juventus. His first season at the club produced a great tussle with former club Milan. In the league, Juventus went into their final game against Roma a point behind Milan at the top of the table. With Milan losing at Verona, a win would give Juve the title and after they had trailed at half-time, Altafini scored a vital equaliser before a late Antonello Cuccureddu goal sealed the championship.
Juventus also reached the finals of both the European Cup and the Coppa Italia, but their hopes of a treble ended when Ajax won the European final 1-0. Milan subsequently claimed revenge for their league disappointment with a penalty shoot-out win in the Coppa Italia, a final in which Altafini did not play. During his mid-30s he became one of the first players to carve out a role for himself as a regular substitute, regularly coming on to change games when required.
Juve lost their title to Lazio in 1974, but won it back a year later thanks in no small part to Altafini's vital late winner against Napoli a few weeks from the end of the season. They eventually edged out Napoli by two points at the top of the table. He now had four Serie A titles to his name, but having reached the age of 37 his top level career was coming to an end. After making just 10 appearances in Serie A in 1975-76, as Juve finished second to city rivals Torino, Altafini left Italy after 18 years.
In total, his 459 games in Serie A produced an impressive total of 216 goals, a figure which still places him joint fourth on the all-time list. He moved across the border into the Italian-speaking area of Switzerland, where he joined second tier side Chiasso and was still influential enough to score 14 goals in 26 league games in his first season. After two years with Chiasso he moved on to another Swiss side, Mendrisio Star, where he finally retired in 1980 at the age of 42.
In retirement, Altafini returned to Italy and settled back in Turin. He became a respected TV and radio commentator, lending his voice to the commentary track on the 'Pro Evolution Soccer' video game. During his TV career, he was credited with introducing the term 'golazzo' into Italian football, from the Portuguese term 'golaço' (great goal).
References (all accessed 14 November 2012):
- Published on Wednesday, 14 November 2012 22:00