José Altafini

José João Altafini (Italian: [altaˈfiːni]; born 24 July 1938), also known as "Mazzola" in Brazil (as when he started to play it was noted that he resembled the Italian legend Valentino Mazzola), is an Italian-Brazilian former footballer, who played as a forward.[1] Although he began his career with Palmeiras in Brazil, he soon moved to play football in Italy, and is mostly remembered for his highly successful stint with Italian club A.C. Milan, with which he achieved great domestic and international success; he later also played for Napoli and Juventus, before ending his career in Switzerland with spells at Chiasso and Mendrisiostar.[2][3][4] A highly prolific goalscorer, Altafini also held the record for the most goals scored in a single European Cup campaign for over 50 years; he is also one of only eight players to have scored five goals in a single European Cup match.[2] He is the joint-fourth highest scorer in Italian Serie A history (along with Giuseppe Meazza) with 216 goals, and also holds the record for being the fifth-youngest player in Serie A history to score 100 goals, a feat which he managed at the age of 24 years and 239 days.[5][6][7][8][9] At international level, he represented both Brazil and Italy; he was a member of the Brazilian side that won the 1958 FIFA World Cup, and later also represented Italy at the 1962 FIFA World Cup.

José Altafini
Altafini (left) in 2008
Personal information
Full name José João Altafini
Date of birth (1938-07-24) 24 July 1938 (age 82)
Place of birth Piracicaba, Brazil
Height 1.76 m (5 ft 9 12 in)
Playing position(s) Striker
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1956–1958 Palmeiras 114 (89)
1958–1965 Milan 205 (120)
1965–1972 Napoli 180 (71)
1972–1976 Juventus 74 (25)
1976 Toronto Italia
1976–1979 Chiasso 60 (18)
1979–1980 Mendrisiostar 20 (11)
Total 653 (334)
National team
1957–1958 Brazil 8 (4)
1961–1962 Italy 6 (5)
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only

Regarded as one of the best and most complete strikers of his generation, and as one of Serie A's and Milan's greatest ever players, Altafini was a well-rounded striker with an eye for goal, who was quick, skilful, and powerful.[2][3][4][10][11]

He is currently a well-known football pundit on Italian TV for SKY Italia and a commentator on Italian radio for RTL 102.5. He is also the secondary commentator on Pro Evolution Soccer video games in Italy.[12] As a pundit, he is popular and known in Italy for coining the expression "golaço" (or the Italianised "golasso") whenever a notable goal is scored,[13] as well as his iconic exclamation "incredibile, amici!" ("incredible, friends!").[2][10]

Early lifeEdit

Altafini was born on the 24 July 1938 in Piracicaba, a city in the state of São Paulo, Brazil, with a large Italian community, mostly originating from Trentino Alto Adige, where certain dialects are still spoken. He came from a working-class family of Italian origin, born to Gioacchino Altafini and Maria Marchesoni, his mother being from Caldonazzo (Trentino),[14] which enabled him to obtain Italian citizenship.[15] José's father worked in a sugar factory, while his mother worked as a housemaid for a wealthy family.[16] José began playing football for the youth side of his city at the age of 16, the XV de Novembro Sporting Club. It was during this time that he earned his nickname "Mazola", due to his physical resemblance with legendary Italian attacking midfielder Valentino Mazzola.[2] At the age of 17, he began to play for the youth side of the Italian-Brazilian São Paulo club Palmeiras, initially as an attacking midfielder or winger, before being moved to a more offensive position as a forward.[10][17]

Club careerEdit


Altafini made his debut for the Italian-Brazilian Palmeiras team of São Paulo in Brazil on the 29th January 1956, scoring a brace on his debut, and becoming the youngest goalscorer for the club, at the age of 17, a record which still stands today.[10] He played for the Brazilian club for two seasons (1956 and 1957), scoring 32 goals in 63 matches competitive, and 89 goals in 114 matches including semi-official matches and friendly matches.[18] His goalscoring ratio of 0.74 goals per game is the fifth best ever average for a Palmeiras player.[18] On the 9th June 1957, he scored all five goals in Palmeiras's 5–0 win over Noroeste, which is also a joint-club record for the most goals by a single player in a Palmeiras match.[18] On the 6th March 1958, Altafini scored two goals in an historic match against the legendary Santos team of Pelé, Pepe, and Zito in the Torneio Rio-São Paulo. Altafini was one of the protagonists of the match, which ended in a 7–6 win to Santos, despite his goals.[18]


