As Italy prepares for their third and final group match against Wales, Calciomio invites you to come back to the story of a Welsh player who left his mark on Italian football. This is John Charles, true legend of Juventus who will have left an indelible mark in the history of the Turin club. A look back at the career of the British striker in Dante’s country.
Arrival in Italy with great fanfare
In the 1956/1957 season, a famous Welsh striker named John Charles finished top scorer in the English league with thirty-eight goals with his club Leeds. A resounding achievement because at that time Leeds was not doing its best economically and administratively. It must be said that despite the sporting rise in D1 the previous season, Leeds suffered a fire in its stadium which did not help the club’s business. The exploits of John Charles thus allow the club from the North of England to finish in eighth place in the standings.
The Welsh striker is thus perceived as a fast player, technical with a certain skill but also having an exceptional vision of the game. After his fantastic season at Leeds, John Charles is interested in the great European teams. Among them, Juventus, which has now been seeking for several seasons to return to success. The president of the Turin club wins the case by spending nearly 65,000 pounds to attract the services of the Welsh engineers. The transfer caused a stir at the time as John Charles was only the second British player in history to cross the Channel to play on the continent after John Fox Watson who had left Fulham for the prestigious Real Madrid.
The Welsh international has a lot of pressure on his shoulders because the sum of 65,000 pounds spent by President Agnelli is a record in 1957 for British football. John Charles has no room for error and will thus prove from his beginnings the extent of his talent. For his first match with Juventus, on October 13, 1957 against Hellas Verona, the Welshman scored the victorious 3-2 goal thus entering directly into the esteem of the tifoseria juventina.
John Charles, symbol of the rebirth of Bianconeri
It must be said that with the arrival of John Charles in 1957 near Turin, Juventus has not been doing at its best for several seasons. In reality the Bianconeri are preceded by AC Milan and Inter at the national level. In Europe, the Old Lady hardly exists compared to the two Milanese clubs. Juventus then no longer won the Scudetto since 1952. Umberto Agnelli has counted on the Welsh rookie to make Juventus a giant in transalpine football.
The bet started in the 1957/1958 season since John Charles, thanks to his class, won the Scudetto at Juventus in his first season at the club. The Welsh international is associated with two magical attacking players who are Boniperti and Sivori. The attacking trio is nicknamed » Trio Magico » by the Italian press. This title of Italian champion allows the club to participate for the first time in the C1. The following season Charles and his teammates glean the Italian Cup before winning the double Scudetto / Coppa in 1960. John Charles distinguished himself by scoring 23 goals in Serie A. The Welsh international won his third Italian league title in 1961, this time scoring 16 goals.
These national successes allow Juventus as well as Charles to shine on the continental scene. As we said the scudetti won qualify the Bianconeri several times for the Champions Cup. During the « John Charles period », the Old Lady succeeded in making her first European epic by reaching the quarter-finals of the C1. Charles’s teammates end up being eliminated in a support match by Real Madrid at the Parc des Princes after having held them in check over the two meetings. Charles’s Juventus notably become the first European team to beat Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The myth of the « Good Giant »
Beyond his sporting exploits and his talent, John Charles also marked the followers of Italian and European football with his class and elegance. On October 13, 1957, as Juventus faced Torino for a derby della Mole, the British virtuoso will achieve a remarkable gesture of fair play.
Getting ready to score a goal, Charles notices that he has involuntarily knocked out an opposing defender. The former Leeds player thus decides not to put the ball in the net but to take it out in touch so that the Torino defender can receive treatment. The gesture is hailed across the peninsula. The Italian press then decides to give him the nickname of Gigante Buono (Giant Good) referring to its large size as well as its elegance.
A technical and moral class that allowed him to be nominated for the FranceFootball Golden Ball each year during his time at Juventus. His departure from Italy in 1962 was thus a real heartbreak for those who had perfectly acclimatized to the culture of the country.