On the evening of the 25th of June 1978, a holidaymaker sat in his Spanish hotel room watching on television as Argentina lifted the World Cup with an extra-time victory over the Netherlands. This was more than just an interested observer however; this was Carlos Bianchi, a professional footballer, an Argentinian and a player who had been tearing up the French League scoring charts for years.
Such was the way of things in a country awash with great forwards that a player of Bianchi’s virtue wouldn’t even get a sniff of a call-up. Unloved as he might have been in his country of birth, he was courted as a hero in his adopted homeland of France.
The Carlos Bianchi story started at Velez Sarsfield. His immense striking promise was noticed by scouts and he joined up with the Buenos Aires giants as a 17-year-old. His first season brought nine goals, his second 18 and his first top scorer award and, by his third season as a pro in 1970, his 18-goal haul made him the Metropolitan Championship top scorer.
Maturing at a remarkable rate, in 1971 Bianchi managed 42 goals over the two halves of the championship and 27 the following year. Europe beckoned for him and he had already fired home half a dozen goals at the start of the 1973 season when his transfer to Stade de Reims was finalised.
Bianchi had big boots to fill at the faded French giants. For the past three seasons his contemporary Delio Onnis had been scoring goals at a staggering rate to earn himself a transfer to Monaco. Reims invested the not insignificant sum of £50,000 for Bianchi’s services as a replacement, barely daring to believe the newcomer could come close to matching the achievements of his departed compatriot.
Unbelievably he did. His debut season at Reims brought 30 goals and his prolific rate continued during the 1974-75 season with 15 from the opening 16 fixtures. His club had begun to dream of a return to European football and with this in mind invited Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona to their Stade Auguste Delaune for a glamorous friendly. Those laudable ambitions backfired badly when Bianchi had his leg badly broken by a wild tackle from Barcelona defender Gallego, thus ending his season.
After six months out of the game with such a damaging injury, it might have been understandable had Bianchi returned as something of a diminished player. Not a chance – showing he had lost none of his characteristic bravery he bounced back in some style with 34 goals during the 1975/76 season.
Playing for a middling side and without European competition or international football to prove himself, Bianchi spoke longingly about his desire to win the European Golden Boot Award and he was deeply irritated to be pipped this season by an unlikely late run from the Cypriot Sotiris Kaiafas. The remarkable record of having been a league top scorer six times in his 10 professional seasons was little consolation.
His fourth and final season in the Champagne region added 28 more goals and brought him a lucrative transfer. Reims was a club wholly dependant upon grants from the municipality and when the Communist party won power in local elections it was made clear they thought he was earning too much money.
A move to the bright lights of the capital with Paris Saint-Germain and plus ça change – a bumper 37 goals from an exceptional debut season, his form unaffected by an accounting scandal that engulfed the club. Meanwhile his old club collapsed to relegation without his goals to save them.
A crack of light appeared in February 1978 when Argentine manager César Luis Menotti, impressed with reviews of Bianchi’s form, flew to Paris to watch him play. Unfortunately, Menotti’s reported opinion of the player was that despite recognising his innate sense for goal, he lacked finesse and was too languid when out of possession; the international window slammed shut.
Carlos Bianchi spent one further fruitful season in Paris and another disappointing one with Racing Club Strasbourg before answering the call to come home and see out his career with his beloved Velez. Revelling in his returning hero status he enjoyed four successful seasons there and was, of course, top scorer in every one of them. There was still time for him to spring a surprise and make a late-career return to France at the age of 35 with his old club Stade de Reims, now marooned in the French second division.
This was no typical transfer, however. Even at this stage Bianchi was utterly focused on moving into coaching and this was impossible at home while he was still playing. Reims offered him a player-manager position which he occupied for a season (scoring a respectable eight goals in 18 games) before becoming the club’s full-time manager the following season.
France would be the testing ground for Carlos Bianchi’s ideas and he went on to outstanding success with Velez Sarsfield in the Copa de Libertadores a decade later. At least his managerial exploits brought him the sort of wide-scale recognition his playing days never did, this despite his stellar return of 209 goals in the Argentinian championship and 179 in its French equivalent.