Omar Enrique Sivori, who succumbed to a pancreatic tumour on 17 February 2005, was the only Argentine player whose impact rivalled that of Diego Maradona - even in Naples. This luminary of Argentinian and Italian football in the 50s and 60s won the 1961 European Player of the Year award. Before passing away at the age of 69, Sivori made a final tribute to his old club by renaming his property in San Nicolas, 250 Km from Buenos Aires, "Juventus".
Sivori, "the king of the oriundi," had it all: talent, a sense of theatre, and attitude. Perhaps his greatest admirer was Umberto Agnelli, the Fiat and Juventus President, who welcomed him to Turin in 1957 with the legendary words: "I've been waiting for you for 2 years." "And I've been dreaming of playing for Juve for five years," was Sivori's quickfire retort. The two men subsequently maintained a special relationship, and although Sivori never reached the stage of feeling able to address the Avvocato with familiar "tu" form, his closeness with the Agnelli family was only subsequently enjoyed by France's Michel Platini.
One thing is for sure: the controversial Argentinian and later Italian international never left anyone feeling indifferent. When first paraded before the Juve fans, for example, Sivori proceeded to do four laps of the stadium juggling a ball. Such was his natural talent, he never once let it fall to the ground, and became an instant idol with the fans.
A sackful of honours
Socks perennially round his ankles, Sivori formed, together with Angelillo and Maschio, the legendary trio of "angels with dirty faces". He was a real performer who liked to take things to extremes, often taunting defenders who dared to get too close to their man. Rather than contenting himself with beating them, he would them take perverse pleasure in letting them catch him up again, before skipping away with an impudent feint.
Despite frequently finishing matches with his legs black and blue, Sivori always gave as good as he got, clocking up no fewer than 33 matchday suspensions during his career with Juventus from 1957 to 65 and Napoli from 1965 to 69.
Initially in an incredible partnership with "gentle giant" John Charles, then later alone, he led his teammates to three scudetti (1958, 60, 61) and three Italian Cups (1959, 60 and 65). He finished leading scorer in Serie A in 1960 (27 goals) and was named European Player of the Year the following year. Of his 134 goals in 215 games, the one scored in 1961 against Real Madrid at their Bernabeu fortress has entered into football folklore.
His failure to see eye-to-eye with Juve coach Heriberto Herrera eventually hastened his departure for Naples. "During a Juventus-Mantua match, I fractured two of his ribs in an accidental collision," recalls goalkeeping legend Dino Zoff. "He had to be helped off the pitch by Herrera. Some time later, he came to see me and said: "I forgive you for the collision, no problem, but I'll never forget that I had to go off the pitch in Herrera's arms because of you."
"He was the Maradona of the 60s"
Capped 18 times by Argentina, Sivori won the Copa America in 1957 in Lima, before going on to represent the Squadra Azzurra (9 caps) at the 1962 FIFA World Cup Chile™.
Even in infirmity, Sivori remained in close contact with Italy and Juventus, so much so that the news of his death reached Italy before being officially announced a few hours later in Buenos Aires.
"We have lost an icon and a friend," lamented Juve chief executive Luciano Moggi. "I feel a great deal of pain, because he was like an elder brother to me," added the club's vice-president Roberto Bettega.
"He was the Maradona of the 60s," said former Napoli player, Antonio Iuliano. "We played together for four years until the end of 1969 and he taught me a great deal."
"With the loss of Omar Sivori, we have lost a footballing artist, a genius who communicated his passion to thousands of tifosi. He will remain in our memories as truly one of a kind, running rings round opponents with his socks round his ankles, putting entertainment first, even above the result," was the tribute paid to him by Italian Football Federation President Franco Carraro.