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John Charles
Born: 27 December, 1931. Swansea, Wales

International Caps 38
International Goals 15
Teams Leeds United, Juventus, Leeds United, Roma, Cardiff City
Team Honours Italian Championship: 1958, 61
Italian Cup: 1959, 60
Individual Honours -
John Charles is considered by many to have been the greatest all-round footballer ever to come from Britain. It wasn't just that he was comfortable playing either centre-half or centre-forward. He was world class in both positions.

He could also play full-back or midfield, if required, and such was his versatility that he managed to break the Leeds United club scoring record with 42 goals in a season at a time when he was appearing at centre-half in internationals for Wales.

There is no comparable player with that kind of range in the modern game.

He was the first Briton to make the grade in Italian football and, forty years on, is probably the most successful export from League football to Serie A where his name is still revered.

Certainly, Charles adapted quickly to the pace and skill of the Italian League and made a more substantial and sustained impact than many of those who followed him, including Jimmy Greaves, Denis Law and Ian Rush.

That is why he is a God to Juventus fans, the one they Christened "Il Buon Gigante" - the Gentle Giant.

Charles was born in Swansea on December 27, 1931, and joined the local groundstaff at the Vetch Field. He was still only 15 when he moved to Leeds as an amateur and made his first-team debut two years later in 1949.

At this time he was playing as a centre-half and within a year he had become the youngest player to appear for Wales when, in March 1950 at the age of 18 years and 71 days, he was capped against Northern Ireland.

Leeds, however, had other ideas. Charles was 6ft 2ins and weighed nearly 14 stone and in the 1952-53 season the club decided to experiment with him as the spearhead of their attack. Big, bustling centre-forwards were very much the style of the day in the 1950s. But despite his tremendous physique, Charles was extremely agile for a man of his size.

He was supremely talented, possessing a delicate first touch and good control, and in the air he was masterful. Not just because of his spectacular ability to rise above defences, but also the awesome power with which he could head the ball.

Charles was an instant success as a striker. He scored 26 goals in his first season up front and the following year, 1953-54, claimed that Leeds record and was the leading scorer in the Football League.

By 1956, Leeds had finally gained promotion to the top flight, winning the Second Division Championship. Would Charles be just as effective against the better defences in the First Division?

In that first season, against the game's leading clubs, he was the First Division's top marksman with 38 goals. But his life was about to change. The lure of the Lira was about to assert itself.

In April 1957, Charles captained Wales for the first time, against Northern Ireland in Belfast. But of more importance to his future was the presence of Umberto Agnelli, President of Juventus, at the game.

Agnelli liked what he saw, but it took four months of negotiations for a deal to be struck. Players' agents were almost unheard of at this time, but Charles was represented during the talks by Kenneth Wolstenholme, the commentator who was to make famous the phrase "they think it's all over . . it is now" when England won the World Cup in 1966.

Wolstenholme had long been an admirer of Italian football and was on personal terms with many of the leading figures in Serie A. Eventually, in August 1957, Charles signed for Juventus for 65,000 - a record transfer fee for a British player.

One curious facet of the deal was Charles's signing-on fee. The rule that limited signing-on fees for a British player to 10 was not abolished until 1958. Yet Charles was said to have received 10,000 - a figure that has never been challenged - despite the restriction still being in place.

Once in Turin, Charles was paired in the Juventus forward line with the mercurial Omar Sivori, an enormously talented but quick-tempered Argentinian inside-left. Charles was seen as the perfect foil, the "Mr Cool" of the partnership, and the combination soon paid dividends.

Many a leading British striker has lost his touch once in the minefield of Italian defences. Charles, however, was explosive and was voted the best player in Italy in his first season.

During Charles's five years with Juventus, the "Old Lady" of Italian football won three Serie A Championships and lifted the Italian Cup twice.

A measure of his greatness at this level of football is his strike rate. He scored 93 goals in 155 games - an almost unbelievable achievement in a League that was built on the impregnable foundations of Cattenacio - the uncompromising Italian style of defence which translates, literally, as doorbolt.

Fresh from his triumphs in that debut season at Juventus, the World Cup Finals beckoned for Charles. It was Wales's finest hour in international football, the only time they have qualified for the game's most glamorous competition.

Even so, Wales, strictly speaking, only made it by default. They had finished second in their qualifying group to Czechoslovkia. However, all of Israel's opponents in the qualifying round refused to play them as a political protest.

FIFA ruled that all the group runners-up - except Uruguay who refused to take part - should be put into a hat and whoever was drawn should meet Israel to decide the remaining place for the Finals in Sweden. Wales were the lucky country and they beat Israel 2-0 both at home and away.

They played five games in the Finals losing only one, to the eventual World Champions Brazil. They drew with Hungary, Mexico and the host nation Sweden. Hungary and Wales finished joint second with three points each.

Goal averages were not used to split the teams and Wales had to meet Hungary again in a play-off to decide who went forward to a place in the quarter-finals. Wales won 2-1.

Charles, however, missed the encounter with Brazil through injury and though Wales gave them problems, they went down to the only goal of the game, scored inevitably by Pele.

Back in Turin, Charles continued to enhance his reputation as a great finisher and as Signor Adaptable. It was not unusual for him to begin a match at centre-forward then, when Juventus had established a lead, drop back and play at the heart of the defence.

By 1962, Charles and his family were feeling homesick and in August that year he returned to Elland Road in a 53,000 transfer. His stay, however, was brief. He played just 11 games, scoring three goals, and in November departed once again for Italy, this time to Roma for 70,000.

Sadly, the magic had gone. He had slowed down and the old dash had deserted him. He came back to Wales in 1963, joining Cardiff City where he played alongside his brother Mel, who was also a Welsh international.

Charles retired from League football in 1966, having played 38 times for Wales. He did, however, have a brief spell in management with non-League Hereford United.

He drifted out of football and tried his hand both as a publican and a shopkeeper. What remains is the unforgettable legend of the Gentle Giant - a man who was never sent off, never cautioned and was the finest player ever to represent his country.

As Danny Blanchflower, captain of the great Tottenham double-winning side, said of him: "Everything he does is automatic. When he moves into position for a goal chance it is instinctive. My feet do not do my thinking for me as they do for a player like John Charles. That is why I can never be as great a footballer as he."

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