ANTONIO UBALDO 'EL RATA' RATTIN Antonio Ubaldo ‘El Rata’ Rattin was the inspirational captain and leader of Boca Juniors and Argentina’s national team in the 1960’s. A temperamental but charismatic defensive midfielder of strong character, he remains to this day a symbol of Boca Juniors, and one of the most loved and admired football players who ever played in Argentina. Rattin was an imposing and intimidating figure on the field. Standing tall at 1.93m (about 6’ 4”), he towered over his opponents. He was slim but strong as granite, with feet so large that when he played his first practice game for Boca as a youth, the team was unable to find football shoes that would fit him, so he had to play on his street shoes. Rattin wasn’t particularly skillful with the ball, but he was an instinctively intelligent player with superior tactical sense, a very strong competitor, a fierce marker, a tough intimidator and a great destroyer, a player who consistently outran and outhustled every other player on the field. People used to say he must be magnetic, because the ball always seemed to find its way to him. He fought for it when his opponents had it, and he made himself an outlet when his teammates did. He was also strong heading the ball, dominating with his air game. He wasn’t much of a dribbler, and his passing can be described as simple, expedient and practical. After winning the ball he hardly ever lost it, as he usually looked quickly to make the simple pass to his more creative teammates. Yet when he looked to join the attack he was powerful and surprisingly efficient. Most of the 28 goals he scored for Boca came at the most opportune times. But Rattin’s most important characteristic was his ability to lead. His commanding presence on the field, his strong authoritative voice and his sacrificial attitude were a catalyst that was fundamental in organizing his teams and motivating his teammates to give their best. Rattin always could be counted on to leave his soul on the field of play, He was also a strong leader off the field, mentoring young players, and lecturing them on the significance and responsibility of wearing the shirt of Boca Juniors. Many saw Rattin as a throwback to the old days, comparing him to the legendary ‘caudillos’ of an earlier era, such as Luis Monti and Obdulio Varela of old, and it is certainly a valid comparison. But Rattin was also a player ahead of his time. He pioneered the role of ‘cuevero’, when he realized that he was of more help to his team by withdrawing behind the other midfielders and standing in front of the two central defenders to clog the middle and cut off traffic, thus allowing the other midfielders more freedom to attack. Few coaches at the time understood the tactical significance of the role, but in latter times it became a favored tactic. Rattin was also was a very disciplined athlete who put a premium on training and conditioning, and who carefully watched his diet and his sleep, and shunned the nighttime escapades. He sough an edge by training harder than anybody else, at a time when few of his contemporaries prioritized the physical aspect of the game. The son of Italian immigrants, Antonio Ubaldo Rattin was born on May 16, 1937 in Tigre, a charming small town located by the Parana River Delta, north of Buenos Aires, an area of many islands and channels. Born to a poor family, he began earning money since a very early age by running errands between islands, spending most of his days rowing his small boat, thus developing his great physical strength. Whatever free time he had, he spent playing football, and soon was the dominant player in the area’s youth squad. Because of his size and fighting spirit he quickly came to the attention of scouts and began playing in the youth divisions of Tigre FC. But he was a huge fan of Boca Juniors, and when they offered him a place in their 5th division squad, he agreed to play for free, even though his family needed money, and both Tigre and Chacarita Juniors had offered him a signing bonus to join their club. Rattin made his debut in Boca’s first division squad in 1956, at 18 years of age. The rival was none other than archrival River Plate, featuring stars like Rattin’s childhood idol Pipo Rossi, as well as Angel Labruna, and Omar Sivori. Rattin was assigned to mark Labruna and he did so exceptionally well, earning the veteran’s respect, as Boca Juniors triumphed 2-1. At first Rattin was strongly resisted by Boca’s hard core fans. He was replacing one of the crowd’s favorites, the veteran Eliseo Mourino, who was said to be hurt. When it was discovered by the ‘barras’ that Mourino was not hurt, but in fact was locked in a dispute with the club’s front office, they took their anger towards the executives and channeled it against the young replacement player. As the season went on and Mourino was still absent, the crowd’s resentment against Rattin grew. They greeted him with jeers, insults, and shouts of ‘Eliseo, Eliseo!’ Many talented players over the years have crumbled under the pressure of the notorious Boca Juniors hard core fans. But Rattin took it as a personal challenge. The more they jeered him the more he became determined to fight hard to win them over. And because of his fighting spirit he not only won them over but over time he earned their utmost loyalty and eventually became the club’s biggest idol. ‘I think I beat them (the fans) because they got tired of jeering’, Rattin said. ‘They realized I wasn’t going away.’ Mourino eventually came back, but he was switched to a wide left position, and was soon traded, as the young Rattin had become the unquestionable owner of the central midfield job. When Rattin joined Boca Juniors, the club was going through difficult times. They had won only one league title in twelve years, while eternal rival River Plate was dominating the league. Yet by the time he retired, Rattin had helped Boca regain its place of prominence in Argentina. Led by Rattin, and featuring talented players like goalkeeper Roma, Marzolini, Angelillo, Angel Rojas, as well as Brazilians Orlando and Valentim and Peruvian Melendes, Boca Juniors won league titles in 1962, 1964, 1965, 1969 and 1970, while rival River Plate failed to win any title over an 18 year stretch that ended in 1975. Over the course of his career, Rattin played 370 matches for Boca Juniors, from 1956 through 1970, including 357 league appearances, which was a club record at the time. He also scored 28 goals. In league matches against River he had a favorable record of 12 wins, 9 draws, and only 5 loses. Rattin’s only failure with his club was the inability to win the newly created Copa Libertadores. Boca Juniors narrowly lost a memorable final againt the Santos of Pele in 1963, which featured two high level matches that ended 3-2 and 2-1 in favor of the Brazilians. In Rattin’s two other attempts at the Cup, Boca lost in the semifinals. Rattin’s Boca also enbarqued in some successful exhibition tours, which included victories over top foreign squads such as Gerson’s Botafogo, Di Stefano’s Real Madrid and Kubala’s Barcelona. At a tournament in Morocco, during a match against Real Madrid, Rattin so frustruated Ferenc Puskas that the legendary Magyar threw a punch at him and was thrown out of the match. Boca beat Real Madrid 2-1 and won the tournament. Another memorable international match occurred in Ecuador, against Deportivo Quito for Copa Libertadores. Boca’s players were feeling the effect of the altitude, and only the ultra-fit Rattin seemed to be running all over the field and showing no ill-effect. At halftime, most of the players were laying down, out of breath, and complaining about the conditions. Rattin told them, ‘What is this (expletive)? You are a bunch of (expletive)! Just cover my back, and I will win this game by myself. In the second half he scored two goals as Boca won the match 2-1. Rattin made his debut for Argentina’s national team in 1959, in a friendly against Chile. Curiously, Argentina took a 2-0 lead while he was in the lineup. He was replaced at halftime and Chile ended up winning 4-2. The 1962 World Cup was not a good one for Argentina and especially for Rattin. He clashed with coach Toto Lorenzo, as he disagreed about the team’s strategy and in particular with the role Lorenzo wanted for him. He ended up playing only one match, which he considered one of his worst performances ever, as Argentina lost to England 3-1 and was eliminated in the first round. In 1964, for the occasion of the Brazilian Federation’s 50 years anniversary, a four team tournament rich in talent was organized, featuring Pele’s Brazil, Eusebio’s Portugal, Bobby Charlton’s England, and Argentina. It was at this tournament that Rattin asserted himself and became the undisputed leader of the national team, as he was at Boca Juniors. In the first set of matches, Argentina disposed of Portugal 2-0, while Brazil beat England 5-1. As the much anticipated Brazil-Argentina match began, defender Messiano had the job of shadowing Pele. After a couple of strong challenges by the Argentine, Pele retaliated violently, injuring his marker, who had to leave the field only 28 minutes into the match. It is said by Rattin’s teammates that he walked to the bench and in his commanding voice told the coach, ‘Put in Telch (an attacking midfielder), and don’t worry about Pele. I will take care of him. Such was his conviction that the coach complied. When Pele saw that Rattin, a player who looked twice his size, was his new marker, he expected retaliation for his challenge on Messiano. Pele told Rattin, ‘Lets make a deal. With the ball, all is fair, withouth the ball, nothing’. Rattin replied, ‘It’s a deal. But once you get the ball I will kill you.’ Rattin marked Pele fiercely but fairly, and shut him down, as Argentina went on to win 3-0, with two goals from Telch. After the match Pele looked for Rattin to exchange shirts. He gave him a hug and thanked him for marking him well but without bad intentions. They have remained good friends since that day. (An affectionate note by Pele is included in Rattin’s biography ‘El Caudillo’, and Rattin’s commentary can be heard in the spectacular video ‘Pele Eterno’) Argentina went on to beat England 1-0 and win the ‘Nations Cup’ trophy, much to the dismay of the Brazilian federation which had already engraved the Brazilian players names on the prize watches meant for the winners. Led by Rattin, Argentina went into the 1966 World Cup with high expectation. Coach Lorenzo was back at the helm, but by now he understood Rattin’s role in the team, and confirmed him as the captain. Argentina began well, having little trouble in beating a talented Spanish team, which was led by stars like Suarez, Del Sol and Gento. They also disposed of Switzerland, and managed