Hector ‘Chirola’ Yazalde was born in Villa Fiorito, Argentina on 29th May 1946. The sixth of eight children to Pedro Yazalde and Petrona Luna, Chirola was raised in the same neighbourhood as Diego Maradona. As a child he would spend hours upon hours – like most children in Buenos Aires – playing football with his brothers and friends on the streets, embedding a love for the game at an early age.
Growing up, despite possessing a love for football, Chirola had aspirations of becoming a doctor. Although a tentative student, his family could never afford to provide him with the necessary learning material and, at the age of thirteen, Chirola’s education was cut short to help provide for his family. He began selling newspapers and bananas, and later broken ice, on street corners. When his day was finished, the little boy would run home with dozens of small coins (known as Chirolas) from the sales and give them to his father. It became a constant sight, every evening without fail, to see that tall skinny frame running home with pockets full of pennies and coins alike, and a nickname he later adored soon stuck.
Despite working long hours, Chirola still found time for football. Once his earnings had been delivered to his father, he would often head back out into the night to play for local amateur teams. Coming up against players twice his age and coupled with his naturally skinny frame, Chirola was subject to being thrown around on the pitch. But he seldom complained, dusting himself off and continuing to play – a mentality he carried with him into his professional career.
The image of him scoring a title-winning goal for his beloved Boca Juniors was ingrained into his head and served as a motivational tool to persevere with his footballing dream. Many a night he would return home with bruised shins and broken shoes. Lacking the funds to replace his footwear adequately, he would continue, weeks at a time, to play amateur football in the rocky streets of Buenos Aires in his bare feet. He would later attribute this as the start of a persistent ankle injury he suffered towards the end of his career.
Nonetheless, the young striker continued to impress, and at sixteen he was offered the chance to play for another amateur team in Buenos Aires: Pirana. Here, his consistent performances began drawing attention from larger clubs. Quietly hoping Boca Juniors was among the list of interested parties, his dream move never materialised, and he instead signed for two-time Copa Libertadores-winning Independiente in 1967. Chirola was given 30,000 pesos as a sign-on fee, which brought some much-needed cash to his family. He later recalled of his gratitude stating “I am thankful to Independiente because nobody wanted me. I never dreamed of playing in Primera… They saw me with my shoes with holes in them; my body was so thin that [everybody] ran away.”
Chirola spent little time finding his feet and in his first game for the club – a reserve match against Ferro Carril Oeste – he scored four goals. It took him only another two reserve matches before Independiente promoted him to the senior squad. Partnering upfront with the legendary Luis Artime, Chirola showed no intention of being in his shadow. Despite playing his first season in professional football, the 21-year-old tallied ten goals in just nine appearances, finishing one goal behind Artime as both men led Independiente to the 1967 Campeonato Nacional.
But this was Hector Yazalde: unspectacular yet clinical. Born during the glorious era of La Maquina, the young striker had embodied the changing philosophy of Argentinean football. Continental dominance in the late 1950s had instilled an arrogant belief in the Argentineans that they were the best national team in the world. But their 6-1 humiliation to Czechoslovakia at the 1958 World Cup – proclaimed as ‘The Death of La Nuestra’ by Andreas Campomar in his book Golazo! – propelled Argentina into a more pragmatic, violent style of play – most notably associated with Estudiantes LP in the 1960s. Individualism no longer took centre stage, and a win-at-all-costs mentality took over, perfectly complimenting Chirola’s no-frills efficient playstyle.
However, a poor season followed as Independiente slumped to 11th place in the 1968 Campeonato Nacional managing only four wins throughout. Regardless of Independiente’s form, Chirola’s never faltered, netting 19 times in 38 that year. 1969 provided a modest improvement as 20 goals in 37 appearances helped Independiente finish 4th in the Campeonato Nacional – continuing to do what Chirola does best: score goals.
Shortly before the start of 1970 Campeonato Metropolitano Independiente left for a world tour that included Brazil, Spain and more importantly, Portugal. It was during these friendlies in Portugal that he caught the eye of Sporting CP president Brás Medeiros. No talks were held, but the Lisbon club had placed Abraao Sorin, Sporting’s South America scout, to keep a keen eye on the forward. When Chirola returned to Argentina he went on to achieve his most prolific season with the club, netting 23 in 35; including the dramatic title-winning goal six minutes from time to secure a 3-2 victory over Racing and claim the 1970 Campeonato Metropolitano. His performances had also won him the 1970 Argentinean Footballer of the Year award and enough acclaim to place him on Sporting’s list of must-have targets.
