Any mention of Paolo Montero will bring a wry smile to the face of seasoned Serie A observers. The Uruguayan centre-half spent 13 seasons in Serie A with Atalanta and Juventus where he demonstrated his defensive command, good reading of the game, leadership skills and calm resourcefulness under pressure – not that anyone will associate him with these qualities today.
The reason for this is that Paolo was something of a livewire, well drilled in the ‘none shall pass’ school of South American defending. Paolo loved stopping attacks and was none to fussy whether he achieved this through fair means or foul – and his record 16 Serie A dismissals indicates he perhaps enjoyed foul means more.
He’s been often described as Serie A’s dirtiest-ever defenders but, if truth be told, he wasn’t even the dirtiest player in his own family. Before Paolo came his father Julio Montero Castillo, also a long-serving Uruguayan international and also a successful player, mostly in the Copa Libertadores.
Like his son, Julio was a defensive player though one with a broader range to his game, able to play just as effectively as a central defender or deep-lying midfield playmaker. He made his name with Montevideo giants Nacional and his style that melded skill with wanton violence very much chimed with the times.
This was an era in which South America’s primary competition, the Copa Libertadores, was dominated by vicious and pragmatic Argentinian clubs like Estudiantes de La Plata. To beat them you had to ape them and in 1971 Nacional did just that. Over a couple of insanely violent games in the Final, the Uruguayans finally ended the three-year reign of Estudiantes.
Julio Montero Castillo was the star of those games, not just for his perceptive play but for the manner in which he physically eclipsed Ramón Aguirre Suárez – the Estudiantes central defender who was considered the most violent footballer on the continent at that point. Julio and his horrible but successful Nacional teammates went on to win the Intercontinental Cup and the Copa Interamericana to make 1971 probably the greatest in the club’s history.
At the age of 29 and in search of new adventure, Julio Montero Castillo moved across the River Plate to join Independiente – by now the team that had taken over dominance of the South American game. His stay there was brief as another more lucrative option opened up much further afield.
After a lengthy ban, in 1973 Spain opened its borders once again to foreign imports and Julio received an approach from modest Granada. It wasn’t hard to see the reasons for their interest: already ensconced at the club were Julio’s old sparring partner Ramón Aguirre Suárez and a lesser-known but utterly brutal Paraguayan defender named Pedro Fernandez.
Granada would enjoy their highest-ever Spanish League placing during Julio Montero Castillo’s two seasons there, yet earned no plaudits whatsoever because of the contempt in which they were held by the the rest of the division. Granada’s success was built partly on good organisation and effectiveness at set-pieces, but mostly on brutal intimidation and limb-breaking violence led by their deadly South American trio.
It was during his Granada sojourn that the rest of the Europe saw a little more of this talented, if monstrous Uruguayan at the 1974 World Cup. He made quite the impression with a series of brutal fouls against the Dutch that saw him finally booked, then sent off just 45 seconds later. Uncompromising to the last; the perfect title for the unwritten biography of Paolo Montero’s father.