Enzo Francescoli is unquestionably one of the most refined players to have ever graced a football pitch, and yet his name is rarely mentioned in relevant discussions.
This may be because El Principe (‘The Prince’) did his finest work at River Plate and for the Uruguayan national side, far away from European eyes, in an era when cross-continental coverage was nowhere near as immediate and accessible as it is today.
Francescoli did make the move to Europe in the mid-1980s, first with Racing Paris and Marseille in France and then Cagliari and Torino in Italy, but it’s probably fair to say that he never *quite* made it to the apex on this side of the Atlantic (though he did win a league title with L’OM in 1989/90).
Indeed, it was his two, three-year stints at River (1983-86 and 1994-97, thus book-ending his mid-career adventures in Ligue 1 and Serie A) where Francescoli attained an air of true godliness.
This was apparent when, 18 months after his final competitive match for Los Millonarios, the Uruguyan maestro, aged 37, was invited back to El Monumental for one last stand: a farewell exhibition match against the team he supported as a boy, Penarol, in front of 65,000 adoring fans.
The presidents of both Argentina and Uruguay were in the crowd as Francescoli emerged out into the deafening drone amid a cascade of ticker tape.
The match was kicked off by 72-year-old Walter Gomez, a fellow Uruguayan striker who won three league titles with River during the early 1950s.
Francescoli’s team featured a raft of big names in Roberto Ayala, Pablo Aimar and Marcelo Salas (with wee Javier Saviola on the bench), pitted against a Penarol team led by Pablo Bengoechea and Walter ‘The Rifle’ Pandiani.
The full live match broadcast is available to watch here should you have an entire afternoon you wish to surrender.
River Plate won the match 4-0, not that it really counted for much. The only thing that mattered was that the fans of both clubs were able to thank El Principe for his efforts over the years, with celebrations continuing on the Monumental pitch long after the final whistle.
Perhaps Francescoli’s most enduring legacy will be the effect he had on a young Zinedine Zidane during the latter’s formative years.
When I saw Francescoli play, he was the player I wanted to be. He was fantastic, his moves were marvellous and he was the player that I saw and admired at Olympique de Marseille, my idol when I played against him when I was at Juventus.
Enzo is like a god.
Zizou then went on to name his first-born child after his footballing idol. That’s quite a tribute in anybody’s book.
Watching Francescoli is an almost hypnotic pleasure, like a fine mist drifting effortlessly over the turf.
One of the indisputable greats.