During next year’s pre-season break, Sporting beckoned Chirola back early to discuss terms. Independiente were happy to sell, and Yazalde was happy to move – negotiations went smoothly. Instead of selling the villas he purchased in Buenos Aires, Chirola gifted them to his family. Much like the little boy who would run home at night to deliver his earnings for the day, he asked Sporting to pay a significant amount of his wages to a bank account in Buenos Aires for the same reasons. He explained: “I don’t spend much. I’ve always lived on little money, and I’ve never liked ostentatious displays. With what I stay, I get enough to eat every day and not go hungry. Some people need it more than I do.”
He officially signed on 25th January 1971 but did not play his first official match until September of that year due to foreigner restrictions in the league. Initially finding his first few months difficult, Chirola was treated poorly, tackled extra hard in training, rarely receiving passes and sometimes outcasted to train alone. Many of these actions were said to be headed by Fernando Peres, arguably Sporting’s best player at the time, who disliked being challenged for the talent hegemony. Despite these tests, Chirola refused to complain. Much like the thirteen-year-old boy being thrown around in Buenos Aires, he dusted himself off and refused to let it affect him.
During those first few months, he spent most of his free time wandering the streets and enjoying the scenery of Lisbon. He would often join children playing football in the parks and help them improve their technique before taking them all to a local pastry shop and buying them whatever they wanted. After the children had finished their meal, money was placed in each child’s hand with the instructions of bringing it home to their parents – creating his own little set of Chirolas.
When the much-anticipated debut finally arrived on 12th September, the Argentinean netted twice in a win over Boavista. He finished his debut campaign with a respectable nine league goals in twenty appearances while Sporting finished second to Benfica in the league. By this point, Peres had fallen out of favour with Sporting’s hierarchy, and Chirola enjoyed improved relations with the rest of the squad.
Chirola’s second full season with the club brought an improved return along with silverware. Despite dropping one position and finishing third, Sporting claimed the Portuguese Cup in a 3-2 win over Vitória de Setúbal – Yazalde contributing to the second goal of the match and adding to his tally of 27 goals in 36 appearances for the campaign. But these numbers would pale in comparison to his third season.
The 1973/74 season began with last year’s cup finalists: Sporting CP vs Vitória de Setúbal. Despite having seven shots on target, the Argentine failed to score a goal, and Vitória ran out 1-0 winners. However, over the following seven games, like a man possessed, Chirola averaged almost a hat-trick per game finding the back of the net nineteen times. As Sporting cruised to the title for the first time in three years, Hector Yazalde finished on an incredible 46 goals in 29 league appearances; surpassing any previous records set by the legendary Eusebio and Fernando Peyroteo. To this day it’s a domestic record still untouched, despite the best efforts of Fernando Gomes and Mario Jardel over the years.
Unsurprisingly Chirola won the European Golden Boot and has only been bettered by three others since; Dudu Georgescu (47 goals in 76/77), Lionel Messi (50 goals in 11/12) and Cristiano Ronaldo (48 goals in 14/15).
When he was awarded the Golden Boot at the official ceremony, he was given a Toyota. Staying true to his generous character he later sold the Toyota and shared the money among his teammates, commenting “without them, I wouldn’t have been able to score all those goals.”
Naturally, this record-breaking season garnered attention from clubs all over. Joao Rocha, Sporting’s President at the time had garnered a reputation for employing a strict wage structure and often paid players considerably lower wages than what they were worth.
Rocha rejected a bid of 25,000 Escudos by Real Madrid coach Mylian Mylianic, but Chirola, often a man of few words, told the paper A Bola at the time “Real Madrid made me a much better proposal than Sporting. We must look at this point: A Rolls Royce cannot spend 5 litres at 100km/h. So, if Sporting agrees to pay me what I am quoted in Europe, I will stay in Lisbon.”
