Last Saturday was the anniversary of an historic debut in Argentina; on the 4th April 1954, Omar Sívori made his first appearance, at the age of 18, for River Plate against Lanús. Replacing River’s all-time highest goalscorer, Ángel Labruna, Sívori scored River’s fifth goal in a 5-2 win – at least, that’s the way most potted biographies put it. FIFA didn’t allow substitutions until 1958, and competing claims say that Sívori started the match. What’s better recorded is that eight rounds later, in La Bombonera, River beat Boca Juniors 1-0 and the performances of Sívori and fellow youngster Norberto Menéndez enchanted the press.
Sívori played a vital part in River’s three consecutive championships between 1955 and 1957 (though he wouldn’t be there long enough to be awarded a medal for the 1957 title), before moving to Juventus for ten million pesos – at a time when the Argentine peso was actually worth something. The fee – equivalent then to £91,000, which sounds like nothing today but in 1957 made him the most expensive footballer ever – was sufficient to allow River to finish the construction of the Estadio Monumental, and the stand that was built with the money still carries Sívori’s name to this day.
At Juve, Sívori enjoyed the most famous successes of his career; three Scudetti (1958, 1960 and 1961) as well as two Coppas Italia (1959 and 1960) were garnished with the 1961 Ballon D’Or, which he’d become eligible for after obtaining dual Argentine-Italian nationality. In 1965 he moved to Napoli for the final four seasons of his career, and helped them to their then highest ever finish in Serie A, a second place which wouldn’t bettered until another Argentine arrived from Barcelona in the 1980s. In 1968, a knee injury forced his retirement.
Together with Antonio Angelillo and Humberto Maschio, he formed part of the strikeforce known as the ‘Carasucias’, or ‘Angels with Dirty Faces’ (also known as the ‘Trio of Death’) in the Argentine national team which won the 1957 Copa América. All three went on to play for Italy – in Sívori’s case, as part of the 1962 World Cup squad.
After retiring from playing, Sívori returned to Argentina where he managed Rosario Central, River, Estudiantes de La Plata, Racing and Vélez Sarsfield, as well as the Argentine national team, where he wrote a small chapter of Argentine football history as the manager at the time of the ‘Ghost Team’, a reserve national side who spent a month training at high altitude ahead of a World Cup qualifier away to Bolivia, a match they won.
In total, Sívori scored 187 goals in 364 games at club level, and 17 goals in 27 internationals – 9 in 19 for Argentina, and 8 in 9 for Italy. He died at the age of 69 in 2005, in San Nicolás de los Arroyos, the same town in the north of Buenos Aires Province where he was born.