Tribute to Pancho Varallo
By Juan Arango
There is a time to give tribute to our past and here we are not going to grieve the passing of a great man.
No, here we are going to celebrate a legacy that he left and helped build in a sport that was not given much attention to when Varallo was born back in 1910.
History is what made this game so important and Francisco Varallo (photo) was vital to the game of football.
Ironic to see that the “little game” that the “crazy English” brought into the port of Buenos Aires years ago would begin to take shape during his lifetime.
He was just the catalyst that really turned the game from a pastime to an infectious passion that is synomynous to the Argentine culture and its identity.
As pages to the history of the game were being added, his name began to be buried in the annuls of the sport. He faded away into the grays, blacks, and whites of pictures of old.
But when present and past cross paths, that is when we truly begin to appreciate where we’ve been, where we’ve gone, and where we’re heading towards.
In 1929, they would win the only title that they ever earned. It was the second to last season in which the Argentine first division was amateur. In 1931, the league would become professional and Varallo would make a very controversial move to Boca Juniors. Although he was a star at Gimnasia he would be treated like a pariah when he moves to Boca Juniors in 1931. In interviews he said that fans would see him in La Plata beat him up once just because he went to Boca.
“El Cañoncito”(The Little Cannon) was one of the big stars at Boca and reached legendary status with his goalscoring prowess. He got his nickname based on the powerful shot he had. It is crazy to realize that Varallo stared to play football at the competitive level at right back.
Varallo was the first true star of Boca Juniors and the first big time player to make an impact at Boca Juniors. More importantly he was able to see the game evolve from leather balls to synthetic projectiles that seem to have a a virtual mind of its own.
Varallo talked about earning 100 pesos for winning the 1929 first division title. The reward was spending vacation time in the city of Mar del Plata where “pocketed” 40 pesos in the end. He lived that, but also got to see the multimillion-dollar transactions and supersonic shoes that players nowadays wear.
Many connoisseurs say that he was the most dominant team of that era. Injuries cut his career short, but his career at Boca was one of the most devastating ones in history if you simply look at numbers.
Varallo was the first player that became public enemy number one over at River Plate. He was able to become that player that took that rivalry to the next level and eventually help that matchup become one of the most popular in the football world.
It began in his first appearance in the Superclásico when he would score from the penalty spot and would then fight with the goalkeeper. His fracas would lead to the game being stopped eventually. For River fans he was the original boogeyman. In his career he scored six goals in Superclásicos and was a nightmare to defend.
In 1994, FIFA awarded him the Order of Merit. This is the top distinction for any player. That is an honor given to players such as Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Müller, Dino Zoff, Bobby Robson, Pelé, Paolo Maldini, and Michelle Akers.
Fortunately, he was able to rise into the consciousness of a nation while he was still alive back in 2009 as Martín Palermo began closing on history at Boca Juniors.
The day Martín Palermo surpassed Roberto Cherro, Varallo’s name emerged and started to be on the lips of a country and a fanbase. This is when younger generations that had either vaguely heard of Pancho the Great or were born in the 21st century began to learn about this hero of Boca lore.
His legacy has been sealed as one of the greatest Argentine players to have ever played. He was a player that shaped the transition phase of Argentine football into professionalism in the late 20′s and early 30′s
What was so amazing about his numbers at Boca was the fact that he did it in nine seasons. He ended up playing in the very first World Cup held in Uruguay at the tender age of 20. Varallo was the second youngest player on the squad full of experienced players the likes of Racing star Fernando Paternoster, Huracán poacher Guillermo Stabile, and his future attacking duo partner at Boca Juniors Roberto Cherro. He still holds the record at Boca for most braces (30), hat-tricks (13) and four-goal matches (three). His goal average (0.86/ match) was far superior than Palermo’s (0.6)
To the day he died, he always remembered a referred to the 1930 final as a match where “Argentina lacked courage”. For him it was the one thing in his life that he wanted to do over. ”I even told Enzo (Francescoli) that when he visited my house. I didn’t mean it in a bad way, just that sometimes… I regret saying that,” said Varallo in an interview back in 1997.
“They hit us hard and we got scared. Evaristo got scared. Monti was scared. We lacked courage.”
“How I cried that day. Even now when I look back it still makes me angry.” –Pancho Varallo on the 1930 World Cup final against Uruguay.
Varallo that he wanted to die as the all-time leading scorer at Boca, but did not have that wish granted. What was most ironic was the fact that a former Gimnasia man was surpassed by a former Estudiantes man at Boca Juniors for the all-time leading scoring record.
He walked away from the game after injuries broke his body down considerably. Varallo even mentioned in interviews that he should not have played in the final of the 1930 World Cup as he was injured. ”My knee was messed up and I played because I was young and I was crazy,” he said.
Pancho would get his wish of winning a title with the Albiceleste, but would not defeat the Uruguayans in 1937. Argentina hosted the South American championship and would end up winning the six-team tournament in extra time against Brazil in a tiebreaker match held at the Estadio Antonio Vespuci Liberti (known today as El Monumental).
Coaching and beyond
After he retired he would become part of Boca’s reserve coaching staff. In 1957 he would return to La Plata to coach his beloved Gimnasia. The team would not have a great deal of success and would walk away definitely from the sport.
This past February, the Argentine papers did an extensive interview as he celebrated his 100th birthday.
- First Division title (1929)*
- First division title (1931, 1934, 1935)
- South American Championship (1937)
- World Cup runner-up (1930)
* Amateur title