Giampiero Boniperti, who has died aged 92, was the leading man of Italian football in the 1950s. Blue-eyed with blond, curly hair, he was a precocious talent who was first capped for Italy at 19, appearing in the 1950 and 1954 World Cup campaigns and spending his whole playing career with Juventus of Turin, winning five league titles at the club. On retirement he became first a director of, and then, for two decades, the president of Juventus, a period during which still more honours were accumulated.
Boniperti was born in Barengo, north-west Italy, to Agabio, the town’s mayor, and his wife, Camilla, a teacher. After schooling at the De Filippi college in Arona, he played for a local club, Momo, as a centre-forward, joining Juventus in the 1946-47 season. He made his first, dramatic impact on their fans on a rainy afternoon in the club’s old Stadio Comunale, playing for Juventus reserves against a local team in a curtain raiser to a league game. “Boni”, then only 18, quickly scored, then scored again. Fast, incisive, elusive, he went on to bag seven goals in all. By the end of the year he was not only playing for the Juventus league team, but was an international.
He made his debut for Italy in late 1947 in a 5-1 defeat to Austria, and next played for his country again in 1949, at outside-right, this time in a 3-1 win against the same opposition, scoring the first of his eight international goals in that encounter. Thereafter he continued in the outside-right position and had an especially fine game against England in the fog at Tottenham later that year, when Italy outplayed their hosts but contrived to miss chances and lose 2-0.
Meanwhile Boniperti was steadily asserting himself with Juventus. His lively talents had been plain from the first, although some felt he had been overshadowed by the forceful personalities who played alongside him, as well as by the disciplines imposed on the team by the club’s English manager Jesse Carver, under whom Juventus won the Serie A league title in 1949-50 – a campaign in which Boniperti played 35 games.
However, Boniperti’s personality would soon develop apace, to the point where he dominated the Italian football of his era. The 1950 World Cup in Brazil was, however, a disappointment for him, as it was for Italy. In their opening game he played inside-right to Ermes Muccinelli, his club colleague and right-winger. Italy lost 3-2 to Sweden, Boni was dropped from the second pool game against Paraguay, and although Italy won that game they were eliminated.
In 1952 Boniperti won another Serie A league title medal, and in 1953 he was chosen to play for Rest of the World team against England at Wembley in a match to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Football Association. Deployed at outside-right, he scored twice in a 4-4 draw.
He was captain of Italy for their first game in the 1954 World Cup finals, but it was again a disappointing tournament, both for Boniperti and his team. Although he scored in the opening encounter against Switzerland, Italy lost that match 2-1, and he was dropped to the bench for the next group stage game against Belgium. Although Italy won 4-1, setting up a playoff against Switzerland, they were eliminated after losing 4-1, with Boniperti again only a reserve.
In 1957, John Charles, the celebrated Welsh international centre-forward, joined Juventus from Leeds United, together with Argentina’s inside-left, Omar Sívori. Boniperti switched to inside-right to make up a hugely effective “Trio Magico”, which proceeded to help Juventus to win three more league titles in 1958, 1960 and 1961.
At the end of that 1960-61 season Boniperti, who had won the last of his 38 caps for Italy in 1960 (24 of them as captain), decided to call it a day. With 179 goals in 459 apperances he was Juventus’s highest scorer for more than 40 years until his record was beaten by Alessandro Del Piero in 2006.
Soon after retiring as a player Boniperti was ushered into an executive position at Juventus, and became president in 1971 after a relatively barren period for the club. The first of a new kind of Italian club president, placed there for his prestige rather than his wealth, he presided over an upturn in fortunes that included the winning of league titles in five of the next seven seasons. Tough yet emotional, Boniperti could seldom bear to watch the second half of a Juventus game, and the sight of his figure disappearing out of the seats at the interval became a familiar one.
Despite the success of his reign, during which Juventus won 16 trophies, Boniperti’s presidency was marred by the Lobo-Solti affair, in which – before Juventus and Derby County were due to meet in the semi-final of the 1973 European Cup – Dezso Solti, a notorious Hungarian fixer, travelled to Lisbon and offered a bribe to the Portuguese referee, Francisco Lobo. Lobo bravely reported it.
When I confronted Boniperti with the evidence in his presidential office the following year, he listened in total silence, finally breaking the stillness to say that it was the work of ‘“madmen” who were not under anyone’s control. Juventus slipped off the hook after a farcical disciplinary inquiry by Europe’s controlling football body, Uefa, and the episode was a shabby one.
Boniperti remained as president until he resigned in 1990, having seen Juventus win the 1984 European Cup Winners’ Cup and the 1985 European Cup. He returned the following year as a director and was appointed honorary president in 2006. Outside football, in 1994 he was elected as a member of the European parliament on the Forza Italia ticket, and remained in that role until 1999.
He was married to Rosi (nee Vergano), with whom he had three children, Giampaolo, Alessandro and Federica.