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Last Updated: Monday, 21 February, 2005, 08:04 GMT
Argentina mourns lost son Sivori
By Tim Vickery

Enrique Omar Sivori, one of the all-time greats of Argentine football, died last week.

Omar Sivori in action
Legend Sivori in a rare outing for his country of birth
He is being mourned and remembered both in Argentina and Italy - the two countries where he starred as a player.

A look at his career, and a comparison with nowadays, sheds some light on the shifting balance of power between Europe and South America.

Sivori, in some ways a footballing prototype of Diego Maradona, came to international promimence in the 1957 South American Championship in Peru.

Argentina strolled to the title and Sivori and the rest of the forward line were dubbed 'the angels with dirty faces' - the nickname paying tribute both to their youth and to their devilish ability on the ball.

But Sivori had no more chances to wear his halo in the service of his country.

His Argentina career ended almost as soon as it began. Juventus swooped and he spent the rest of his footballing life in Italy.

At the time, Argentina did not select players who were based abroad - a custom only broken over 20 years later when Mario Kempes came back from Valencia for the 1978 World Cup.

Not until the mid-80s, when Maradona and Zico moved abroad, did the South American nations make a point of bringing back their European-based players.

But those were different times and once he sat on the trans-Atlantic jet taking him to Turin, Sivori the player was entirely lost to Argentine football.

He even ended up wearing the blue shirt of Italy, who he represented in the 1962 World Cup.

The big South American clubs sell and sell but the more they sell the deeper in debt they seem to be
This clearly would not be the case today.

Nowadays both Brazil and Argentina's sides are often entirely made up of players who make their living across the Atlantic.

The national teams can now benefit from the experience that these players pick up in European club football.

And the process of globalisation has helped level the playing field among the national teams of the world.

But it is a very different story at club level.

The loss of Sivori to Juventus was a serious setback for his club, River Plate.

The Buenos Aires giants had won the Argentine title in 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956 and 1957.

Sivori was poised to lead them to further triumphs but his sale cut the heart out of the team and River had to wait an extraordinary 18 years before winning their next title in 1975.

But if the team lost out, the club gained.

River's stadium was colloquially known as 'the horseshoe' - the stands covered three sides of the ground, leaving one side open.

With the proceeds from the sale of Sivori, River were able to close up their ground by adding another stand.

This, too, is a development that belongs to another age.

These days the big South American clubs sell and sell but the more they sell, the deeper in debt they seem to be.

Nowadays, South America's clubs sell not to build but to survive and their desperation clearly brings the price down.

The Sivori deal was a taste of things to come.

In the 1940s and early 1950s Europe was at war or recovering, while South America was booming.

Before Sivori signed for Juventus the South Americans in Europe were mainly veterans - even Alfredo di Stefano was 27 when he joined Real Madrid.

But by 1957 the economic gap was starting to open up.

By signing Sivori, European football was making it clear that South America's young stars were now fair game - and that is the way that it has been ever since.





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