For propaganda purposes and in an obvious exercise of optimism, the organizers dubbed it the “match of the century” and more than one hundred thousand people came to the London temple to witness the tribute that English football paid to itself. But the party was about to be spoiled by an Italian with the face of a mischievous child who drove the English crazy.
While the rest of the footballers allowed themselves to be done, following the unwritten rule about this kind of “tribute” and, in part, as thanks to the treatment that the hosts had given them those days in London, Boniperti ran over the English and partly aroused the pride of his companions that afternoon. The Juventus player scored two goals and intervened in both Kubala scored. The European team won 3-4 until in the discount the Welsh referee of the match – also aware of the role he played in that operetta – invented a penalty so that England scored the tie and they did not leave their own tribute with the tarnished honor . Wembley did not know whether to honor his football or that cheeky blond who had left his internationals with their tongues out.
This was Boniperti. As good as it is irreducible. In 1953, when that match was played at Wembley, Giampiero was already the undisputed star of Juventus who he arrived at when he was only 16 years old from Barengo, the team from the Piedmont city where he was born. But he lived almost alone in that world. In the 1950s, Italian football experienced one of the greatest crises in its history, partly motivated by the disappearance in 1949 of the splendid Torino in the Tragedy of Superga when the team was returning from playing a game in Lisbon. The biggest team in the country went there and also the Italian team, whose starting team regularly made up ten players from that line-up: Gabetto, Menti, Loik, Ossola, Grezar, Maroso, Castigliano, Rigamonti, Ballarin, Mazzola and Bacigalupo.
Boniperti was the eleventh man, the icing on that almost perfect cake that was the scarlet machine. He was 21 years old when the accident occurred, but he had already established himself in the elite and reached the title of top scorer in the Italian League after beating the great Valentino Mazzola. But everything faded to black in Italian football. The sadness was infected by speed and the championship was impoverished. Boniperti suffered it more than anyone because he wanted to achieve glory with Juventus, but at the same time he felt the desire to return to the Italian team the happiness of winning again after years marked by misfortune and war. He could not do it alone, not without Mazzola, without Bacigalupo, without Rigamonti … In 1950 he went to the World Cup in Brazil – by boat because the memory of the Superga Tragedy was very close and the plane was discarded – through which Italy passed without pain no glory; four years later the “nazionale” was a disaster in Switzerland and Sweden in 1958 did not even qualify. Boniperti had been born to play with those geniuses, but fate had taken him away. That wound accompanied him his entire life.
Meanwhile, at Juventus things worked on a regular basis. He had won a couple of league titles in the early 1950s taking advantage of Torino’s absence, but the team was not a party either. It was Boniperti and little else. The rivals only had to worry about stopping him. In those years of tight markings, the defenders tried to provoke him by calling him “Marisa” for his unmistakable blonde curls, a trick that must be attributed to the interista Benito Lorenzi, famous for dominating everything that was outside the regulation and whose main objective was to remove from riot to the rival on duty.
But late in the decade there was a major change in Boniperti’s career. Gianni Brera, the country’s most famous journalist and a personal friend of the footballer, wrote an article in which, in addition to apologizing for his daring, he recommended that due to his infinite quality he delay his position to set up the game and that his responsibility not it was only to score goals, something he did with obvious ease, and in this way his importance as a footballer would surely grow. The journalist also baptized that position as that of the center-camper (the first time someone used that term publicly). To Boniperti that idea did not seem far-fetched. In addition, in the summer of 1957 Juventus signed the Welsh giant John Charles and the Argentine Sívori. Together they will form what became known as the “Magic Trio”. Boniperti spent the last years of his career feeding the pair of forwards. It was the first great Juventus in history. They won three Leagues and two Cups to end a few years of insulting dominance by the two Milan teams that shared the titles as if it were a private party in which no one had the right to enter.
In 1961 the adventures of the Magic Trio ended because Boniperti decided that with 33 years it was time to hang up his boots and dedicate himself to other things. His last game was played against Inter Milan that that afternoon, due to a conflict with the Federation, he lined up his youth team. The Turinese won 9-1. That day a young man named Sandro Mazzola, Valentino’s son, made his Inter debut. On the day of his farewell, Boniperti, seeing that boy, relived the personal drama that for him meant not having been able to share more experience with that fabulous Torino that Mazzola Sr. captained. At the end of the game he approached him, shook his hand excitedly and only said: “Make yourself worthy of the surname you carry.” He had not told anyone that it would be his last afternoon. He did not like the tributes that he considered living burials. He went in search of the utility man and when he handed him the boots with which he had played and commented:
“Take them Crova, I’m done here”
Boniperti retired as the soccer player who had scored the most goals in the history of Juventus and who wore his shirt the most times, records that lasted more than fifty years until they were beaten by Alessandro Del Piero. Apart from the black and white, he only once wore the shirt of another club: that of Torino in the tribute that was organized after the accident with the aim of raising funds for the families of the deceased.
After leaving the field, the Agnelli family, owners of the club, made a hole for him in the board of directors before promoting him to the presidency in 1971. There another Boniperti emerged. As smart as the field. At the head of the club he imposed classic rules, those of football that he had sucked; and it opened the door to important advances that changed the entity and placed it at the top of the continent. Boniperti became famous for recommending soccer players to marry and have children very early; sent someone to the salon before signing a contract; he renewed the entire squad in one morning and also had the habit of leaving the stadium when they played in Turin at halftime because he couldn’t bear the tension sitting in the box.
But clinging to his wise hand, Juventus changed the Italian landscape. He was president for nineteen years in which the club added nine Leagues, two Cups, a European Cup, an Intercontinenal, a Recopa and a UEFA Cup to its showcases. After that time he had a brief period of three years as manager and in 2006 the Agnelli family, always grateful to him, named him “honorary president”. From that moment Giampiero Boniperti became the “presidentissimo” for the Juventus world. Two days ago his heart, which he claimed had black and white stripes, stopped.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.