The World Cup's first top scorer

Guillermo Stábile made his professional debut in 1923, playing for his local neighbourhood club Huracán in a game that would decide the Argentinian first division championship. The team had played in a series of deciding matches against Boca Juniors, and in the absence of first-team regular Alfredo Larmeu, Stabilé went straight into the team for the final.

He soon began to get used to seeing his name on the scoresheet and, in 1925, was named the league's top scorer after bagging 17 goals in 22 games. Thanks to this proficiency in front of goal, in the same year, Stabilé got to take his first lap of honour with Huracán around Parque Patricios - the neighbourhood of Buenos Aires where he was born just 19 years earlier in January of 1906.

Despite being one of the strongest players in the Argentinian league, he only got to don the light-blue shirt of the national team in the second game of the first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930. Again it was the absence of another, this time Roberto Cherro through illness, that gave him the opportunity to join the starting line-up.

Stabilé may have been fortunate to play, but his debut was nothing short of remarkable. He scored a hat-trick against Mexico to ensure Argentina’s second win of the tournament. In the next match, he scored another two against Chile; then a further two against the United States in the semi-final and he got Argentina’s only goal in the 4-2 defeat in the first World Cup Final.

His eight goals made him the first top scorer in World Cup history, also setting a unique record for the Argentinian national team as they were his only four matches, giving him an average of two goals per game. The great Guillermo Stábile’s silver medal is on display in the FIFA World Football Museum.

Of course, his career did not finish there. In 1931, he left Huracán to play in Europe. As part of his farewell, the club awarded him a commemorative statuette of a player to represent a goalscorer.

He spent his career in Europe at three clubs: Genoa and Napoli in Italy, and Red Star in Paris. While at the French club, he had to give up football after suffering fractures to both tibia and fibula in his left leg. The injury led to a magnificent story, which his grandchildren are delighted to retell.

Guillermo, Esteban and Roxana, three of his grandchildren, recall a mysterious episode related to the statuette he received on retiring from Huracán and the fracture that took him away from the football pitch:

"Before leaving for Europe, my grandfather bought a house for his mother. The house was in the neighbourhood of Pompeya, and inside there was a piano on top of which stood the statuette. After he suffered the injury, my grandmother call his mother to let her know."

What was expected to be a drama because of the end of his career ended up becoming an unusual incident that still mystifies the family. "At the very same moment that he suffered the fracture,” explains Guillermo, "the statuette fell from the piano and broke in exactly the same place where my grandfather had fractured his leg." Today, the trophy, with its fractured leg, has become a family heirloom.

Stábile did take to the pitch in Argentina again, but as a coach. He was in charge of San Lorenzo de Almagro, Estudiantes de La Plata, Huracán and Racing. At the same time, the Argentinian FA also appointed him coach of the Argentinian national team.

Between 1939 and 1960, he led the Albiceleste, winning six Copa Américas (1941, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1955 and 1957) and one Pan-American Championship (1960). Starting out known as “El Filtrador” and later becoming “Don Guillermo”, Stábile accrued a new record that is yet to be bettered: 127 matches, with 85 victories, 21 draws and just 21 defeats.

But the seven titles and the two decades of his career, as well as winning the championship three years in a row with Racing between 1949 and 1951, did not prevent him from being criticised for what has come to be known as the “Disaster of Sweden”.  Attacked somewhat unfairly, Stábile took the majority of criticism (and threats) from the press and the public following the calamitous 6-1 defeat to Czechoslovakia in the 1958 World Cup.

Later, in 1960, the AFA placed their trust in him once more as national team coach for the Pan-American Championship in Costa Rica, an old competition that involved teams from both CONCACAF and CONMEBOL. There, having secured a new title of champions, Stábile retired definitively from the national side.

See also

Unseen images from the all-conquering Vittorio Pozzo

The Pozzo collection is a treasure chest of items belonging to one of football’s great coaches. Among our exhibits is a set of photos taken at the World Cups of 1934 and 1938, on and off the pitch.
His fame led to his involvement in two football-themed films: Pelota de Trapo (known in English as "Ragged Football") in 1948 and Fantoche in 1957. In both, he played himself, Don Guillermo, but another incredible story would connect him to the plot of Pelota de Trapo. The character of "Comeuñas" (or "Nail-Biter") is a boy who dreams of being a football star and he achieves his goal, but his career is tragically cut short as the doctors discover that he is suffering from cardiomegaly, a condition that causes the heart to grow excessively.

"It’s ironic that my grandfather died on 26 December 1966 after suffering a heart attack," says his grandson Esteban. "It was brought on by the exact same condition suffered by the protagonist in Pelota de Trapo."

The Argentinian goalscorer and coach passed away days before his 61st birthday. However, he left behind a legacy of countless records and earned a huge amount of respect having lived a life dedicated to football.