Altafini in action with Milan

Altafini began his career in Italy with A.C. Milan in 1958, following the World Cup in Sweden; his talent and offensive potential had been noticed by Milan's agents during some friendly matches in Italy against Inter and Fiorentina in preparation for the upcoming tournament, in which Altafini scored. He was purchased by the Italian club prior to the World Cup in Sweden for 135 million Lire.[17] Altafini made his scoreless Milan debut on September 21, 1958, at the age of 20, and, in his first season, he played 32 games and scored 28 goals, winning the 1958–59 Serie A title along the way, and demonstrating his goalscoring prowess; he also managed 4 goals in 4 Coppa Italia appearances that season, finishing the season with a total of 32 goals in 36 appearances in all competitions.[4][17][19] His first league goal came on October 5 in a win against Bari. Altafini was the top scorer of the 1960–61 Coppa Italia, with 4 goals, although Milan were not able to make it past the second round of the competition. On the 27th March 1960, he scored four goals in the Milan derby against local rivals Inter, which ended in a 5–3 victory for Milan. During these next few seasons, Milan managed a third and second-place finish, as Altafini continued to reach the 20 goal season mark.[13] On the 12 November 1961, he also managed four goals against Juventus, as Milan went on to win the Serie A title again during the 1961–62 season, in which Altafini finished as the league's joint top scorer with 22 goals in 33 games, alongside Aurelio Milani.[13][19]

In the 1963 European Cup Final, Altafini scored two goals against Benfica to secure Milan's first European triumph.[19] The game ended 2–1, and Altafini finished the competition as the top scorer with a record of 14 goals,[13][20] which was only broken during the 2013–14 season by Cristiano Ronaldo, who managed 17 goals.[21] In Milan's 5–0 win over l'Union Luxembourg, he managed to score five goals in a single match of the competition, a record which he shares with eight other footballers, including Lionel Messi.[13][20] Milan were defeated in the 1963 Intercontinental Cup final 1–0 by Pelé's Santos in a play-off match following a 6–6 draw on aggregate; Altafini scored one goal in the competition, in Milan's 4–2 second leg defeat. Altafini's performances led him to be nominated for the 1963 and 1964 Ballon d'Or awards, in which he finished in 11th and 16th place respectively. His appearances became more limited during the next few seasons at the club, as Milan went trophyless, finishing in second place behind Inter during the 1964–65 season.[13] During his seven seasons with Milan, Altafini was able to win two Serie A titles, and a European Cup, as well as the top goalscoring awards in Serie A, the Coppa Italia, and the European Cup.[19]


Altafini celebrating for Napoli

In 1965, Altafini joined Napoli, due to his disagreements with Amarildo and Paolo Ferrario at Milan,[2] where he formed a notable attacking partnership with Italo-Argentine advanced playmaker Omar Sivori, who had been his Italy teammate at the 1962 World Cup in Chile.[10] He remained at the club for seven years, until 1972. On the 31st December 1967, in a 2–2 home draw against Torino, Altafini scored an acrobatic goal from a bicycle kick, a "golaço" which made him extremely popular with the Napoli fans.[22] During his time at the club, he helped Napoli to compete for the title regularly, and he was able to lead Napoli to their best ever Serie A finish up until that point, helping them to finish second in the 1967–68 Serie A campaign, behind his former club Milan, also finishing as the second highest goalscorer in Serie A that season. He also helped them finish in third place in 1966 and 1971. During the 1971–72 season, Altafini also helped Napoli to the 1971–72 Coppa Italia final, although they were defeated 2–0 by his previous club, Milan. Despite his role in the club's history,[3] during his time at Napoli, Altafini only managed to win a minor trophy, the Coppa delle Alpi, during the 1966–67 season.[13]


