Argentine Warrior: Remembering The Fierce Brilliance of Antonio Rattín

Where Antonio Ubaldo Rattín‘s place in the broader footballing pantheon belongs tends to be divided along geographical lines. For footballing fans of Latin heritage like the former Boca Juniors man himself, Rattín was one of the great midfielders of the 20th century – a powerful, clever and decisive deep-lying playmaker who ran games and protected the players behind him.

However northern Europeans tend to have a different memory of Rattin, viewing him as a violent bully who sullied the 1966 World Cup and represented the most public face of Argentina’s snarling and attritional late 1960s style. The truth, as ever, lies somewhere between these polar opposite views, though certainly leans more towards the Latin perspective.

Rattín lived out the dream of every football-mad youngster who imagines playing for his boyhood club when he grows up. Rattín worshipped Boca Juniors as a boy and not only did he go on to play for them, he became the long-term club captain, a multiple title winner and a rare example of a one-club man who never wore any other shirt apart from that of the national team during his lengthy career.

At the age of 19 he made the most difficult of debuts any Boca player can make when called in to deputise for an injured teammate for the big derby with bitter rivals River Plate. Showing the maturity and level-headedness that would characterise his play throughout his career, he showed no nerves and looked as if he had been playing in the first team for years.

Rattín played in a role that has a significantly greater importance in Argentina than it does in the European game – the number five. Occupying a position on the pitch akin to a modern-day defensive midfielder, the Argentinian expectations of a player taking on this role are considerable. And Rattín’s particular skillset means that even to this day he is held up as an example of the archetypal number five and how the role should be performed.

As well as providing cover to defensive colleagues the number five is also tasked with building attacks from his deep-lying position. Rattín proved to be a calm and measured presence through which all constructive moves flowed. This was one of those rare players who always seemed to have time and space on the ball allied to a formidable physical presence which brought both muscularity and the inevitable intimidatory presence to his play. A contemporary reference point might be his compatriot, Fernando Redondo, though Rattín was the more physically imposing and defensively sound and the former Real Madrid man more mobile in attack.

Rattín won his first cap in the same year as his Boca debut and was Argentina’s stand out player during their ill-fated 1962 World Cup campaign. By the time the next World Cup in England came around he was captain and what he had lost in pace he made up for with experience and nous. His inclusion was vital for Argentina as he remained their primary springboard for rapid attacks from deep.

The tournament was one that brought, unfairly, only infamy for Rattín and his irascible teammates in the Argentina team. Their captain was dismissed after just half an hour of his team’s Quarter Final tie against hosts England for what was bafflingly described as ‘violence of the tongue’.

This bizarre incident came about because of Rattín‘s continual protestations about lack of balance in the decisions made by the West German referee Rudolf Kreitlein, an ongoing monologue which was pointless as neither man could understand a word the other was saying. The whole unfortunate incident was more a reflection of growing cultural differences between Europe and South America with regards to what did and did not constitute acceptable player practice.

Needless to say Rattín did not accept becoming the first player to be sent off at Wembley since the 1948 Olympic Final lightly and his reaction was furious and aggressive – a shame as he was the genuine beacon of reason and calm amidst what was an otherwise violent and tempestuous Argentina squad. He would forever be associated with the ‘animals’ label that Alf Ramsey directed more broadly at the post-match Argentine reaction to their ultimate defeat.

The unfair tarnishing of his reputation in 1966 shouldn’t disguise that this was a player who was more than capable of ultra-pragmatism when it suited him. Before the 1963 Copa de Libertadores Final between his Boca side and the mighty Santos, the Argentinian tried to convince his coach Aristóbulo Deambrossi to approve a dastardly plan he had hatched.

In the opening minutes he would sacrifice himself by fouling Pelé so badly the Brazilian would have to leave the field. Even though he would be dismissed, the loss of the best footballer in the world would cost Santos more than his loss would affect Boca. Needless to say his coach refused to sanction this kamikaze approach!

Rattín’s heroic status back home post-1966 was assured and he was seen now as not just the imposing captain of his country’s leading club side, but also the man who stood up for his country against a concerted and biased campaign against them. His services were much in demand too with Internazionale and Juventus keen to sign him were the Italian ban on foreign players lifted – which ultimately it wasn’t.

Antonio Rattín’s final professional season came in 1970 and he played it out as an Italian style libero to compensate for his loss of pace. He played his last game for Boca against a Rest of America’s team in December of that year bringing to an end a career that brought five League titles, a record 353 League and Cup appearance for Boca and 34 caps for his country.

And nearly half a century later this should be the headline that summarises what was a very fine career by an important player, not one single afternoon of madness at Wembley from whom no-one involved emerged well.