River Plate, La Maquina

European football is often seen as leading the way in the direction that football is going to take in terms of style of play and tactics, however, in the 1940s, an Argentine team, River Plate, established a way of playing. to the sport that broke any scheme of the time. Terms that are commonly used today such as Total Football, high possession of the ball or false 9, were put into practice by that team that became known as La Maquina (The Machine).


Renato Cesarini was born in Italy, specifically in Senigallia, in the province of Ancona, although he went from a very young age to live in Argentina, where he would train as a football player. He played as a midfielder and started at Chacarita Juniors, where he would have three spells as a professional football player. He would also spend 6 years at Juventus in Italy where he would win five consecutive Serie A, where he shared a dressing room with Luis Monti, who we already talked about on this website. He would be international with Argentina and with his native country, Italy.

His last season as a player would be played at River Plate, where he would begin his career as a manager in 1939, being the one who would lead from the bench the team that would become the famous La Maquina. Cesarini was a particular coach with a mentality focused on winning and his desire to win led him to form a team that displayed vintage football. "Today the only truth is winning. That? Nice football? Ugly football? NOOOO! WIN". Cesarini's confidence in his ability was enormous to the point of saying that "First I want men, then athletes. I build the player..."

River Plate - team logo on flag
River Plate flag

River Plate

To understand part of the legacy and the change that La Maquina meant for the history of River, we must review what the context of the club was at that time. From its birth in 1901, until the end of the 1930s, River had won 11 first tier trophies. In 1931, when professional football began in Argentina, the club made two very important signings: Carlos Peucelle and Bernabe Ferreyra, two of the best players of the time, whom River Plate signed for enormous sums of money at that time. From there, the club acquired the nickname Los Millonarios (The Millionaires), as it focused on spending a lot of money to sign stars that would give them trophies.

La Maquina

When Cesarini arrived on the River bench, in 1939, Ferreyra was on his way out and Peucelle was playing his last seasons although that team already had the skilled Aristóbulo Deambrossi, José Manuel Moreno, born in the La Boca neighborhood although trained in River Plate, Adolfo Pedernera, a left winger who had also trained at the club and a lethal striker, named Angel Labruna who was also a product of River's youth teams. That same year, a 20-year-old young man named Juan Carlos Muñoz also arrived

The talent was there but it was not materializing in victories and trophies, which was the desire of Cesarini and the club. September 21, 1941, is considered the date of La Maquina's birth since that day, according to legend and Peucelle himself, he recommended Cesarini to try Pedernera as a center forward instead of his winger position. That day, River Plate was playing against Independiente and they won 4-0 with three goals from Pedernera. A month later, the millionaire club would face Boca Juniors and beat them 5-1, already giving signs that this was a different team.

Cesarini began to look for alternatives and variants in the positions of the players and thus Futbol Loco (Crazy Football) was born. "After the practice, we had a session of Futbol Loco. No number, no position obligations. No one had to look for their usual position and without coach. I looked but didn't say anything," the manager explained. "It is the best. They go to the position alone. By intuition. For convenience", Cesarini explained that he used players like Muñoz as an example of that change, saying that he went from playing in the Dock Sud reserve team to River Plate.

Following this practice, Juan Manuel Moreno went from playing as an attacking playmaker to a central midfielder and Labruna took the place of attacking midfielder, taking advantage of his speed to break defenses. Pedernera, playing as a center forward, dropped back to join the midfielders and allowed Labruna to have space to score goals. Just as you read it, Pedernera played as a False Nine back in 1941.

That year, River Plate would win all the tournaments it played; the Argentine First Division, the Ibarguren Cup, the Adrian Escobar Cup (these two were national cups of the time) and the Aldao Cup (a tournament that pitted the Argentine and Uruguayan champions against each other). In 1942, Felix Loustau joined the dynamics of the first team and progressively began to establish himself in the starting eleven to the detriment of Deambrossi.

This is how Labruna, Pedernera, Munoz, Moreno and Loustau would come together in River's first team, to form the iconic attack of La Maquina. They would play together for the first time, in an official match, on June 28, 1942, against Platense, where they would win 1-0. In addition to La Maquina, the team was also known as Los Caballeros de la Angustia (The Knights of Anguish) because they made the fans "suffer" a little as they scored in the final minutes of the game despite dominating and creating many chances.

They would also lift the Ibarguren Cup and the First Division in 1942, the latter with an Olympic return in La Bombonera, the stadium of Boca Juniors, the archrival. Although Moreno would leave the club in 1944 (to return in 1946), it is said that the La Maquina era came to an end with the departure of Pedernera, who came into conflict with the club and decided to accept a very high offer for the date of Atlanta. Cesarini had already left in 1944 for Juventus and Peucelle replaced him although he stayed until 1946.

That mythical River attack would play together only 22 games, of which 4 were friendly and, curiously, they never played together against Boca. The summary is that La Maquina won 5 national and 2 international trophies between 1941 and 1946, although some consider that the period would cover until 1947. Something very commendable about that team is that it competed at the local level with other great teams such as Boye's Boca Juniors or the San Lorenzo del Terceto de Oro.

Following in the wake of the majority of the actors on that team, in 1945, River also saw the official debut of other promising young people, where Alfredo Di Stefano and Amadeo Carrizo stood out and who would later form their own legend with River, through La Electrica, Although that's another story.

Returning to the topic of this article, La Maquina and its style of play with constant rotation in attack that players could play with ease due to their knowledge of various positions was a predecessor of the Hungarian gold team in the 1950s or the Clockwork Orange of Holland in the 70s and therefore, Total Football.
Kelvin Tingling knows most things about football and also likes to write about it. Kelvin lives in Buenos Aires and his favorite team is Boca Juniors.