John Charles: The Greatest Ever Welsh Footballer

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John Charles
Aug 1962: John Charles of Leeds United. Mandatory Credit: Don Morley/Allsport

William John Charles is the best Welsh footballer in history, possessing the unusual talent of being just as good in defence as he was in attack.

Commonly known as John Charles, the Welshman is one of the most gifted footballers to grace the field. Born in Swansea in 1931 Charles found himself playing for Swansea at youth level but found his professional success outside of Wales.

Scoring 370 goals in 715 appearances, John Charles left his mark on the game. Read on to find out more about Il Gigante Buono, the gentle giant.

The Greatest Ever Welsh Footballer

Leeds United Took Him to Yorkshire.

Youth football came to an end with Swansea City and the Swans had decided against offering Charles a professional deal. However, by sheer happenstance, Jack Pickard, a Leeds United scout saw potential in Charles. Pickard was scouting a Swansea game and saw Charles playing football in the park with his friends. Pickard’s keen eye was instrumental in John Charles’s career, as he would later sign for Leeds.

The young defender played in each position across the defence for the reserve side, showing glimpses of his versatility. Charles’ talent was clear to see and his debut came just three months after signing. A young Charles was a centre-half during the first few seasons. However, after impressing upfront in 1951, he made the switch to centre-forward in 1952 and began scoring instantly.

He then received the club captaincy in 1955 and honoured this by scoring 29 goals in 42 appearances in the season. Leeds won promotion that year and it was John Charles that led the charge. The following season his return of goals improved, scoring 38 goals in 40 league appearances. Today Charles is still Leeds United’s second-highest goalscorer with a record of 157 goals in 297 games.

John Charles Was the Second British Footballer to Move Abroad

In August of 1957, John Charles’ scintillating form had attracted the European giants, Juventus. The Italian side doubled the British transfer fee, paying £65,000 to lure John Charles from Elland Road.

This move then ushered a new era for Juventus. Charles hit the ground running, scoring 28 goals in Serie A, ending the season as the league’s top scorer. As well as, being named player of the season as his team won the Scudetto.

Charles’ five-year stay in Turin was magical. He formed part of The Holy Trident, which included Omar Sívori and Giampiero Boniperti. In his five years with the club, he scored 93 goals in 150 Serie A games, accruing 3 Scudetto titles and 2 Coppa Italia trophies. Furthermore, in 1997 Juventus fans voted John Charles as their best foreign player — a fitting tribute to the Welsh wonder.

He Remains One of the Most Important Footballing Figures Due to His Immense Talent

To emphasise the sheer, unusual talent of Charles’, watching him play would be akin to seeing Virgil van Dijk play a full season upfront and win the golden boot. Being comfortable as a world-class centre-back and as a world-class centre-forward is unheard of. Additionally, he was the ultimate, fair sportsman and ending his career without being cautioned or sent off, which earned him the Gentle Giant nickname.

Therefore, Charles’ legacy is rightly placed alongside the all-time greats. A quiet, humble soul that dominated defensively and scored goals for fun.

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