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Born: Tuesday 30 March 1915, Asunción, Paraguay
Died: Saturday 23 July 1977, Buenos Aires, Argentina (aged 62)
Perhaps the greatest player ever to come from Paraguay, Arsenio Erico spent most of his career playing in Argentina and stands as the all-time record goalscorer in the Argentine Primera División. Although he never had the opportunity to play on the international stage, he remains a legendary figure in both Paraguay and Argentina and even the great Alfredo Di Stéfano counted Erico among his inspirations.
Arsenio Erico was born in the Paraguayan capital Asunción on 30 March 1915 and as his name perhaps suggests, was of Italian descent on his father's side. He displayed a talent for football at an early age and was signed up to the youth team of Club Nacional at the age of 11. Four years later he was in the first team, but his time at Nacional was often disrupted by the Chaco War between Paraguay and Bolivia. The war prevented a proper league championship being played in 1932 and the Red Cross organised a number of fundraising tours involving the country's leading footballers.
It was on one such tour, to Argentina, that the young Erico caught the eye of both Independiente and River Plate, who both wanted to sign him. Erico eventually signed for Independiente and made his debut on 6 May 1934 against Boca Juniors. He did not score in that game, but did get two in his second match. He went on to score 12 in his first season, and followed that up with 22 the following year.
Quickly becoming one of the most fearer strikers in Argentina, one of his greatest attributes was his heading ability, which combined with the red shirt of Independiente brought him the nickname 'red jumper'. He was able to head the ball a remarkable distance and to 'hang' in the air when meeting a cross. Erico was also known for scoring spectacular and unusual goals, he was the first player known to have used the techinque which some 60 years later came to be known as the 'scorpion', whereby a player jumps forward and uses both heels to propel the ball forwards.
Perhaps uniquely among players who have made such an impact at club level, Erico never played an official international match. For much of his early career, Paraguay were inactive in international football and by the time the did compete in the South American Championship in 1937, Independiente did not want to release him for matches. That omission came at the peak of his career, as he scored 47 goals in the 1937 seasons, the highest total in the league as Independiente finished runners-up to River Plate.
Erico was the league's leading scorer in each of the next two seasons as well, reaching the 40 goal barrier both times and propelling Independiente to back-to-back league titles. His performances attracted the attention of the Argentinian national team who wanted him to take citizenship so he could go with them to the 1938 World Cup, but Erico refused on the grounds that he wouldn't want to represent anyone but Paraguay. Despite disappointment at his decision, he won widespread respect in Argentina for his loyalty to his country. Argentina eventually withdrew from World Cup qualifying.
One of Erico's title winning seasons provided perhaps the most bizarre story of his career, when in 1938 a cash prize was offered by the makers of 'Cigarrillos 43' cigarettes for anyone who could score 43 league goals that season. Erico had ample opportunity to exceed that total, but needed exactly 43 for the prize and missed a number of chances as well as passing when he could have shot, to ensure that he could claim the money.
In 1941 Erico found himself in conflict with Independiente when he requested a pay rise. When it was not granted he went home to Paraguay to play for his country in a friendly tournament but the Argentinian FA stepped in to get the competition stopped. Erico returned to Independiente and got his pay rise. One year later, with relations still tense, he played a couple of games back in Paraguay for Club Nacional as they won the league title
Both River Plate and San Lorenzo de Almagro both bid for his signature, but Independiente did not want him to move to a rival club and he ultimately stayed with the club for four more years. By the time he left Independiente after the 1946 season, Erico had scored 295 league goals in 325 games, although for many years he was only credited with 293. Those two extra goals put him two ahead of Ángel Labruna at the top of the all-time list. Erico's career in Argentina ended with seven games for Huracán in 1947, in which he couldn't add to his goal total.
Returning home to Paraguay, Erico became player-coach at Club Nacional and played a handful of games as the team narrowly finished runners-up to Guaraní in 1949. He also briefly coached at Club Sol de América, who he also took to second place in the league, but his career in management was relatively short. In his retirement, he split his time between his home country of Paraguay and his adopted home in Argentina.
Through the 1970s Erico suffered increasing health problems and after an operation to amputate his left leg in 1977 complications set in. He suffered a heart attack and died on 23 July in Buenos Aires, aged 62. Independiente covered the costs of their great former player's funeral. His burial in Argentina was a disappointment to many Paraguayans, who wanted him brought home. From the mid-1990s increasing efforts were made to have his body repatriated and in 2010, more than 32 years after his death, his coffin was transported to Asunción for reburial, draped in the flags of both Paraguay and Argentina. Club Nacional's stadium in Asunción is named in his honour.
References (all accessed 18 February 2012):
- Published on Saturday, 18 February 2012 19:47