Claudio Marangoni – right man, wrong time

I have a lovely black and white picture taken on the banks of the River Thames. It shows Tottenham’s 1978 Argentinian World Cup stars Ricardo Villa and Ossie Ardiles. The players are kitted out in their strips and in the background Tower Bridge adds a touch of London class to the image.  The reason I have the picture, however, is because Villa and Ardiles are joined by two other lesser known players from Argentina – Alex Sabella of Leeds United, and Claudio Marangoni … of Sunderland.

The 1978 World Cup in Argentina was infused with Latin flair (plus some admirable Dutch magic) and the likes of Kempes, Ardiles and Villa wowed the footballing public the world over. Amid a frenzy of shredded paper the Argentinian footballers caught the eye with their incisive cultured skills. But this was football and whilst the majority of us simply purred over the Argentinian style, others anticipated the riches that transferring these talents could bring.  So when the dust settled on the Argentina v Holland final the machinations behind the scenes whirled into over-drive.

Spurs, as befitted their glamorous London ambitions, had been quick off the mark and in no time they were parading Argentina’s Ricardo Villa and Osvaldo Ardiles to the World Press in front of an eerily empty White Hart Lane. A few weeks later the Argentinian duo added thousands to the gate as Spurs opened their season with a draw at Nottingham Forest (where Villa scored) but in September they travelled to Liverpool and went down 0-7.  Maybe this Argentinian lark wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

However, it was still astounding to pick up the newspaper on a cold December 1979 morning to find that Sunderland had signed Claudio Marangoni from San Lorenzo of Argentina for a whopping £320,000. Ken Knighton had broken the Sunderland transfer record and taken the Rokerites to the equivalent of football’s top table.

If Knighton had shown admirable ambition then Marangoni showed remarkable commitment to become a Sunderland player. The club were in the Second Division and had lost 2-1 at Orient in the days before Claudio signed up. He was at his peak – 25 years old –and gave up the chance to play for Argentina (or so it seemed) by taking Italian citizenship in a bid to ensure he could get a work permit for playing in England.

Claudio Marangoni

Claudio Marangoni

His introduction was eagerly anticipated but settling in was a real challenge. He had the only goal of the game when Sunderland won 1-0 at Fulham in late December but during  the January 1980 Tyne-Wear derby at St James’s he wandered like a lost soul around a bone-hard Newcastle pitch as Sunderland went down 3-1. The Tyneside public had been brought up on stories of their own South American imports — in the early 1950s the Chilean Robledo brothers did their stuff for the Magpies — and were probably as keen as their Sunderland counterparts to see Claudio Marangoni.

Why did Claudio ultimately struggle to impose himself on the Sunderland set up and find it hard to settle ? Perhaps signing a pair of overseas players would have helped. After all Villa and Ardiles had each other and when Ipswich went Dutch they signed both Muhren and Thijssen. Marangoni in Sunderland must have felt isolated on occasions. Of course, it may simply have been the English game at this time was just too frantic for his style.

Things didn’t get much better as the months rolled by. Eventually a parting of the ways had to come. In January 1981, Ken Knighton having extracted a pitiful and painful 19 league matches in 13 months from the Argentinian, none of which  were particularly memorable, released Claudio with two and a half years of a three year contact still to run.

Claudio Marangoni

Claudio Marangoni

Resigned to the fact that it hadn’t worked out Knighton told the assembled football press that  “Claudio came to see me a few weeks ago and said he was disappointed at only playing in the reserves.”  Departure was the only option.  By the time he was set to leave he rather bizarrely turned out for Nottingham Forest in a friendly against Tampa Bay Rowdies and scored in a 7-1 walloping of the hapless Americans.

Claudio emerged unscathed from his stint at Roker Park and with some interest Sunderland fans were able to follow his progress in the years that followed. Firstly his international ambitions were not destroyed by coming to England and by 1983 he was back in the national side alongside such worthies as Burruchaga and Sabella. And with Independiente of Argentina he won the Copa Libertadores  – roughly the South American equivalent of the Champions League.

And you just couldn’t keep a good man down, neither it seemed could he entirely forget about his wilderness year in the north-east. In December 1984 Liverpool contested the World Club Championship against Independiente and who should be in their side but Marangoni. For the English sporting press it was a lucky break, an Argentinian who ruled out the need for journalists to grapple with schoolboy Spanish.  ‘The Red Devils’, as Independiente are nicknamed, duly put Marangoni forward for press duties.  Surprisingly to many he came over all misty-eyed when remembering Sunderland in winter “I loved England and the north-east. I would like to go back to England if the right offer came up”.

