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Born: Friday 24 May 1901, Montevideo, Uruguay
Died: Monday 17 June 1968, Montevideo, Uruguay (aged 67)
As the first man to lift the Jules Rimet Trophy as a World Cup winning captain, Uruguayan legend José Nasazzi's place in football history is assured. In addition to leading his country through the most successful period in their history, he was one of the finest full-backs of the pre-Second World War era and is remembered as one of the game's first truly great defenders.
José Nasazzi Yarza was born in the Bella Vista region of Montevideo on 24 May 1901, with a mixture of Italian and Spanish ancestry. As a teenager he played for the amateur side FC Escriu before joining CA Lito in 1918, his first senior club. Lito were not one of the biggest clubs in Uruguay, and Nasazzi was clearly too good a player to remain with them for long. In 1920 a new club, CA Bella Vista was formed in his home district and Nasazzi was one of the players recruited.
Nasazzi helped Bella Vista to win the Uruguayan Second Division with an unbeaten record in 1922, and from 1923 onwards led the team as they became an established force in the top division. He developed a reputation as a strong, quick defender with excellent positional ability, and quickly caught the attention of the national team selectors. His leadership skills and the respect that he was able to command from his team-mates made him the ideal candidate for the captaincy. Nasazzi became something of a father figure to the rest of the team, even in his 20s, as his colleagues looked up to him and followed his instructions.
Nasazzi's international career began in the 1923 South American Championship on home soil, with his debut coming at right full-back in the opening game against Paraguay. Uruguay won that game and the two that followed to claim the championship, and Nasazzi was named player of the tournament. The following year, the national team travelled to Europe for the first time to play in the Olympic Games in Paris. Under Nasazzi's captaincy Uruguay stormed through the tournament, winning all five matches by a combined margin of 20 goals to two to claim the gold medals. Despite this international success, the amateur status of Uruguayan football meant that throughout the 1920s he kept his job of cutting marble for a living.
He would lead Uruguay to further success in the next two South American Championships in which they appeared. Titles were claimed on home soil once more in 1924, and in Chile in 1926, after conflicts within the national association had led them to miss the 1925 edition. Nasazzi did not play in the 1927 tournament as Uruguay finished as runners-up behind Argentina, but was back in 1928 as the team returned to Europe to defend their Olympic title in Amsterdam.
Victories over the Netherlands and Germany took Uruguay into the final against great rivals Argentina, and after a draw in the initial game they claimed victory in a replay. Nasazzi had led his country to a second gold medal, and a fourth major title in just six years. In 1929 he was unsuccessful in the South American Championship for the first time as Uruguay could only finish third, having won all three previous tournaments in which Nasazzi had been in the squad. However, the main focus for the national team was now the first World Cup in 1930, which they would host.
Wins over Peru and Romania in the group stage and Yugoslavia in the semi-final took Uruguay into another final match-up against Argentina. At half-time their hopes were starting to fade as Argentina took a 2-1 lead, but Nasazzi was able to inspire his team to a second half fightback which brought three goals and World Cup glory with a final score of 4-2. As the Olympic Games had been the biggest international tournament in the world prior to the introduction of the World Cup, Nasazzi had now effectively led his country to three consecutive global titles. His impact on Uruguay's success was recognised when he was named player of the tournament.
Despite his remarkable run of success at international level, Nasazzi had so far been unable to replicate that with his club. Bella Vista had become established as a strong top division club, but had not been able to compete with the older, more powerful clubs in the country. Their best finish had been second behind Nacional in 1924, when there were two competing league competitions. When professional football came to Uruguay in the early 1930s, it was Nacional who made an offer for the national team captain and Nasazzi moved on at the end of the 1932 season.
In his first season with Nacional, the club finished level with rivals Peñarol at the top of the league and faced a play-off, which they eventually won after three matches. At the age of 32, Nasazzi finally had a major domestic honour to go with all his success at international level. A second league title would follow in 1934, as Nacional finished three points clear at the top of the league but that was to be the last championship for Nasazzi as Peñarol went on to dominate the next few seasons.
Nasazzi was denied the chance of leading his country in a second World Cup when the holders refused to take part in the 1934 tournament in Italy in protest at the small number of European teams who had travelled to the 1930 finals. However, there was to be one final success at the end of his career at the 1935 South American Championship, the first such tournament for six years. Just as he had been 12 years earlier, Nasazzi was player of the tournament as Uruguay took another title by winning all three games, Nasazzi's defence conceding just one goal.
His international career finished in 1936, having captained his country to four continental titles, two Olympic gold medals and one World Cup. He retired from playing in 1937, aged 36, but returned as coach of the national side in 1942. In 1945 he led the team at the South American Championship but was unable to repeat the success of his club career, only finishing fourth. Following his retirement, Nasazzi spent some years working in radio before his death in 1968, aged 67. As well as being remembered as his country's greatest captain, he is also immortalised in the name of Bella Vista's home ground, the Estadio José Nasazzi.
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- Published on Wednesday, 14 December 2011 15:19