After his time at Napoli, Altafini joined Juventus along with his former Napoli teammate goalkeeping legend Dino Zoff. Despite his advancing age, which often led him to be used as a substitute, Altafini was decisive in helping Juventus to win two more Serie A titles during the 1972–73 and the 1974–75 seasons. During the 1972–73 season, Juventus were point behind Milan, who were leading the Serie A table, before their final match of the season against Roma. Juventus were trailing at half-time, but Altafini scored a crucial equaliser (his ninth of the season), before Antonello Cuccureddu scored the late match winner. Milan were defeated in Verona, and Juventus's victory allowed them to capture the Serie A title.[3][13] Another one of his most notable moments during his Juventus career was his goal against his former club, Napoli, during the 1974–75 season, at the age of 37.[13] Before the match, Juventus were in first place, two points ahead of Napoli, in second place; Altafini came off the bench a few minutes before the end of the match, scoring the match winner in the 88th minute, helping Juventus to a 2–1 victory, which allowed them to increase their lead over Napoli and win the title; Altafini managed 8 goals in 20 appearances that season.[3] A few days after the match, a banner with the writing "José core 'ngrato" was placed on one of the gates of the San Paolo stadium, referencing the fact that Altafini had previously played for the Neapolitan club.[13]

Altafini with Juventus in the 1972–73 season

He also helped Juventus to a Coppa Italia and a European Cup Final in 1973, scoring a goal in the quarter-finals of the 1972–73 European Cup against Újpesti Dózsa, and two goals in the semi-final against Derby County. Juventus narrowly missed out on a treble by losing both cup finals despite their 1973 league title.[10] Their Coppa Italia defeat came at the hands of Altafini's former club, Milan, once again, on penalties, while Juventus were defeated by Ajax in the European Cup final.[10][13] During the 1973–74 season, Juventus went trophyless, although Altafini managed 7 goals in 21 appearances, and in his final season, Altafini made only 10 appearances however, as Juventus missed out on the title, finishing in second place behind local rivals Torino; Altafini decided to leave Serie A after 18 seasons in Italy.[13]

By the time he left Juventus at the age of 38 in 1976, Altafini had played 459 games in Serie A and had scored 216 goals, although he had scored most of these in the early part of his career. In fact, he only scored 53 goals in his last 8 seasons in Italy, whereas he had scored 134 in his first 8. He is currently the fourth highest goalscorer of all time in Serie A, alongside Giuseppe Meazza, and behind only Silvio Piola, Totti, and Nordahl. He also holds the second highest number of appearances in Serie A by a non-Italian born player, behind Javier Zanetti.[13]

Later career in Switzerland and retirementEdit

After leaving Italy in 1976, Altafini briefly played in the National Soccer League with Toronto Italia, where he appeared in the 1976 CONCACAF Champions' Cup.[23][24]He later played for four years in Switzerland for FC Chiasso, playing in the second division, and earning a promotion into the Super League thanks to his goals, scoring 14 goals in 26 league games in his first season. He later played for Mendrisiostar, another team in the Swiss second division, before retiring at the age of 42 in 1980, after a 25-season professional footballing career.[13]

International careerEdit


Altafini made his international debut for Brazil at the age of 18 and 327 days on the 16th June 1957, marking his first appearance with a goal against Portugal in a 3–0 friendly victory.[25] On the 7th and the 10th of July, he helped Brazil to win the Copa Roca against rivals Argentina, alongside debutant Pelé, scoring a goal.[4][25]

Altafini, playing as Mazzola, was a member of the Brazil team that won the 1958 FIFA World Cup in Sweden, and was the second youngest member of the squad to be called up after Pelé, at the age of 19. He started the tournament strongly, scoring two goals in the opening group match against Austria on 8 June, which ended in a 3–0 win, but he was injured during the second group match against England three days later, which ended in a 0–0 draw, and as a result he missed the final group match against the Soviet Union on 15 June, which Brazil won 2–0.[26] He returned to the starting line-up in the quarter-final match against Wales on 19 June, putting on a strong performance and helping Pelé to score the only goal of the match.[10] However, he was replaced by Vavá for the semi-final victory against France (5–2) on 24 June, and manager Vicente Feola also left him out in favour of Vavá once again from the squad that would lift the World Cup in the final over hosts Sweden on 29 June, following a 5–2 victory.[4][27][28] However, in the 1962 FIFA World Cup, he played for Italy under his own name, stating “It was very simple, back then Brazil never called on players who were based overseas. Never. I was only 23 or 24 and I would have been devastated at missing a World Cup. It wasn’t me who left Brazil. It was Brazil that left me.”[29] In total, he made 8 appearances for the Brazilian national side, scoring 4 goals.[4]


