It’s a pipe dream for many youngsters, to make your mark on a top football league where you’re the first of your nationality to play. Think of the plaudits, the fame and the recognition that no one can ever take the mantle of “first” from you.
That happened to one boy from New York, gracing the fields of Argentina – Renato Corsi.
Corsi was the first Yankee to pull on his boots, don a jersey and play in Argentina’s top domestic football league: the Primera Division. He would go on to feature against Juventus and win two domestic titles as well as the Copa Libertadores for Bicho Colorados. Not bad for a boy from New York.
Corsi was born on Manhattan island on January 24, 1963, but his stay stateside was brief. His parents, having left Argentina first for Peru then for the U.S., opted to take their growing family back to their homeland by Corsi’s third birthday.
He joined Buenos Aires-based club Argentinos Juniors at the age of 13 just as the club was re-emerging as a domestic force after years in the proverbial wilderness.
By the early 1980s, Argentinos Juniors were best known for their youth academy and its most famous graduate: Diego Armando Maradona. He would stay for four years with the club until his £1million departure to cross-town rivals Boca Juniors.
While his transfer fee would help stabilise the club’s finances, the departure of their top goalscorer left Argentinos in a precarious position. They needed a season-ending win against San Lorenzo to avoid being relegated in the 1981-1982 season, which they eventually got.
But by the time Corsi graced the grass of the Estadio Arq. Ricardo Etcheverri, the team affectionately dubbed “The Red Bugs” were on the up.
The club had morphed into an outfit dedicated to attacking. Under the guidance of manager Angel Labruna, the club had moved to a wider pitch, allowing them greater freedom in developing a more attacking, free-flowing style. In 1983, the club was in the middle of the Metropolitano championship when Labruna died. Roberto Saporiti was drafted in as a replacement, leading them to a mid-table placement and helping them reach the quarter-final of the season-ending Nacional championship.
But it was the next season that the team shone and an 18-year-old Corsi made history.
Reached in his home of Buenos Aires, Corsi can remember his first goal.
“It was against San Lorenzo,” he said. “I scored past [Jose Luis] Chivalert to win 1-0.”
The team went on to win the Primera Division that season, for the first time in the club’s history. But it was what came after that sticks with the tall, former midfielder.
It was their success in the Copa Libertadores, winning against America de Cali on penalties, that is branded in fans’ memories. The final is traditionally played over the course of two legs. However, the competition didn’t use extra time in that era, so a third decisive game was needed. Of the three games played to determine the winner, Argentinos drew first blood. Emilio Comisso scored the only goal in the first leg, played at River Plate’s Estadio Monumental.
Willington Ortiz scored the only goal of the second leg, ensuring a third deciding game would be needed.
Until that point, only one other final in the history of the Copa Libertadores had been decided by penalties. In a cagey affair, Comisso opened the scoring for the Buenos Aires club, tucking the ball between the legs of the onrushing Julio Cesar Falcioni. His teammates surged forward, enveloping the striker in a group hug. You could feel the optimism.But Cali stayed calm. Ricardo Gareca nodded home the equaliser despite faint claims about the ball potentially straying out of bounds before a cross was whipped in.
It would go to penalties. It was even until substitute Anthony de Avila stepped up. De Avila under-hit his penalty to the right of Enrique Vidalli, forcing an easy save out of the keeper.
It all hung on Mario Hernan Videla. He stepped up to cheers and whistling from the crowd. It wouldn’t matter. Calmly, coolly, he caressed the ball into the corner sending fans rushing onwards. He can be seen in video footage going to grab the match-winning ball before a fan beat him to it. Unperturbed, Videla welcomed a leaping Vidalle into his arms as Argentinos celebrated.
It was a highlight for Corsi, who only in his first season in the full squad, started and played the entire match.
The resulting triumph meant Argentinos would be entered in the Copa Intercontinental, a cup created in 1960 which pitted Europe’s top team against the best from South America – a forbearer to the modern FIFA Club World Cup.
Fan violence in South America had led to reservations amongst Europe’s top teams about sending their squads over to play in front of increasingly hostile crowds. In the 1960s, Brazilian clubs had opted out of the competition completely, over claims of discrimination and shoddy treatment of Brazil’s national team in the 1966 World Cup.
But by the 1980s, the tournament was up and running, albeit at a reduced standard.
But for Corsi, the quality didn’t matter. It was a chance to take the field against some of Europe’s premier talent.
“Playing against Juventus was an unbelievable experience, I’ll never forget it,” Corsi says. “There are lots of players who weren’t able to ever play [in the competition].”
Managed by Giovanni Trappatoni, and featuring Michel Platini and Michael Laudrup, Juventus were as close to a powerhouse as it got. But it was the plucky South American team who opened the scoring.
The ball was won in midfield, with Laudrup – who had earlier seen a goal disallowed for offside – being dispossessed. It moves quickly. Shuttling forward to a waiting Argentinos’ Mario Videla. Videla hooks a delicate ball over the top for the onrushing Carlos Erreros. A dink over Stefano Tacconi and it’s 1-0.
The Old Lady fought back. Platini scored a penalty after Laudrup was pulled down in the box. Jose Antonio Castro would restore the lead for Argentinos for seven minutes before Laudrup would round the keeper to restore parity.
Corsi entered the game after the equaliser, brought on to ensure stability and with faint hope for a late winner. It wasn’t to be.
“It was a sad game to lose, but at the same time we cemented our place in history,” he said.
Juventus scored four of their five penalties – with Argentinos only netting two – to win the cup and make Trapattoni the first European manager to have won every international club competition.
It would also arguably represent the peak of Corsi’s career. Argentinos would fall to River Plate in a Copa Libertadores game, which Corsi still laments losing.
River would go on to play against Steaua Bucharest in the 1986 Intercontinental Cup, winning the fixture. It was a tough pill to swallow for Argentinos, seeing their eliminator face-off against a much easier opponent in the Intercontinental Cup final than they had the previous year.
In total, he would finish with over 50 appearances for Argentinos and a handful of goals as a midfielder.
From there he would journey to several different clubs in Argentina, before finishing his career with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in 1998.
But it nearly ended so differently for the New Yorker returning home.
The U.S. was prepping to host the 1994 World Cup and manager Bora Milutinovic was in need of experience. Corsi was on his list.
Milutinovic even went so far as to call him up and discuss representing the U.S. but it wasn’t to be. Corsi tore his ligaments and wasn’t able to return to full fitness for a full call-up and a shot at taking part.
He insists the tag of the first American to play in Argentina’s top league is one that doesn’t mean much to him, arguing that it means more to other players as a symbol that Americans can play at a high level.
After hanging up his boots, he turned to shepherding players through their own careers.
Argentinos Juniors is also nicknamed ‘El Semiller’, or the seed nursery, in reference to their youth academy and the prominent players it has produced. Besides Maradona, Fernando Redondo and Juan Roman Riquelme have all made their way through the Buenos Aires club.
Fittingly for a man who played for El Semiller, Corsi became an agent.
He managed and watched out for players such as Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano, Lucas Ocampo, Lucas Viatri, Fernando Gago and Leo Paredes.
However, there’s one dream that lingers. One where he returns back to the country of his birth.
“I’d love to return to [the U.S.] and open a football school,” he said, looking to give something back to the country of his birth.
By IBWM Senior Writer Nick Wells. Header image credit goes fully to Sam Kelly.