Not many footballers can boast having a unique stat to their names. In modern football, it is hard to achieve something that has not already been accomplished. Luis Monti however, was a footballer who made sure his name would not be forgotten – he brought a new style of playing to the game and managed to do what will most probably never be repeated – he played in two consecutive World Cup finals with two different national teams.
Around 62% of today’s total population in Argentina is of Italian descent. Italians started immigrating across the ocean in large groups in the 1860s – during the final years of the Risorgimento – when many families lost their land. Italian immigration continued until the 1950s, resulting in many Argentine athletes having Italian descent – Manu Ginobili, Lionel Messi, Javier Mascherano. One of the families who moved to Argentina at the start of the immigration era was the Luis Monti’s family.
Luis Monti started his career in Argetine club Huracan where he won the national championship in 1921. He joined Boca Juniors and, without having played a single match, he left for San Lorenzo. He was a San Lorenzo player for eight years, during which he won three Argentine championships. He debuted for the Argentina national squad in 1924. With Argentina he won the 1927 South American Championship and a silver Olympic medal in 1928. In 1930 he was a part of the Argentinian squad that played in the World Cup in Montevideo, Uruguay. The team managed to go as far as the final, with Monti scoring two goals and reportedly carrying an injury. They lost 4:2 in the final to hosts Uruguay.
In the 1930s in Italy, fascism was at the helm. Mussolini used football as an important part of his propaganda program and wanted to strengthen Italian nationalistic feeling through football and the national team’s success.
You can find out more details about fascism’s influence on the game by watching the BBC documentary “Fascism and football”:
All foreign players were banned from Italy’s national football league at the time (a rule that was in force until 1980). The only way a foreigner could play was if he was an ‘Oriundo’ – a foreigner who was of Italian descent and who could prove it.
In 1931, thirty-year-old Luis Monti, having proved that he was indeed an Oriundo, moved to Italy and played for Juventus. He brought success to his new team, having been a part of the squad that won four consecutive Serie A titles from 1932 to 1935. He spent nine years at Juventus, having made 225 appearances for the club.
Italian national team coach Vittorio Pozzo, who was believed not to have been a fascist himself, but who worked with the fascists in the sporting world for political reasons, opted to call Monti up within a year of his arrival. He made a debut for his second national team alongside two more ‘Oriundi’ – Enrique Guaita and Raimundo Orsi. Pozzo, having been criticized for the decision, said that “if they could die for Italy, they could play for Italy”.
In 1934, Monti played for Italy who were the hosts of the World Cup. The team made it to the final and triumphed over Czechoslovakia 4:0.
Monti’s style of play was unique at the time. Football was limited to light-hearted contact and mostly good-natured relationships between opponents – there were no Roy Keanes in the world of football then. Although his technique was impressive, Monti wasn’t afraid to go in with a hard tackle. He was loved for his persistence in every match.
Along with the other Oriundi, Monti brought a certain feistiness to the game. He was well known for always criticizing referee decisions – something that has remained a legacy in Italian football and that has allowed the likes of Gennaro Gattuso to be born into the game. The Argentine-Italian was an attacking minded center back who would slot into the defensive midfielder role, using his ability to be the bridge between the defense and the forwards. Pozzo needed him for developing his formation – Il Metodo – which relied on defenders starting quick counter-attacks and handing the ball over to the talented forward Giuseppe Meazza (the name rings a bell, doesn’t it?).
Before World War I, almost every team used the 2-3-5 pyramid formation. Two further formations were then derived from the pyramid – Herbert Chapman’s 3-2-2-3 (the WM) and Pozzo’s Metodo. It was a 2-3-2-3 formation (often called a WW, because of its shape), consisting of two full-backs, two half-backs, two inside forwards, two wingers, a forward and a defensive midfielder who ensured superiority in numbers when defending, and pace and effectiveness when counter-attacking. Monti’s position was in between the defenders and the inside forwards, with his main task being to ensure the team’s defense was never exposed. Many argue that today’s 4-3-3 formation is a modern adaptation of the Metodo.
Luis Monti was also part of the famous football match branded “The Battle of Highbury”. In November 1934, Italy and England played a match at Arsenal’s Highbury stadium in London. It was Italy’s first match after the World Cup, and many considered the match to be the “real cup final” – England was one of the strongest teams at the time, but they did not participate in the World Cup because the FA had left FIFA in 1928.
In the second minute of the match, Monti had his foot broken by Ted Drake’s brutal challenge and Italy had to play the remainder of the match with ten men – nobody had thought of substitutions just yet. Monti stayed on the pitch for 15 more minutes, but his injury prevented him from performing in the way he needed to and Italy were three goals down by the 12th minute. Meazza scored two goals in the second half, but the scoreline stayed 3:2 for England. Having been handicapped by a man down for the whole match, the Italians did not accept England’s win and celebrated their players as “the Lions of Highbury”. The match itself was extremely violent – the FA even considered backing out of internationals matches completely.