World Cup Tales: Monti Got a Raw Deal (1934)

1934

Italy, 1934

The 1934 tournament introduced the qualification process, and the 32 entrants were whittled down to a final 16. Given that this was the first time a qualifying tournament was held, its no surprise there were a few hiccups along the way – mainly the North American sides being forced to complete their campaign in Europe on the eve of the tournament to ensure the winners were able to compete at the finals. In the event, the United States beat Mexico 4-2 in Rome on the 24th May to ensure their place at the World Cup, while Mexico, having travelled all the way to Europe for one match, then had to turn around and head back across the Atlantic. They might have afforded themselves a wry smile when discovering that the US were right behind them just three days later.

Despite being hosts, Italy were also required to qualify, though a poor Greece side was scant opposition, and the holders Uruguay declined to enter in protest at the European boycott four years earlier. A largely European line-up was joined by Argentina, Brazil and the United States, and Egypt became the first African team to participate in the tournament. This time around the format of the competition was altered to become a straight knockout, meaning eight sides would head home after playing just one game. Four of those eight sides happened to be the non-Europeans, with Italy’s 7-1 victory over the United States the standout result of the last 16.Brazil’s conquerors Spain were next to fall to the hosts in the Quarter Finals, losing 1-0 in a replay, while victories for Austria, Germany and Czechoslovakia gave the semi-finals a very central European flavor. Germany, not yet the force in World football they would become, were ousted in the semi-finals by the Czechs, and Enrique Guiata’s early goal was enough to see Italy past the excellent Austria. So, for the second tournament running, the host side had made the final and, for one player in particular, it was a special occasion.

Luis Monti had a reputation as a fearsome, hard-tacking midfield general, and had spent the first nine years of his career with three of Argentina’s biggest clubs, most notably San Lorenzo. His leadership and presence in the centre of the park led to Doble Ancho (double-wide, his nickname) being called up for the 1930 tournament for Argentina, and subsequently playing in the World Cup final. After the tournament he was snapped up by Juventus in Italy, instructed by Benito Mussolini, and once it emerged he had Italian ancestors, the dictator encouraged Monti to accept Italian citizenship and represent the national team. When asked about his use of Monti and other foreigners in the 1934 squad, Italy manager Vitorio Pozzo was quick to defend the policy, explaining that “if they can die for Italy, they can also play for Italy”. Though for Pozzi, Monti was more than an extra body for his squad. Having taken a great deal of influence from the English game during his time living in the UK, Pozzo had been a long-time admirer of Manchester United’s centre-half Charlie Roberts – a tough tackling back who could also work as a playmaker. In Monti, Pozzo saw Italy’s answer to Roberts, and instructed the adopted Italian to combine his love of a crunching tackle with his obvious creativity, stepping out of defence to partake in his team’s attacks too. Though the position wouldn’t be coined for another twenty years or so, Monti was the first in a long line if Italy’s ‘Liberos’, combining business at the back with a party up front.

Thus the oriundi was born. Oriundi (from the Latin oriri, meaning ‘be born’) is the name given to immigrants of Italian descent and, after mass migration in the late 19th century, Italian communities began to appear in Brazil, Argentina, the United States and the UK. The necessity for mass migration was a matter of shame for Mussolini, since his country was unable to provide for its citizens, but he was keen to encourage people of Italian descent to return to Italy under his rule, which had a knock-on effect on the Italian national team. Quickly, the pool of players to choose from expanded massively, and Monti was joined in the squad for the 1934 World Cup by Guiata, Attilio DeMaria and the fantastic Raimundo Orsi – all born in Argentina and chosen to represent the Azzurri. Latterly, Mauro Camronesi continued the tradition in 2006 as Marcelo Lippi made him part of Italy’s World Cup winning squad in Germany.

Come the final, Monti was named in Italy’s starting line-up and given the stricter rules around international representation in the modern game, it’s likely he’ll remain the only player to represent two different countries in a World Cup final. There was some disagreement from the Italian public with the organisers choice of venue for the final, with Turin and Milan in the north of the country both considered bigger ‘football cities’ than the capital Rome, and given that tickets for the final failed to sell-out (gate-receipts were higher in the semi-final, held at the smaller San Siro stadium) perhaps they had a point. Alongside Monti, fellow Argentinians Orsi and Guaita were also named in Italy’s line-up, but a 71st minute strike from Slavia Prague striker Antonin Puč looked like spoiling the party for the host nation. Fortunately for the gathered partisan crowd, who had spent much of the game chanting ‘Duce! Duce!’ in deference to their present leader,  Orsi equalised nine minutes before the end to take the final into extra-time, and the tournament was decided by Angelo Schiavio’s 95th minute winner. Il Duce himself presented the Jules Rimet trophy to the winners, along with a second trophy commissioned by the leader himself. The ‘Coppa Del Duce’, an ostentatious cup standing fully six times as high as the World Cup itself, had been promised to whoever won the tournament “as long as it is Italy!”, according to Mussolini.

1934 was a hugely morale boosting victory for Italy as a country, which further enhanced the popularity of their dictator. Monti went on to represent his adopted country eighteen times, and enjoyed nine years in Turin with Juventus before becoming a manager. Though his coaching ability failed to leave an indelible mark on the Italian game, his unique World Cup record is unlikely to ever be beaten.

You can read more about Luis Monti, the Oriundi, and Italy’s first World Cup win in John Foot’s comprehensive ‘Calcio: A History of Italian Football’

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