As in the case of so many world-class sportspeople, Daniel Alberto Passarella is remembered almost as much for his off-field activities as those on it, but most importantly he was a world-class central defender with a goalscoring record of which many strikers would have been proud.
Born on May 25th 1953 in Chacabuco in Buenos Aires Province, his three nicknames - El Gran Capitán, after Argentine José de San Martín, ‘El Kaiser’, referring to Franz Beckenbauer and ‘El Caudillo’, the Chief - leave little else to add.
Passarella began his professional playing career at third division Sarmiento of Junin in 1971, finished it at River Plate in 1989 and played at the highest level for River Plate, Fiorentina, Internazionale and Argentina between those years, captaining his country to the World Cup - Argentina’s first, a 3-1 victory in extra-time against the Netherlands - in 1978.
A hundred and thirty four in four hundred and fifty one games has been bettered only by the Netherlands’ Ronald Koeman for career goals scored by a defender, many with his head, despite his lack of height.
At River Plate, whom Passarella joined for his first spell aged twenty in 1973-74, he established himself at the centre of his country’s defence, won the Argentinian title a year after joining the club - its first in eighteen years - and was elected captain of Argentina the following season.
Passarella’s performances as defender and scorer of goals at the 1982 World Cup Finals in Spain, in an Argentine team that included Maradona, led to his transfer to Fiorentina in Serie A, considered at the time the strongest domestic league in world football. Fiorentina qualified for the UEFA Cup, Passarella scoring fifteen out of the team’s season total of twenty nine goals, leading to his transfer to Internazionale.
At the start of qualifying for the 1986 World Cup Finals in Mexico, the contrast in the characters of Passarella and his replacement as captain, Diego Maradona, was demonstrated numerous times in the Argentine media. The recently-appointed national manager, Carlos Bilardo, had replaced Passarella as team captain with Napoli’s extroverted Maradona and built his team around him, rather than the more private Passarella. The tension between Passarella and Maradona was palpable and potentially-damaging to squad morale. It effectively ended Passarella’s international playing career.
His two years at Internazionale, who finished runners-up in Serie A in Passarella’s first season and where he played until 1988, when he returned to River Plate, aged thirty five, were considered a success, but always teetering on the edge of controversy, as much for off-field events as those on it.
Reinaldo Merlo resigned as River Plate manager in December 1989 and Passarella was the clear favourite to replace him, a natural leader and disciplinarian and the following ten years demonstrated to River fans that they had made the right choice, beginning with his first, which ended with River winning the Primera Division by seven points and the Torneo Apertura in the following two seasons.
The elimination of Argentina in the last sixteen round of the 1994 World Cup resulted in the dismissal of Alfio Basile and the appointment of Passarella and his disciplinarian regime, including a ban on long hair, which alienated certain of the leading Argentine players. At the 1998 France World Cup, Passarella created a siege mentality within the squad with access to journalists limited. Argentina qualified from their group with three wins and no goals conceded, defeated England in the first knockout stage, but were defeated by the Netherlands in the following round.
Spells as manager of Uruguay, between 1999 and 2001, and Parma, for just five games in 2001, followed before Passarella won the Mexican league title in 2003 with Monterrey. A brief spell as manager of Corinthians, followed by a return to River Plate in 2006, brought an end to his coaching career and in 2009 Passarella was appointed President, the club having been relegated for the first time in its hundred and ten year history in 2008.
In 2013 an investigation charged Passarella with serious financial mismanagement and he left the club.
The individual-player recognitions received by Passarella are the best guide to the light in which he was seen by his fellow professionals, past and present:
FIFA World Cup All-Star Team 1978
FIFA 100: 2004
Golden Foot Legends Award: 2015
AFA Team of All Time (published 2015)
World Soccer: The 100 Greatest Footballers of All Time
Passarella’s description by Diego Maradona as the best header of the ball he ever saw and the teams that played under him by El Grafico as ‘cold, accurate, clinical and no-nonsense’ provide a neat summary of his career as player and manager.
Celebrate the historic career of Daniel Passarella with this signed photo from the 1978 World Cup.