Altafini made his debut for Italy on 15 October 1961, in a play-off against Israel for a place at the 1962 FIFA World Cup. He scored in a 4–2 victory in Ramat Gan and also featured in the second leg as the Italians booked their place at the tournament. Prior to the World Cup, he scored two braces in friendly wins over France and Belgium. Altafini played in the first two group matches of the 1962 World Cup, against West Germany and Chile, as Italy were eliminated in the first round.[30] Despite only being 24, he did not receive another call-up for Italy following Italy's disappointing World Cup campaign, and he was criticised throughout the tournament for avoiding physical challenges and giving up possession too easily.[10] Altafini made 6 appearances for Italy, scoring 5 goals, bringing his total International tally to 9 goals in 14 appearances.[2][4][31]

Style of playEdit

Regarded as one of the best strikers of his generation, Altafini was a complete striker, with good skills, fast feet, and an eye for goal, who was quick, agile, and physically strong. In addition to his pace and physical attributes, he was gifted with excellent control, technique, flair, and dribbling ability, and he was also a highly creative player, having started his career as an attacking midfielder or winger, before being switched to a more offensive role as a centre-forward. He made a name for himself as a highly prolific goalscorer throughout his career, due to his powerful, accurate shot, and ability to make attacking runs, as well as his intelligence, and instinctive opportunism inside the penalty area.[2][3][4][10][11][17]



After retiring from football, Altafini became a notable football commentator in Italy, where he coined the term golazzo, a transliteration of the word golaço from his native Portuguese, which roughly translates into English as 'great goal'; although it is not actually a word in Italian. A sound bite of his use of the phrase while commentating was used at the start and finish of Channel 4's Football Italia.[13]


In the biographical film Pelé: Birth of a Legend, Altafini is portrayed by Mexican actor Diego Boneta.[16]


Altafini also co-wrote two books: Incredibile amici! Il mio manuale del calcio, along with Pierluigi Pardo, and Futebol e alegria. Personaggi, fatti, aneddoti del mio calcio, along with Maurizio Barberis.[32]

Career statisticsEdit

In ItalyEdit


Club Season League Cup Europe Other Total
Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
Milan 1958–1959 32 28 4 4 2 2 38 34
1959–1960 33 20 4 2 2 4 39 26
1960–1961 34 22 2 4 2 0 38 26
1961–1962 33 22 2 0 35 22
1962–1963 31 11 2 1 9 14 4 5 46 31
1963–1964 30 14 1 0 4 4 3 1 38 19
1964–1965 12 3 12 3
Total 205 120 9 9 19 20 13 12 246 161
1965–1966 34 14 2 1 - - 5 7 41 22
1966–1967 27 16 1 1 5 1 33 18
1967–1968 29 13 2 1 3 3 34 17
1968–1969 21 5 4 2 3 1 28 8
1969–1970 15 8 3 0 3 0 5 3 26 11
1970–1971 25 7 11 4 36 11
1971–1972 29 8 5 2 2 0 36 10
Total 180 71 28 11 16 5 ? 10 234 97
1972–1973 23 9 6 0 6 3 35 12
1973–1974 21 7 8 2 2 1 1 0 32 10
1974–1975 20 8 6 0 9 5 35 13
1975–1976 10 1 4 1 3 0 17 2
Total 74 25 24 3 20 9 1 0 119 37
Career totals 459 216 61 23 55 34 24 22 599 295

*European competitions include the UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup Winners' Cup & UEFA Cup



National team Year Apps Goals
1957 3 2
1958 5 2
Total 8 4


National team Year Apps Goals
1961 2 1
1962 4 4
Total 6 5








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External linksEdit