Player Rating (click to rate):
( 9 Votes )
Born: Tuesday 28 July 1925, Montevideo, Uruguay
Died: Wednesday 13 November 2002, Montevideo, Uruguay (aged 77)
Position: Inside Forward
Unquestionably one of Uruguay's greatest ever players, inside-left Juan Schiaffino will always be remembered as one of the goalscorers in his country's 2-1 win over Brazil in the final match of the 1950 World Cup. Blessed with a wide range of attacking skills that made him the complete inside forward, he won a wide range of honours in both Uruguay and later in Italy and represented both countries at international level.
Of mixed Italian and Paraguayan ancestry, Schiaffino was born in Montevideo on 28 July 1925. On leaving school he had no clearly defined career ahead of him and worked both in bakery and a factory, but always knew that football was where his future lay. He began playing on the beaches of Montevideo, before starting out in youth football with neighbourhood team Palermo. Later in his teens, Schiaffino appeared for Olympia and had a brief spell in the youth teams of Nacional, but it was when his brother took him for a trial at Peñarol in 1943 that he really got his big break.
Pale and slightly built, he did not have the same strength as many players but his technical ability more than made up for that. With stunning ball control, superb vision and accurate passing, Schiaffino created many goals for team-mates but he also possessed great speed and an accurate left-footed shot which made him a significant goal threat. Having signed for Peñarol, it quickly became obvious that Schiaffino was going to become a great player as he made his international debut in 1946 before he had even broken into his club's first team.
Throughout the late 1940s he became a regular for Peñarol but regularly found his team edged out for the league championship by Nacional. That all changed in 1949, as Schiaffino helped Peñarol to surge to the title with an unbeaten record, dropping just two points all season. Having made a handful of international appearance over the previous four years, he was named in Uruguay's squad for the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, the country's first appearance in the tournament since winning the inaugural title 20 years earlier.
The withdrawals of Scotland and Turkey before the draw and replacements France afterwards left Uruguay in the bizarre position of being in a two-team group, alongside a weak Bolivian team. Uruguay won their only first round game 8-0 to reach the final group stage, with Schiaffino scoring twice. In the final group, Uruguay were only able to draw with Spain and narrowly defeat Sweden, leaving them needing to beat Brazil to win the cup. With home advantage, Brazil were expected to get at least the draw they needed and took the lead early in the second half. Uruguay however hit back and it was Schiaffino who scored the equaliser just before the hour mark. Alcides Ghiggia later scored the winner to give Uruguay their second world title, with Schiaffino being named in the competition's all-star team.
Remarkably, it would be nearly three years until Schiaffino played for Uruguay again but he did continue to enjoy domestic success with Peñarol. Throughout the early 1950s the club alternated league titles with Nacional. Champions in 1951, they lost a play-off to their great rivals the following year despite Schiaffino enjoying the best goalscoring season of his career, but went on to take the title back in 1953. Leading clubs in Italy, including Genoa and Roma, tried to sign him but Peñarol would not let their star player go.
Midway through the 1954 season, Schiaffino was back in the national team for Uruguay's defence of the World Cup in Switzerland. He was in fine goalscoring form, having found the net in the warm-up games against Switzerland and the Saarland. That form continued in the tournament itself, as he scored Uruguay's second goal in their opening win over Czechoslovakia and the ultimately decisive third in the 4-2 quarter-final win over England. In the semi-final against Hungary he showed the other side of his game, creating both goals for Juan Hohberg as Uruguay came from 2-0 down to force extra-time, but they ultimately lost 4-2 in the country's first ever World Cup defeat.
Schiaffino's performances in Switzerland led to a renewed effort to bring him to Italy, this time by AC Milan. Sensing that he may be past his best as he approached 30, Peñarol finally agreed to let him go for a then world record fee of £72,000. Schiaffino made his debut on the opening day of the 1954-55 season, scoring twice in a 4-0 win over Triestina before going on to claim 15 goals in 27 games as Milan won the Serie A title by four points ahead of Udinese. Schiaffino had dual citizenship and with international restrictions less clearly defined than today, was quickly brought into the Italian national team for a game against Argentina in December 1954.
Another league title followed in 1957, but the following year brought great disappointment at domestic and international level. Schiaffino's international career came to an end early in 1958, after a 2-1 defeat to Northern Ireland which ended Italy's hopes of qualifying for the World Cup. In Serie A, Milan could only finish in mid-table but did reach the European Cup final against Real Madrid. Unusually playing at centre-forward, Schiaffino opened the scoring just before the hour. After a Real equaliser, Milan led again before a second equaliser and an extra-time winner gave Real the title and Milan a very tough loss.
Schiaffino won the third league title of his time with Milan in 1959, as the club edged out Fiorentina at the top of the league, but twelve months Milan decided to sell him, much to the fury of their fans. He moved to Roma, where having lost some of his pace he was often used in the more defensive role of a sweeper, still able to make use of his incredible range of passing to launch counter attacks. In his first season the club won the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, but Schiaffino did not appear in the final against Birmingham City. In 1961-62, the now 36-year old Schiaffino was used more sparingly and following that season decided to leave Italy and return home to Uruguay.
Having ended his playing career, Schiaffino worked in real estate but also sporadically returned to football as a coach. In 1974 he was named manager of the Uruguayan national team and led his country into the newly-renamed Copa América, a tournament in which he had never played. As champions, Uruguay had a bye to the semi-finals but lost 3-1 on aggregate to Colombia after missing two penalties in the second leg. Following that disappointment, Schiaffino became youth team coach at Peñarol but soon left football again, devoting the rest of his working life to his real estate business. Spending his final years in a nursing home in Montevideo, he died in November 2002 at the age of 77.
References (all accessed 13 March 2012):
- Published on Tuesday, 13 March 2012 14:22