From the birth of football to the present day, Argentina has few rivals as a production line of footballing talent. Albert Ohaco, Rinaldo Martino and Manuel Seoane were just a few of the early heroes that are fondly remembered today. Yet, in a country where footballing folklore is passed from father to son, one team remains the stuff of legend.
River Plate are considered today to be a rich man’s club. Founded in 1901, they enjoyed little early success until in 1932 they broke the world transfer record by signing the prolific goalscorer Bernabe Ferreyra for £23,000. Nobody could doubt the value of the deal, Ferreyra scored an astonishing 187 goals in 185 league games for River, but it unsurprisingly won them the nicknames of Los Millonarios. It also heralded an era of unrivalled dominance.
River might have needed to pay big money to sign Ferreyra, but they were also capable of producing great players of their own. Within a few years of the arrival of Ferreyra two youngsters would come through the ranks at River Plate who could rival anything produced in Argentine history. For all the greats that had been seen in Argentina to that point, none measured up to Jose Manuel Moreno and Adolfo Pedernera.
|Jose Manuel Moreno|
The two were a perfect combination. Moreno was flashy, outrageously skilful he played to the galleries and delighted in putting on a display for the spectators. He could not abide doing the simple things, he’d rather beat a handful of players than one and saw goals as almost a waste of possession, because by scoring the opposition got to control it for a time. According to Eduardo Galeano, Moreno regarded the tango to be the ideal training for football: “you maintain a rhythm, then change it when you stride forward, you learn the profiles, you work on your waist and your legs”.
Pedernera was more restrained. His love of the ball saw him drop deep to collect from his defenders, spray passes across the field and control the game with an iron grip. In that respect, Pedernera was taking the foraging centre-forward role of Matthias Sindelar and further freeing it from the shackles of tactical discipline. Between Moreno, Pedernera and Ferreyra they enjoyed an understanding that brought the 1936 and 1937 Argentine titles to River.
The best though was still to come. By the end of the 1930s Ferreyra had retired and in his place stood Angel Labruna. Labruna did not score at such a rate as Ferreyra (despite which he ended his career as the joint highest Argentine league scorer with Arsenio Erico), but he suited the forward line with Moreno and Pedernera even more. For Labruna was an artist in the mould of Moreno. He loved the intricate build up play that River employed at the time. Passing and moving, all the time exhausting their opponents as the probed for openings.
By 1942 the trio were beginning to gel perfectly, having already won the Argentine title. For the national side Moreno and Pedernera were mainstays of a team that won the Copa America in 1941 and 1942, though Labruna despite his form found it impossible to get into the team. Argentina at the time had perhaps the greatest depth of inside forwards the game has ever known. Fighting for the remaining spot for the Albiceleste were Antonio Sastre, Juan Marvezzi and Herminio Masantonio, all exceptional players in their own right.
1942 was also notable as the year marking the arrival of Felix Loustau, a dazzling left-winger, who, along with his counterpart on the right, Juan Carlos Munoz, terrified opposing fullbacks at will. The two completed the most famous attacking quintet in the history of football. For despite only playing together as a unit on 18 occasions they made such an impression on the watching public that Argentina’s footballing history will always regard them with reverence.
|(L to R) Munoz, Moreno, Pedernera, Labruna and Loustau|
When, in June 1942, they faced Chacarita Juniors at the Monumental in Buenos Aires, River Plate put on a display which showed the artistic qualities of the game. Indeed so well oiled was the performance put on by Los Millonarios, that El Grafico’s watching journalist was moved to describe them as “La Maquina” (“the machine”). In the English sense of the word they were anything but mechanical. For no machine can emulate the spontaneity or improvisation that the likes of Pedernera and Moreno displayed. Machines are not capable of stirring the passions or pulling the heart strings of spectators. Moreover, machines are designed to be efficient and are built for a purpose. River played the game for pure enjoyment.
Yet while La Maquina in its strictest sense refers to the team with those five magical attackers, it was just the beginning of an era of both incredible success and magical stars for River Plate. For the individuals, while important, were really just parts of a collective that operated so well thanks to the ethos of their play.“Some go in, others come out, everyone rises, everyone falls” said Carlos Peucelle, himself a phenomenal winger and inside-forward of the 1930s, about the River side.
When in 1944 Moreno moved to Mexico the team didn’t fall apart, nor when Pedernera switched to Huracan and then joined the Colombian exodus to El Dorado. River were fortunate of course to have such a rich seam of young stars to mine in their own ranks. The likes of Amadeo Carrizo and Nestor Rossi, arguably the finest goalkeeper and centre-half to ever emerge from Argentina respectively, were young starlets at River. Alfredo Di Stefano was a mainstay in the late 1940s, before Uruguayan genius Walter Gomez and Omar Sivori carried on the flame in the early 1950s.
The teams that followed may have emulated the success of their predecessors but they never won such widespread admiration from journalists, fans and even rivals players. Ernesto Lazatti, of Boca Juniors once conceded, "I play against La Maquina with the full intention of beating them, but as a fan of football, I would prefer to sit on the stands and watch them play." With such glowing comments from their rivals, it’s no wonder that River Plate’s La Maquina side is still widely remembered as the greatest club team to ever grace an Argentine pitch.