The match was played in Tokyo and Marangoni provided the pass for the game’s only goal in the sixth minute. This was the Liverpool of Dalglish, Hansen and Rush.  Clearly Claudio was now the ‘real deal’ and he proved this as his career moved into the twilight years when he was invited to join New York Cosmos whose sights never wavered far from players of the status of Best, Pele and Beckenbauer.

Was it a case of the right man at the wrong time ?   Perhaps. In the year that Claudio will turn 50 you do wonder if today he would have slotted into the English game with perfect ease.


Claudio Marangoni factfile

Born: 17 November 1954, Rosario (Argentina)

Height: 186cm   Weight: 79kg


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The Boys from Brazil.

2014 saw the eyes of the footballing world firmly focussed on Brazil.  The 20th World Cup finals brought together the best footballing nations from across the world and a t.v. audience of billions tuned in.

Interest from a Sunderland perspective was firmly on England’s exploits and those Black Cats who turned out for their nations. But for some older fans the World Cup in Brazil brought back interesting Brazilian memories of April 1961.  It was back then that Roker Park was host to the exotic Samba boys of Bangu, on tour from their home town of Rio de Janeiro, and to date Bangu are the only Brazilian side Sunderland have ever faced.

Bangu Atletico Club (to give them their ‘Sunday name’) had come to Britain on the back of winning the New York International Club tournament held in the summer of 1960. Defeating Kilmarnock 2-0 in the final, after progressing through a group that contained Red Star Belgrade, Sporting Lisbon and Sampdoria, their stock was high and they were expected to be good box office.

As if to prove the point they embarked on a tour of Europe that would have even the likes of Michael’s Palin and Portillo exhausted.  In March 1961 they played Sporting Lisbon in the Portuguese capital and then two days later they tackled Valencia in Spain.  Next up was a 4-3 defeat to the mighty Barcelona before matches with FC Nurnberg in Germany and two clubs in Vienna, Austria.

England, however, was an appropriate destination for Bangu.  Founded in 1904 they had a strong English background, having been founded by British textile workers and able to boast of an initial Board of Directors that comprised entirely Englishmen !  A deprived area just outside Rio de Janeiro, Bangu is today arguably best known for its tough prison but in the 1960s was better known as home to a fine football club.

And so to Monday April 10th 1961 and a Brazilian date on Wearside. History records that Sunderland won the game 3-0 with goals by Scots Willie McPheat and Nick Sharkey (2).  Sadly the lure of foreign opposition brought only 12,998 out on a cold night, perhaps influenced by a Second Division campaign that had fizzled out and waved goodbye to any lingering promotion hopes. This was a pity given that the Brazilians weaved a series of pretty patterns with their delicate play and entertained the crowd with the innovative pre-match warm up that was in stark contrast to what British audiences were used to.

Bangu faced Everton in their second English tour game on Wednesday, April 12th. Interestingly there was considerable interest in Sunderland, with Everton controversially refusing to release winger Billy Bingham for international duty. The popular Bingham had served Sunderland in the 1950s and gained 33 caps whilst at Roker.  In playing against Bangu Bingham would miss his first Northern Ireland international in an astonishing ten year run.

The Goodison Park game ended with honours even as Everton and Bangu drew 2-2. On Friday April 14th Bangu rolled into London and faced Crystal Palace where a couple of late goals gave the Brazilians victory. Seemingly oblivious to the draining effects of continual travel they moved on to Scotland to play Kilmarnock (where they created a storm by trying to slip on a substitute in the days before subs were officially allowed)  and then Aberdeen,  before embarking on an extensive tour of Scandinavia.

By a strange twist of fate the Brazilian-Sunderland  link was rekindled in the summer of 1967 when Sunderland played in Canada as part of the US Soccer League and amazingly came up against Bangu once again. Playing as Vancouver Royal Canadians the Lads met a much stronger and more determined Bangu (who themselves were playing as the Houston Stars). The game took place in Vancouver and Sunderland found themselves on the end of a 4-1 beating.

Everyone enjoys World Cup finals when they come along, and for older Sunderland fans perhaps 2014 rekindled the memories of exotic Brazilian visitors on Wearside.


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