Omar Sivori

Inside-forward of dazzling brilliance worshipped in Italy and Argentina
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The Independent Online

Omar Sivori was the Argentinean inside-forward who inspired Juventus in their domination of Italian football in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Omar Enrique Sivori, footballer, manager and coach: born San Nicolas, Argentina 2 October 1935; played for River Plate 1954-58, for Juventus 1958-65, for Napoli 1965-68; died San Nicolas 17 February 2005.

Omar Sivori was the Argentinean inside-forward who inspired Juventus in their domination of Italian football in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Sivori was the kind of player idolised by Argentinean football followers, as he possessed in abundance the characteristics found in all their greatest players: sublime ability blended with a huge amount of audacity. Argentinean fans love anti-establishment footballers with the cheek of a pickpocket, which is why they cheered Diego Maradona's "Hand of God" goal against England in the 1986 World Cup even louder than they hailed his breathtaking length-of-the-field dribble to score in the same game. Sivori was blessed with the same mix of bare-faced cheek and dazzling brilliance.

The extravagantly gifted inside-left was a hero in his native land in the 1950s when he helped the Buenos Aires club River Plate to carve out a place as the nation's strongest team. Sivori had broken into the first team as a teenager.

He went on to become the heartbeat of a talented Argentina national side which looked capable of winning the World Cup. With his fellow forwards Humberto Maschio and Antonio Angellini, he formed a deadly three-pronged strike force which looked good enough to scare any defence in the world game. Their prowess earned them the lurid nickname the "Trio of Death", and it was largely down to their goals that Argentina won the 1957 South American Championships in Peru.

They should have been among the favourites for the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, but in the year leading up to the tournament, Sivori, Maschio and Angellini all joined Italian clubs. In their absence Argentina suffered a disastrous World Cup campaign, losing their last match 6-1 to the Czechs. To make matters worse for the pride of Argentina, the World Cup was carried off in spectacular style by their regional rivals, Brazil. Few in Argentina were in any doubt as to where the blame lay. Sivori was banned from playing for his country ever again.

Sivori joined Juventus for £91,000, a transfer fee that made him the world's costliest footballer. Juve may have bought a world-class player, but they had also acquired a world-class ego. Sivori quickly came into conflict with the club's top brass, and he earned a new sobriquet: " Cabezon" ("Big Head").

Sivori, though, had the game to justify his attitude. He formed a potent partnership with Wales's John Charles in the Juventus attack, and in four years the Turin club won three Italian Championships. In 1961 he was crowned European Footballer of the Year, and an international career which had looked extinct was revived when he was picked to play for Italy.

He travelled to Chile for the 1962 World Cup with his new compatriots, but even his skills were insufficient to make a lacklustre Italian side shine. The Azzurri drew 0-0 with West Germany and lost 2-0 to the hosts before beating Switzerland 3-0. Sivori failed to find the net and Italy were eliminated early.

Back in Turin, Sivori had one run-in too many with Juve's coach Heriberto Herrera, and the South American was off-loaded to Napoli. He enjoyed a late flowering of his career in the south, and he was widely regarded as a god by the football- obsessed Neapolitans. The worship of Sivori was unequalled in the city until the arrival of Diego Maradona, two decades later.

Sivori made his first division début for River Plate in 1954 and won two Argentine championships with the club. With Juventus he won League titles in 1958, 1960 and 1961 and the Italian Cup in 1959 and 1960. He ended his playing career in 1968 at Napoli, after scoring 12 goals in 63 games. He played 18 times for Argentina, scoring four goals, and nine times for Italy, for whom he scored nine goals.

He went home to Argentina to manage Rosario Central and River Plate before coaching the national team in the 1974 World Cup qualifiers. He quit before the finals in West Germany in a row with the Argentine football association. He also worked in television.

Sivori's virtuosity is not forgotten even though his retirement from the game took place nearly 40 years ago. In a poll run by Uefa's website to name the greatest-ever European players, Sivori came 89th on a list dominated by contemporary stars. His legend lived on long enough for more than 25,000 loyal supporters to vote for him.

John Charles, his Juve strike partner who died last year, judged Sivori one of the greatest players he ever played with. "With Sivori, it was the classic big man-little man partnership," he said. "Sivori had huge skill and it was a joy to play with a player as good as he was."

Sivori was reported to have been suffering from pancreatic cancer. He had been in hospital since September.

Alex Murphy



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