a scoreless draw against the powerful West German squad, which featured a talented young player named Franz Beckenbauer. Because Germany had the better goal differential, it finished first in the group. Argentina drew a tough quarterfinal matchup against the home team, England. It is unfortunate that this is the match for which Rattin is best remembered outside South America. After arguing a call, he was unexpectedly thrown out of the match by the German referee Rudolf Kreitlein, for alleged ‘violence of the tongue’. Believing he was a victim of a conspiracy to help the home team, Rattin lost his cool and refused to leave the field. His actions nearly provoked a walkout by the whole Argentine squad, and the match was delayed for over 20 minutes. As he was finally led of the field, he confiscated the corner flag (which happened to be a British flag), and he sat on the red carpet meant for England’s Queen. Hearing the insults from many in the crowd, he eloquently responded in kind as he was being led away. The match was finally resumed, but without its dynamic leader, Argentina seemed to be missing more than just one player. England eventually scored the game’s only goal and moved on to win the title. This controversial incident had a positive impact on the game of football, as it resulted in FIFA installing the warning system of yellow and red cards. To this day, Rattin maintains he was the victim, but he doesn’t hold any grudges. ‘That match made me famous all over the world’, he often jests, In 1969, during a practice before a key World Cup Eliminatorias match against Peru, Rattin broke a tendon. Unable to play, he could only watch from the bench as Teofilo Cubillas and his Peruvian teammates eliminated Argentina from the World Cup for the only time in history. It was the end of Rattin’s career with the national team. Rattin missed most of the 1970 season with injuries. He was expected by the team and the fans to return, when he surprisingly announced his retirement at the age of 33. During his absence ‘Muneco’ Madurga, a talented young player, had done very well in his spot. Deeming that because of the accumulation of injuries he wouldn’t be able to play at full steam, and remembering well his troubles when as a young player he replaced the veteran Mourino, Rattin decided it would be best for the club and for his young replacement if he didn’t come back to fight for the spot. ‘My time is up.’ He said. On December 10, 1970 a match was organized in honor of Rattin, featuring Boca Juniors against a South American all-star team. Five minutes before the end, Peruvian star Ramon Mifflin allowed Rattin to nutmeg him, after which Rattin kicked the ball to the stands and left the field to a thundering ovation. Thus ended the career of one of the players most worthy of wearing the blue and gold of Boca Juniors. After retiring, Rattin briefly coach Boca Juniors, but he didn’t enjoy coaching and moved on to other things. He worked as a talent scout and player representative, developing a pipeline to England, and was instrumental in helping open up the English Premier League for the first time to Argentine players, such as Ardiles, Villa, Sabella and Tarantini. He also worked in Boca Juniors front office in many capacities. He became successful in several business ventures, and in more recent years also in politics. In 2001, Rattin became the first football player elected to the Argentine Congress, representing his district as a Diputado Nacional. (Member of the the Argentine House of Representatives.) In that capacity he was chosen by Congress to be the head of Argentina’s National Sports Commission. The following story helps illustrate Rattin’s outstanding character: It occurred on June 23, 1968, the most tragic day in Argentine football history. It was the day of a Boca-River superclasico at River’s Monumental Stadium. The match ended scoreless and as always Rattin had left his heart on the field. After the match, a fight broke out among rival fans. The ensuing panic, combined with an exit gate which was mistakenly locked, led to a horrible disaster in which 74 people died and hundreds of others were injured. Unaware of the tragic events, Rattin had taken a shower after the match, and was driving home with a friend, when he turned on the radio and heard the horrible news. Immediately he turned his car around and headed to the local hospital to see if he could help in any way. He heard that there was a shortage of blood, so he offered to donate, but he was rejected by the hospital staff, as they deemed that his body was still too exhausted from his effort in the match to be able to safely draw any blood. But at least his traveling companion was able to donate blood. Ever since that day, Rattin has been a regular blood donor, as he gained awareness of the chronic shortage of blood in Argentine’s public hospitals. He has also taken advantage of his public profile to encourage others to donate blood. As the great Antonio Ubaldo Rattin often says:,‘To give blood is to give life.’ Appropiate words, coming from a man who left his blood on the field every match, and by doing so who brought back life to a proud football club. Rattin, Antonio Ubaldo (“El Rata”, “The Rat”) *1937, Argentina, linkman and center half 34 Caps (1 goal): 1959-1969 World Cup finals 1962, 1966 1956-1970 Boca Juniors (28 goals) Titles 1962, 1964, 1965, 1969, 1970.