‘TheHardTackle Relic’ is a semi-regular column which dusts off the pages of football history. It intends to walk you down memory lane and relive events, players and teams long forgotten. Today we take a look at the one legged genius, Mario Corso, and analyse Registas alongwith Water-carriers.
Italian football can arguably be dubbed as the most fascinating, scintillating, mischievous and exciting of all leagues in the World. The football is as rich as the country’s own history, and dates back to early 1880s and mid 1890s. There have been exciting players, ‘sad’ players, playboy players and perhaps every type of players prefixed with an adjectives, carries an example with it. There have been tactical reforms, so much so that the Catenaccio was an Italian progeny which perpetuated horror on the European teams. But one thing that stands out in Italian Football is, giants like Inter, Juventus, AC Milan have always had a ‘regista’, a director of play in their squad. Milan had their golden boy Gianni Rivera, Inter had Sandro Mazzola and even Juventus had certain players of that caliber if not as prolific as the former two. (Recent examples include Andrea Pirlo of Juventus and Borja Valero of Fiorentina, though the two Milan sides lack equally in that specific department)
Registas were the all important all governing players in the team, they had their say – both on and off the pitch. They were filled with sheer amounts of talent and could unlock defense by a single swing of their foot. The Central director as he was known, was a skillful playmaker who would distribute passes to the wings and to the forwards but was not expected to do too much running or too much ‘defense’. In the 1960s with Herrera’s Catenaccio all players had to run, cover, mark, track back but the ‘director’ was a rarity, he hailed supreme in the middle of the park.
In every balanced squad, someone or the other has to make up for sloppiness – which nowadays amounts to ‘not tracking back’. Italian teams used Water-carriers which were also termed as destroyers of play and as Luciano Legaue puts it “The life of a mediano/born without skill”. Water-carriers, did not actually carry waters, though the term suggests the obvious, they were called so because they literally had one job to do – run, run, run and run.
They ran. That was their job. Water-carriers were often players who were not graced by technical skills, these players were supposed to be helping hands and perhaps cover up for the ‘sloppiness’ of the directors. Every Italian team at the least had two players who would feed ‘registas’ balls. AC Milan’s golden boy Gianni Rivera was complemented with the third lung, Giovanni Lodetti. Lodetti, did all the ‘dirty work’ for Rivera and constantly helped Rivera take control of the game, by feeding him passes.
By the mid 1950s and early 1960s, teams lined up in a formation which included two watercarriers, one regista and more than one fantasisti. Fantasisti were the ultimate and perhaps the pinnacle player role, which the registas loved. They would drift wide, cut inside, and capture the audience with their trickery and skill. Although in a time when attacking football was running low, and fanatasisti – player with imagination on the pitch rarely played their part, one such footballer defied Ill Mago ( Helenio Herrera) and against all odds sung his own song.
‘The Left Foot of God’ as he was called, way way back than ‘God’s Left Foot’ Diego Armando Maradona, Mario Corso was born in the city of Verona.
Small with a shock of black hair and enormous side burns, Mario Corso did not look like much of an athlete. Having played football for Audace EMS, Corso was scouted and subsequently signed by Inter Milan in 1958 for nine million lire. Although young and hailing from the blue Verona, which did not have any history of producing captivating players, Corso made his Serie A debut for the Nerazzuri against Como in a 3-0 win, wherein Corso scored two. With a brace, Corso became the youngest goal scorer in the history of Inter Milan. He was 16 years and 322 days when he scored.
23rd of November the same year, Corso made another start for the Milanesse club and featured in a rampant 5-1 win over Sampdoria. Although, Luisito Suarez, one of Inter’s elderly player was operating in the domain which Corso preferred, the left wing, Corso would soon go on to edge Suarez in the pecking order and feature for Herrera’s Ill Grande Inter.
Under Herrera, Corso would go on to become one of the most stylish players – both in style of play and onpitch attitude, while posing a direct threat to AC Milan’s golden boy Gianni Rivera’s fame.
In an Inter which relied on resolute defense and used the infamous catenaccio at its will, Corso would be a standout player, though not for his workrate, but his skill.
Gianni Berera framed Corso as a villain saying that he had no desire to run and was often lazy and unfocused, while Alberto Crespi concluded that Corso could ‘hide himself in the grass’ as he did absolutely nothing. Another urban myth goes that Corso would often operate in the shady parts of the pitch and rarely step out into the sun.
In an Italy, which relied on hardwork, defense, sweat, will, determination and desire, Corso was breaking almost all possible dogmas. The only reason Corso, was included in Ill Grande Inter was because of his exceptional left foot.
Corso would do nothing throughout the course of the ninety minutes, if that one completely out of the ordinary – a long pass, a chipped through ball, a free kick, a screamer, a dribble – which would often decide the game, was excluded.
Although he was loved for his famous and exquisite left foot, Corso was battered in the media for his inability to do anything with his right. Gianni Berera one again the antagonist, called Corso’s right foot a crutch, that he only used to get on the tram.
Corso’s ‘falling leaves’ free kicks which were arguably the first of its kind were celebrated. Those freekicks would seemed to float over the ball and suddenly dip at a pace which would decieve the goalkeeper and end at the back of the opponent’s goal.
Meanwhile coach and all governing supreme Helenio Herrera detested him and would always try to sell him at the end of each season, as Corso would contribute nothing to the team’s defense on which Ill Mago’s contingent was built, but president Moratti would oblige not to sell the ‘left footed wonder’.
No national team manager really understood how to utilise and how to unlock or perhaps solve the enigma of Mario Corso and he never made it to the World Cup squads,.
Corso often lived in two extremes, either he was brilliant, mesmerizing and scintillaiting or he was disappointing, terrible and poor, he never played an ‘average’ game.
In an Italy where ability was not more important than atleticism, Corso proved creeds wrong and went on to play 414 games for Inter Milan, while scoring 75 goals in them. He also went on to feature in the much hated or appreciated, depends on your point of view, Ill Grande Inter and won 2 European Cups, 4 Scudettos and 2 Intercontinental Cups.
When Corso had the ball ‘the stadium went quiet’, Very few players had this ability ever since football has been played and Corso is perhaps the most forgotten name, when the list is read.
“If Mario Corso was on form, we always won” Carlo Tagnin
A special thanks to John Foot, for helping with the framing of this article, whilst providing his little but valuable inputs.