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Enzo Francescoli: The Uruguayan Prince

When people think of football legends, El Príncipe is frequently overlooked, but Enzo Francescoli was one of the best players of his era, arguably on par with peers Maradona and Zico. This Uruguayan and River Plate star deserves to be recognized, both for his achievements on the field and his ability to inspire a younger generation.

Home Away From Home

Before Francescoli became El Príncipe he was El Flaco. The man often described as too slender to become a footballer began his professional career at Montevideo Wanderers. After three seasons of personal growth and coming of age, in which he scored 20 goals from midfield, River Plate came calling. This was the beginning of what would become a long love affair with the Argentinian club and its fans.

During his first stint playing at El Monumental for River, the Uruguayan led the team to a Primera División title and won back-to-back Golden Boots. In 1985, he was named Argentine Player of the Year—the first foreigner to receive the award.

European Adventure

The following year, Francescoli left River after signing with Racing Paris, a recently-promoted Ligue 1 side. The midfielder resumed his first-class goalscoring in the City of Love, adding a third Golden Boot to his mantel. After three prolific campaigns in the capital, Francescoli moved south and joined Olympique de Marseille. During his single season at Marseille, the Uruguayan won Ligue 1. He also accomplished perhaps his most significant contribution to fútbol culture: inspiring a young French boy named Zinedine, who later would become a World Cup winner and one of the most influential playmakers in the history of the game.

The Hero Returns

Following an uninspiring four-year stint in Italy in which his goal output declined significantly, at age 32, he returned to River Plate. Many thought Francescoli was past his prime and questioned his ability to contribute at a high level. But once again, El Príncipe proved his doubters wrong and affirmed his status as a River Plate legend. Francescoli returned to top goalscoring form and claimed multiple league titles, a Copa Libertadores and a Supercopa Sudamericana.

At the end of the 1997 season, after a prolific 18-year-long career, Uruguay’s playmaker hung up his boots, leaving the game as one of the greatest midfielders of the 20th century.

A National Treasure

Francescoli became an Uruguayan icon, captaining the national team to four Copa América finals of which three ended in triumph—something neither Maradona nor Zico ever achieved. His finesse and elegant style were a breath of fresh air in a La Celeste team known for being aggressive, pragmatic, and efficient.

Reaching idol status in Uruguay really says something. While England may have invented the modern game, Uruguay perfected it. Sure, Brazil has more World Cups than any other nation, but Uruguay, with less than 3.5 million people, has won two world cups, two Olympic titles and 15 (!) Copa Américas. Per capita, no other country even comes close to the small South American nation. And Francescoli is their prince.

Illustration by @inakivector.

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