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Friday, 15 June, 2001, 20:45 GMT 21:45 UK
Charles the gentle giant
John Charles at Elland Road
Charles holds a place in the hearts of Leeds United
John Charles CBE is arguably the finest all-round footballer that Britain has ever produced, a skilful giant of a man comfortable at either centre-forward or centre-half.

He is still revered at Juventus, where Charles enjoyed his best years and is still fondly remembered as "Il Buono Gigante" - the Gentle Giant - who was never booked or sent off in his career.

It was his scoring exploits at the Stadio delle Alpi that won the hearts of the Juve fans, with Charles bagging 93 goals in 155 league appearances.

It's wonderful, but it came as a complete shock
John Charles

In his first season in Turin, Charles struck 29 times for the Bianconeri and led the club to the First Division championship while he was voted Italian Footballer of the Year.

Charles also figured in the top three in the European Player of the Year polls for 1958 and 1959.

Born in 1931 in Cwmdu, near Swansea, south Wales, Charles had joined Leeds United as an amateur by the time he was 15.

He had to wait two years until 1949 to make his debut, as a defender, and within a year was capped by Wales.

Turning out against Northern Ireland at 18 years and 71 days, he was then the youngest player to pull on the red shirt.

Charles' career really took off, however, when Leeds decided to use him as a striker.

John Charles in action for Juventus
Towering presence: John Charles enjoyed great success with Juventus

The 6 ft 2 in goal-scorer's gift helped return the Yorkshire club to the top flight, where he finished top scorer with 38 goals in Leeds' first season back.

Admiring glances were being cast from Italy and in 1957 Charles was sold to Juventus for a then record 65,000.

Following his magnificent debut season in Italy, Charles - as captain - led Wales to the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden. It is no coincidence that 1958 is the only time that Wales has qualified for the finals.

After five successful years in Turin, Charles and his family were feeling homesick and in August 1962 he returned to Elland Road for 53,000.

I've been finished a long time now. It's unbelievable. I've no idea why I've got it now
John Charles

However, he played just 11 games, scoring three goals, and in November departed once again for Italy, this time to Roma for 70,000.

Charles could never recapture his earlier success and he came back to Wales in 1963, joining Cardiff City where he played alongside his brother Mel, whowon 31 caps.

Charles retired from League football in 1966, although he had a brief spell as a player-manager with non-League Hereford United and Merthyr Tydfil.

"It's wonderful, but it came as a complete shock," said Charles.

"I mean, I've been finished a long time now. It's unbelievable. I've no idea why I've got it now."

Charles' recognition comes after two years in which he has battled against cancer.

"I'm all right now," he said. "I don't have to go to the hospital any more."

William John Charles

Born: 27 December 1931, Swansea

Wales record: 38 caps, 15 goals.

Clubs: Leeds United, Juventus (Championship 1958, 60, 61; Cup 1959, 60), Leeds United, Roma, Cardiff City.

See also:

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