Rewind to the mid-1950s and one man, Alfredo Di Stefano, dominates La Liga’s Pichichi; between 1953 and 1957, the Real Madrid striker would finish as top scorer on three separate occasions. Only one would break that domination, Sevilla’s Juan Arza.
In a league with a history of great goalscorers, Arza stands up there with the best. However, his name is one you are unlikely to have heard of.
Born in Estella in 1923, Juan Arza Iñigo began his sporting career playing Basque Pelota. A sport similar to squash, it is likely his time playing it created his style on a football pitch.
Arza’s football career would begin at home, playing for his hometown club aged 14. Noticing his talent, a friend of the family would tell him of Espanyol and before too long, Arza was on trial with the Barcelona club.
They were impressed and keen to sign him up, recognising that this diminutive forward could turn into something special. Arza had no intention of making his short stay a permanent one, though.
Writing home to his mother, he claimed the club were not feeding him, a lie that would see him father bring him home immediately. When he later learned of the deception, he was understandably furious and issued an ultimatum to his son, “Return to Espanyol or give up football”. Luckily for Arza, fate had no interest in his father’s threats.
Famed doctor Amadeo Garcia de Salazar, club secretary at Alaves, stepped in to save him from a life of driving taxis and continuing the family profession.
Arza, having faced the prospect of having to give up the chance of giving up football, did not hesitate in signing for the Babazorros.
He would only spend a year with the club but it would be one they would remember, his performances up front helping to guide the club to promotion. Already the bigger clubs were hunting his signature, namely Athletic Bilbao.
Again, fate intended him to move in a different direction and in stepped Malaga. Manager Manuel Olivares invited Arza to his own home and convinced him to make Malaga his next destination.
It was not a move that would work out well for either party. The club suffered relegation to the third division and Arza failed to hit any kind of heights.
But it made no difference because he would not be joining them in a lower division. Instead, Sevilla would be his next destination, a place that in time would become his spiritual home.
1950s – Sevilla striker Juan Arza was top goalscorer in La Liga in 1955 with 29 goals. pic.twitter.com/suKC9aVVzB
— Michael Frijj (@frijj_0) April 21, 2015
In the history of the club, no player has yet bonded with Sevilla as Arza did. It could have been very different though because first impressions were not good. Coach Patrick O’Connell had serious reservations, largely about Arza’s small stature.
They would soon be dismissed when he saw the magic that Arza could weave with the ball at his feet. Incisive, an excellent dribbler and capable of putting the ball in the back of the net, Arza was a managers’ dream.
Long before Lionel Messi even existed, the diminutive forward he was proof that size is no indicator of quality. His opponents soon learned that taking him lightly was a grievous error.
It wouldn’t take long for the Irishman to fall in love with his new signing, adorning him with the nickname “El Niño de Oro”, the Golden Boy. It was a term of sheer affection and one that would stick forever.
On his debut, a 5-2 win over CE Sabadell, Arza provided fans with a sign of things to come with a hattrick. From there, the goals would flow on a consistent basis. The following four seasons saw him rack up 57 in total, his 14 in the 1946 campaign helping Sevilla to their first and only La Liga title.
In 414 appearances for the club, Arza would take his tally to 207 in total before retiring. Only one man has managed more in the club’s history, none have more in terms of league goals.
The 1955 season would be his defining year and the one that would truly cement his legendary status.
In 28 games Arza found the back of the net on 29 occasions. That return earned him the Pichici and stop Real Madrid’s Alfredo di Stefano winning it for the second year running.
To understand how great a feat this was, a look further into history is needed. Di Stefano, a footballing great by any definition, would finish as top scorer for the next three seasons. Yet, for one year, a taxi drivers son was his better.
Naturally, Real Madrid and Barcelona were constant admirers of Arza. Sevilla and specifically president Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan never once contemplated selling though. For them, Arza was as priceless as Messi is today.
If they had, perhaps his name would be as well remembered as Di Stefano’s is today. On a bigger stage, with a bigger club, Arza could have become have one of the all-time greats. H
Instead, he stayed with Sevilla and became a hero there, a status he will hold for as long as the club exists. The likes of Di Stefano, Raul and Messi, may be better remembered but ask any Sevilla fan and they will tell you there were fewer better.
A man who helped his club to their only La Liga title, a Copa del Rey success, captained them in Europe and won it’s only ever Pachichi, few would argue that Arza was the Golden Boy in every aspect.