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.
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.
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