Arsenio Erico: The Paraguayan King Of Argentina

Arsenio Erico remains the greatest goalscorer in the history of Argentinian football; 75 years have come and gone since his prime, but his name still sits at the top of the list despite the ridiculous amount of striking talent that has gone through Argentina since.

Arsenio Erico is still the king.

Late 19th/early 20th century stars are a lot like comic book characters in that they always seem to have some bizarre origin story. It was a time before television when superstars were mere names to virtually everyone in the world; football in isolation leading to mythical heroes from faraway lands. The thing with most of these stories is that they’re embellished through the enormous game of Chinese whispers being played to hype up their legend.

Arsenio Erico’s, however, is completely true.

Erico began his career in 1930, at just 15 with Paraguayan side Nacional. His time there isn’t particularly well documented, and all that is sure is that he must have been a hell of a talent – if what happened next is anything to go by.

Paraguay went to war with Bolivia in 1932 in a conflict known as ‘The Chaco War’; Erico signed up for the military, but upon joining his squad it was decided that he could best serve the war effort by playing football (which honestly seems like a much nicer way of doing it).

The youngster was put into a Red Cross team, designed to tour South America and raise money to help the wounded. The team would go through both Uruguay and Argentina, playing over two dozen games together. As horrible as it sounds to say that the war that tore two countries apart was good in any way – this did turn out to be a great opportunity for Erico.

His performances for the touring team were good enough to attract the attention of major clubs in Argentina, one of the best leagues in the world at the time (if not the best). Independiente eventually convinced him, though, paying $5000 for his services, which was donated to the Red Cross.

And that, through a couple of extravagant twists of fate, is how the greatest Paraguayan football of all-time came to play in Argentina – a hell of a beginning for who would become the greatest on the continent.

“He was a master goalscorer, a dancer, a genius for headers and backheels. Erico didn’t run; he glided.

“Erico was acrobatic, and moved like a dancer when he ran.

“He could out-jump everyone, and he could place the ball in the net like the gods.”

Alfredo di Stefano on Arsenio Erico

Di Stefano’s praise covers just about everything that Erico would be loved for over his time in Argentina. He was an absolute revelation, compared to ballet dancers for his grace and given roughly a thousand nicknames. That’s a slight exaggeration, but there were quite a few.

He was The Red Jumper, The Dancing Devil, The Rubber Man, The Magician, The Aviator, and El Virtuoso for instance – there were certainly many more.

He would become famous for his backheel, his ability to leap above goalkeepers, and his grace on the pitch, but above all he was a goalscorer.

Erico reached his prime in 1937; River Plate may have lifted the Championship that year (pushed on by the other great forward to play in Argentina at the time, Bernabé Ferreyra), but the Paraguayan made history. He scored 47 goals in just 34 games, setting a single-season record that still stands.

The following season would be quite unique in terms of goalscoring. Erico and Independiente wouldn’t be held back again, and his 43 goals that season fired them to the title. That number, though, 43, was important. At the start of the season, a cigarette company named “Cigarillos 43” had put out a challenge: any player who managed exactly 43 goals that season would get a large cash reward. The ‘problem’ for Erico is that he managed that total before the season ended, feeling forced to spend the rest of it merely creating chances and deliberately not scoring.

Independiente would be champions again in 1939, and again Arsenio Erico would finish as top scorer – this time with 40 (Erico is the only player to have scored 40 goals or more in an Argentine season, a feat he managed three times consecutively). Once again, his record of three consecutive top scorer finishes has never been matched. But the big one is 295 – his grand, unbeaten total – that remains the most goals scored in Argentina.

Erico left Independiente in 1946, joining Huracán. He only stayed for seven games, though, before returning home to play out a short spell back at Nacional, retiring in 1949.

Arsenio Erico never got to show his talents off in international competition (the Paraguayan national team rules said you had to be playing in Paraguay to get selected), and yet the legacy he managed to leave through individual brilliance is outstanding. He is the ultimate goalscorer, holding onto the most prized records for nearly 80 years, setting them at a time when South American football was on top of the world. For that alone, Arsenio Erico is one of the all-time greats.