Lifting trophies is the ultimate goal for every ambitious soccer player and the biggest motivation for a squad that aims at success and glory. Which player wouldn’t like to play for the winning team? José Mourinho once wisely said that ”individuals do not win trophies, but teams do”. He was absolutely right.
Zico, Johan Cruyff never won the World Cup, Ronaldo Lima and Ibrahimovic never won the Champions League. But, who can doubt their skills and abilities? So, not surprisingly when the conversation comes to the most decorated players of all time, it will also revolve around players who are not considered as all-time greats. It is widely known that Brazilian full-back Dani Alves is the most decorated player in history with 42 trophies. But, how true is that? Just until a few years ago, his countryman Maxwell was on the top of the list with 37. Not necessarily a starter on the pitch but somehow Maxwell would always play for a trophy-winning team either it was Inter, Barcelona, Ajax or PSG.
If we leave the parameter of the strength of a league or tournament out, then the most decorated player in history took the field many, many years ago. Alfredo Angel Romano was born 2 August 1893 in Uruguay and started his senor career at Nacional Montevideo -the club he supported as a boy- in 1910, aged 17. He would go on and play for Nacional for 20 seasons until the end of his career in 1930. It was the year of the first ever FIFA World Cup.
An Olympic gold medal winner
Angel Romano was an inside-forward or second striker who played alongside legends of the Uruguayan football like José Piendibene, José Leandro Andrade, Hector Scarone and Pedro Petrone. He was considered one of the best players of the Uruguay national team, but he never attained the mythical status of Piendibene, Andrade and Scarone. Nevertheless, he won more trophies than them, lifting 50 trophies during his lifetime as a player, including 6 Copa Americas (!) and earning 1 Olympic golden medal, in 1924. And that tournament (as well as the 1928 edition) was recognized by FIFA as a ”World Cup”. Romano also scored in that 1924 Olympic final against Switzerland who featured legendary forward Max “Xam” Abegglen. For the record, Swiss club Neuchatel ”Xamax” was named after him.
At least a title won for 16 years in a row
Romano won the first of his 50 titles, the Uruguayan league, in 1911, at the age of 18. But, he also lost his first final in that year. From 1911 and on he would win at least one title every year until 1927. And that was when he retired from the national team. Winning a cup or a league title for 16 consecutive years is something that not many players have achieved. Possibly none.
Romano played for the ”celeste” from 1911 until 1927 scoring 28 goals in 70 games, being instrumental in Uruguay’s international success. But José Lago Millán, coach of Uruguay in 1927 felt that the time for Romano to call it a day had come at the age of 34. Unfortunately, that meant that Romano did not have the chance to represent his county in the 1928 Olympics, also won by Uruguay. But most importantly he missed out on the 1930 World Cup which was hosted in Montevideo. His former teammates José Nasazzi (as captain), José Leandro Andrade, Hector Castro, Pedro Cea and Hector Scarone would of course go on and lift the inaugural World Cup beating Argentina in the 1930 final.
He lost just 9 finals out of 44!
But undoubtedly Romano had already won enough: 9 Uruguayan league titles, 12 domestic cups, 8 international club cups, and 21 international cups with Uruguay. In total he played in 44 finals for club and country, winning 35, losing just 9. And he scored in most of them. Pretty good ratio and stats, right? On national team level, he also won 5 Copa Lipton, 4 Copa Newton and 9 Copa Premier Honor. Those cups were contested annually between Uruguay and Argentina which had developed a fierce rivalry.
He was also part of a Nacional Montevideo squad that won 3 Copa Aldao (1916, 1919, 1920), an international cup between the champions of Uruguay and Argentina. Romano also won the Tie Cup twice (1913, 1915) and the Copa de Honor Cousenier 3 times (1915, 1916, 1917). These competitions were a mixture of an equivalent UEFA Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup, but only for teams from the aforementioned two countries.
Dominance in Copa America
Romano played in 9 Copa Americas winning 6 of them (1916, 1917, 1920, 1923, 1924, 1926). He faced the greatest South American players of the time such as the Argentinian Alberto Marcovecchio, prolific Brazilian striker Arthur Friedenreich dubbed as the ”King of soccer”, Paraguayan Manuel Fleitas and Chilean David Arellano. The Uruguayan forward was also the top scorer in the 1917 and 1920 Copa America editions. He missed out on the award also twice: in 1921 and 1924. And back then, the Copa America winner was decided through a final round and not a final match.
Unfortunately, there are no official top-scorer stats for the Uruguay league before 1932, the year that it turned professional. Therefore, it is sensible to assume that he must have won that award too.
Overall, Romano helped Nacional Montevideo (Luis Suarez and Alvaro Recoba’s former club) become the most successful club in the amateur era of the Uruguayan football, playing 388 matches and scoring 164 goals for them. He retired at 37 and died three weeks after his 79th birthday on 22 August 1972, in Montevideo.
Angel Romano’s career trophies in numbers:
9 league titles
12 domestic cups
3 Copa Aldao, 2 Tie Cups, 3 Copa de Cousenier (all international cups)
National team honors
6 Copa America
1 Olympic tournament
5 Copa Lipton
4 Copa Newton
9 Copa Premier