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Child of ‘European Migration’, Luis Monti uniquely represented two nations in two World Cup finals

The stream of Italian immigration to Argentina started in 1880s and became quite a phenomena till 1920s. During this period of Great European Immigration, around 3 million people settled in South American countries among which Argentina was prominent. In 1914, the city of Buenos Aires alone had more than 300,000 Italian-born inhabitants, representing 25% of the total population.

Luis Monti

In this milieu, Luis Felipe Monti- whose family was also a part of this migration- was born in Buenos Aries in May 1901. One of the greatest footballers of the 1920s and 1930s, Luis Monti eventually became a rarity in Football. He played in two consecutive World Cup finals with two different national teams, for Argentina in 1930 and for Italy in 1934, perhaps a record that will never be repeated.

Luis Monti started his footballing career in Buenos Aires with local club Huracan and won the national championship in 1921, his only season there. He joined Boca Juniors but left after three months without having played a single match. His third Buenos Aries’ side was San Lorenzo where he remained for eight years and developed himself into a robust and outstanding centre half.

After his arrival in 1922, San Lorenzo won three league titles in 1923, 1924 and 1927. Luis Monti’s dynamism across the pitch with immense physique saw him gifted the sobriquet ‘Doble Ancho’ – meaning Double Wide. His abrasive style in those days, when Football was more friendly and warm, put him in a different league.

In his second season with San Lorenzo, his talent was recognised by Argentina manager Angel Vázquez, and he was called in the Argentine national side. He debuted for the national side in 1924 and three years later he was part of the side that won the 1927 South American Championship and a silver Olympic medal in 1928.

Luis Monti in Argentinian jersey

Two years after the Olympics, Luis Monti embarked upon his first FIFA World Cup experience in Uruguay. He was, by then, considered to be one of the best centre-halves in South America and a vital component in the Argentina team. Argentina opened their tournament against France, and it was Monti who scored the only goal of the game with just 10 minutes remaining in the match. Argentina knocked down Mexico, Chile and the United States to reach the final against Uruguay.

Ahead of the final, there were rumours that Luis Monti, who scored two goals in the tournament, had sustained an injury in one of the group games and had aggravated the problem in the semi-final against the Americans. But the injury rumours were perhaps spread just to bring a shade on the death threats that Monti received before the final.

The fascist regime had insisted that Argentina could not win the first World Cup. It is believed that Monti, the star player at the time, had been targeted by agents. Much later, Lorena Monti said that her grandfather had spoken many times about threats that had been received. “At half-time, when Argentina were leading 2-1, they said that if Argentina didn’t lose, they would kill my grandmother and my aunt,” Lorena Monti referred. He was in tears at the interval as he felt helpless and unable to play his best game through fear. Argentina lost the final 2-4 to Uruguay and Monti’s family was relieved.

Luis Monti

The lost man was to return to San Lorenzo but soon the course of action changed. It was a time when Italy, under Benito Mussolini, leader of the National Fascist Party, banned all foreign players from its national football league. The only way a foreigner could play was if he was an ‘Oriundo’ – a foreigner who was of Italian descent and who could prove it. Mussolini heard of Monti’s Italian heritage and demanded him in the Italian squad. The next World Cup were to be held in Italy and the fascist dictator took every measure for a World Cup win to raise the nation to the forefront of the world powers.

Luis Monti was offered a higher wage, a house and a car from Turin club Juventus. Being an Oriundo, Monti- after playing 16 times for his native Argentina and scoring 5 times- moved to Turin and took up Italian citizenship. All his future international appearances were for his adopted country.

Luis Monti migrated to play for Italy

Luis Monti joined Juventus in 1932 and after some initial hiccups of being overweight and unfit, became the key player for them. He was part of a very successful campaign of Juventus when they won four consecutive Serie A titles from 1932 to 1935. He spent nine years at Juventus, having made 225 appearances for the club and scoring 22 times from his defensive position.

Just 12 months after moving to Turin, Monti was selected to play for Italy. Italian national team coach Vittorio Pozzo, found the Oriundo fitting into his ‘Metodo’ system as an attacking centre-half. In 1934, Luis Monti was ready to play another World Cup but for a different nation.

Passport of Luis Monti

It was another final for Luis Monti but four years later things did not change. In 1930, the fascist group forced him to throw the final with Argentina or else his and the life of his relatives would be in danger whereas in 1934 he received threats that if he did not win the competition with Italy, he would face similar consequences. Lorena Monti revealed, “My grandfather used to say that in 1930, in Uruguay, they wanted to hurt him if he won. In Italy, four years later, they wanted to hurt him if he lost.” But this time too he was relieved as Italy triumphed over Czechoslovakia by 4-0 in the final.

With this appearance, Luis Monti wrote his name in the record books. The FIFA World Football Museum has conserved this remarkable intercontinental story by preserving the Argentine passport of Luis Monti. It is the document that accompanied him as he left Argentina as a World Cup runner-up and later brought him back to his home as a foreign world champion.

About Poulomi Kundu

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