Legend of Calcio: Giampiero Boniperti
“Vincere non è importante è l’unica cosa che conta”, is a phrase which could be found etched upon the inner collar of every Juventini’s replica jersey last season. It is a fitting addition to the jersey, not for the meaning of the phrase itself, but for the significance of the man who uttered the phrase; Giampiero Boniperti.
The former president and captain of Juventus, is arguably the most important figure in the 116 year history of the club. In a league and club where the “biscotto” is heavily consumed, Boniperti provides a much needed innocence and purity of thought; representing “Lo Stile Juve” in all its mythological glory.
Born in the communo of Berengo (province of Novara) in 1928, Giampero Boniperti began his footballing career at his local amateur side Momo, before catching the eye of the Old Lady in 1946.
The young prodigy was given an opportunity to impress alongside the Primavera squad in the Piazza d’Armi, but failed to convince the Juventus coaches of his credentials. However, the club doctor, Dr. Egidio Perone, saw a peculiar brilliance in the young Boniperti, and gave him a second chance to prove his worth on 22nd May 1946.
In a training match against Fossano, the skill set of a burgeoning legend was displayed. Boniperti seven goals in a 7-0 victory, provided the spectators with a glimpse into the future Juventus football club, calcio and the peninsula as a whole. It was clear that this Berengo native’s was not a customary talent, but an era defining one; a talent which could be the catalyst for a period of unrivalled success for the Biannconeri. Volpato, the head of the youth sector, in a fit of euphoria, signed Boniperti in the tunnel immediately after the game.
The teenage Boniperti was placed amongst the first team squad from day one, impressing Renato Cesarini with his unrivalled technique and goal scoring instincts. On 22nd March 1947, at the age of just 19, Boniperti made his debut for Juventus against A.C Milan. Although he could not mark his debut with a goal, the Berengo native showed glimpses of what he was capable of; his inexplicable genius was evident.
Three months after “Marisa’s” debut, the goals began to flow. A cool finish against Sampdoria, proved to be the catalyst for a late season run of five goals in six league games, which propelled Juventus to a second place finish. Boniperti’s majestic performances at the tail end of the 1946/47 campaign greatly excited the Juventini.
The majority of the decentralised Bianconneri faithful justifiably believed that Giampiero Boniperti was a prodigal talent, Juve’s very own Valentino Mazzola; but there was an underlying fear that Boniperti’s late season majesty was little more than a good run of form, an unknown quantity who had made the most of his lack of reputation to score a few goals.
During the 1947/48 season, Giampiero Boniperti would go on to prove his doubters wrong; prove that he was worthy of the hype; and prove to the peninsula that he was the man to lead the Serie A into its first golden age… the “Ruggenti Anni Cinquanta”
Boniperti’s haul of 27 goals, saw him win the capocannoniere award ahead of Mazzola, and earn the tag of post war Italy’s generation defining talent. As well as being the Serie A’s outstanding goal getter of the 1947/48 season; the Berengo youngster also proved himself to be a humble leader of men.
In just twelve months, Boniperti’s footballing bildungsroman was complete. During the 1948/49 campaign, Boni once again was the protagonist for Juve, but the supporting cast left much to be desired. It was time for a new Juve; Gianni Agnelli’s realisation that Giampiero Boniperti was destined to be the flag bearer for this Juve, led to the creation of “Il Perfetto Bianconneri”… Agnelli’s masterpiece.
In the aftermath of the Toro Superga air disaster, whilst calcio was at its lowest point; “Il Perfetto Bianconneri” simultaneously reignited the ever-present passion for Italy’s national sport, and accentuated Italy’s virtuosic ability to rise above perturbation.
Although the signings of goalkeeper Giovanni Viola, full back Bertuccelli, midfielder Piccinini, center forward Vivolo, and wingers Rinaldo Martino from Argentina, and Karl Aege Praest from Denmark were pivotal in Juve’s eighth Serie A title run; Giampiero Boniperti was the star which shone the brightest. Boniperti’s 21 goals, combined with John Hansen’s 28 goal haul, propelled La Vecchia Signora to a 100 goal title winning season, which included a famous 4-2 victory over Inter.
Boniperti and “Il Perfetto Bianconneri” added a 9th Scudetto to the Juventus trophy cabinet just two years later; through the brilliance of Boni, Juventus had become the peninsula’s elite club. Arguably Juve’s most impressive performance of this period came in a decisive showdown with Milan, when the mercurial Boniperti led his side to an impressive 3-1 victory over Gunnar Nordhal’s Milan. The shrewd genius from Berengo, took Agnelli’s mythological “Lo Stile Juve”, and presented it to the world as the foundations of calcio.
This 9th Scudetto marked the beginning of a transitory period for both Giampiero Boniperti and Juventus. Whilst the quality of his companions was dwindling, and the presidential situation became as farcical as the western schism (six presidents in seven years); Boniperti was getting used to life on the right hand side of midfield. During the mid-fifites, Boni’s Bianconneri dropped to a lowly 9th place on two occasions, due to a lack of board room leadership, rather than lack of leadership on the field.
However the much needed arrival of Umberto Agnelli in the board room, and the perfecting of the right midfield role by Giampiero Boniperti; would lead to an era of untold success for Juventus.
Umberto Agnelli’s greatest success was the signings of John Charles and Omar Sivori during the summer mercato of 1957, to partner Boni in attack. “Il Magico Trio”, became the lynchpin of Juve’s success during this period. Charles and Sivori were taught what it meant to wear the black and white stripes of the Old Lady by Boniperti, who once again became the protagonist of a special group. The populace of Turin flocked to see “Il Magico Trio”, who in an efficient side doing everything necessary to win; would attempt to entertain in the process.
“Il Magico Trio” provided Juventus with their tenth league title, and first gold star during the 1957/58 season. During the following season, although due to complacency Juventus were unable to retain the Scudetto; Boniperti lifted the Coppa Italia trophy for the first time in his esteemed career, after a 4-1 victory over two legs against Inter.
The 1959/60 campaign proved to be Giampiero Boniperti’s most successful in Turin. Boni’s ability to dictate play from the right wing; his effortless grace; and most importantly, the effect he had on his team mates purely through his reputation… made Giampiero Boniperti the star player during Juventus’ most successful season. The Barengo native’s goal in a 3-1 victory over Milan on the last day of the season, capped off the campaign which proved that Boniperti was the perfect manifestation of “Lo Stile Juve”… he was the “signore vittorioso”.
Boniperti’s final season with the Bianconneri, marked the end of Juve’s cycle of success. Helenio Herrera’s Inter began to knock on the Scudetto door for the first time, but were ultimately pipped to the title by Boni’s Juventus. Fittingly Giampiero Boniperti’s final game in a Juventus jersey was a 9-1 victory over Inter, after which the Juventus number ten lifted the Scudetto for the last time.
Giampiero Boniperti ended his Juventus career with a record 444 appearances and 182 goals; records that were held for forty years. After fifteen years as Juventus’ talisman, Boniperti became president of the club in 1971, and became the longest serving president in the clubs history (19 years).
There are just three men to have donned the Biannconeri and became more than just another player to be remembered fondly by fans; three men to encapsulate “Lo Stile Juve”; three truly great Juve idols: Alessandro Del Piero, Gaentano Scirea and the greatest of them all – Giampiero Boniperti… Mr Juve.