Bruce Frankel

Author of the new book "What Should I Do with the Rest of My Life? True Stories of Finding Success, Passion, and New Meaning in the Second Half of Life."

Francisco Varallo, Last Livng Player in the 1930 World Cup

June 24, 2010

I’ve been bogged down with research for a new book for the last couple of weeks and regret letting time slip between posts. Of course, I still found time to watch World Cup soccer and relish yesterday’s sensational climax, with Landon Donovan’s 91st minute strike. As has been much noted, the last time the U.S. made the leap out of group play was 80 years ago at the 1930 World Cup.

In February “Little Canon” Francisco Varallo, the last living member of the second place team from Argentina, was honored by Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) at celebration of his 100th birthday.


He was also the youngest player in that first World Cup, played in Montevideo, Uruguay. Argentina lost the final game 4-2 to the hometown team. 


Here’s a more recent photo.


“It was like a dream come true,” Varallo told FIFA’s World magazine for it’s March issue. “I was just a boy and I was in awe of players like Luis Monti, Manuel Ferreira, Guillermo Stabil. In those days the coaches barely spoke, and it was the most experienced players who decided on the starting 11. On the day of my debut against France, I asked the captain, Ferreira, how I should play, and he replied: “Play the way you know how, do what you want.”

Varallo injured his knee during a match against Chile and had to sit out the semi-final match in which Argentina defeated the U.S. team. “I was in pain and I shouldn’t have played in the final,” but he was determined to play for his country. “I played my heart out in the second half and I could feel it in my knee. We were down to ten men, and as the match went on, another was injured, and another. There were no substitutions then: we were left with eight players on the field. But they beat us fairly and squarely, what can you do?”

Training was much different in the 1930s. They practiced only three days a week, sometimes less often. The only nutritional advice Varallo’s coach offered was not to eat salami sandwiches. “I always ate very well, a variety of things. I had a typically Argentinian diet, with a lot of meat. And before a match I would ask for seconds. Roberto Cherro used to ask me, ‘Panchito, how come you eat more than the rest of us?’ And I would explain ]If I don’t, I won’t score any goals.’ He didn’t smoke or drink alcohol or carbonated beverages.“It must have been a good diet because I’ve still got my own teeth,” he said. “Some of that is down to genetics, of course, but I was never fat and I maintained my muscles. I also never had a medical check-up during my career. The advances that have been made in that area are fantastic. I never fully recovered from the injury I sustained at the World Cup in Uruguay. Nowadays, players recover in no time from operations – it’s extraordinary, they walk out of surgery!”

After the historic final match, played at the Estadio Centenario, Varallo went on to glory with Boca Juniors, where he scored 181 goals in 210 matches – a record that remained unshattered until 2008.

“I find it incredible that young people know who I am,” he mused. ” When I was in France, people from Germany, Poland, England, Switzerland ... they all wanted to meet me, with a lot of passion and respect. They still send me letters to my house. And some even send presents. They are unforgettable gestures that make me very happy. And it’s all thanks to football! Here in La Plata, everybody knows me: old folks, young people, children…they all say hello to me. I was named an ‘illustrious citizen’. Now that I’m old, more tributes are being paid to me than before. It seems I’m still important!”


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