While contract negotiations continued, Chirola and his Argentinean teammates headed to the 1974 World Cup in Germany. Sporting’s star man entered the World Cup as the world’s most prolific striker, but he had never excelled internationally. Having only made six appearances at the time, he was yet to find the back of the net for his country. A niggling ankle injury picked up against Sunderland in the Cup Winners’ Cup earlier that season had been highlighted again and forced him to miss the first game against Poland.
However, the next match against Haiti delivered Chirola’s first two goals for Argentina as he contributed to a decisive 4-1 win. Unfortunately, that would mark the end of his unspectacular spell for Argentina – he failed to score against Italy, and The Netherlands as Rinus Michels’s superior total football eliminated la Albiceleste.
Meanwhile back in Portugal, having already been considered a club legend after that season, Joao Rocha was pressured by fans into improving the striker’s contract to keep him at the club. Although the Real Madrid contract offer was not matched, the Argentinian was happy in Lisbon and signed a new two-year contract on 28th August 1974.
In what would be his final season at the club, Chirola provided yet another fantastic campaign. Although Sporting failed to retain both the league and Portuguese cup, the striker had found the back of net 30 times in just 26 league appearances. His efforts had won him the silver boot, falling three goals short of the Romanian Dudu Georgescu. His final goal in green and white arrived on 27th May 1975, in the Portuguese cup quarter-final, against Uniao de Tomar. His last appearance came two days later – fittingly on his 29th birthday and the team he made his official debut against, in the semi-final against Boavista.
Chirola had finished his time with sporting amassing a remarkable 104 goals in 104 league appearances, collecting a European Golden Boot, Silver Boot, Portuguese league title and two Portuguese cups. While in Lisbon he also met his wife, María do Carmo Ressurreição de Deus, a famous actress later known as Carmen Yazalde. They would have a son together, Gonzalo, born in 1977 while playing for his next club: Marseille.
While a move back to Argentina was on the cards, Hector Yazalde preferred a new challenge. He had always spoken of his love for learning new languages, and France seemed an attractive destination at the time. Marseille paid 12,500 Escudos for two years of the Argentine’s services.
Having finished 2nd the season before, Marseille slumped to a disappointing 9th as Saint-Etienne cruised to a third straight league title in Chirola’s debut season. Despite Marseille’s poor performance, their new signing still managed to score 19 goals in 31 appearances; finishing sixth in the goal-scoring charts topped by fellow countrymen Carlos Bianchi.
The following season spelt disaster as an injury forced the Argentinean out for a large portion of the season. Marseille had dropped even further to 12th while Chirola only managed a measly four goals. His contract had expired at the end of the season, and Marseille refused to renew.
Nearing the end of his prime at 31 years of age, Hector Yazalde moved back to Argentina with the aim of a call up to the national team, at the 1978 World Cup.
The chosen destination was Newell’s Old Boys, but despite an above-average goal-scoring record, Cesar Luis Menotti did not call him up. Another three years spent at Newell’s brought 54 goals in 120 appearances – far from poor from a striker now in his 30s. Nearing retirement, he moved on to Huracan in 1981 to play one final season where he made two appearances without any goals. And thus, the curtain came down on an incredible career best remembered for his time at Sporting.
Off the pitch was a caring, warm, charitable individual who prided himself on helping friends and family from a young age. On the pitch was a different story. A remarkably clinical striker who did whatever he could to beat his opponent to the ball – aerially or with both feet, if it involved putting the ball in the back of the net, Chirola excelled.
But he coped difficultly with retirement. Spells as assistant manager of River Plate and Huracan did not last long, and an undistinguished career as an agent brought little joy. A divorce from his wife in 1987 caused Chirola to fall into a depression with alcohol becoming a common coping mechanism. A decade later, on 18th June 1997, Hector Yazalde was found dead in his apartment at 51 from cirrhosis of the liver and heart failure.
An outpouring of testimonials soon followed, and many Sportinguistas proudly remembered the man who brought them so many happy years.
Mario Lino, a Sporting coach during that 1973/74 season, spoke of Chirola’s character highly, stating: “he, who at first was so mistreated… besides being a great player, he was also a great man. In the locker room, Yazalde was a friend of all his teammates and concerned himself with the well-being and problems of his colleagues and the group in general.”
Such was Chirola’s character and talent, he will always be remembered as one of Sporting’s greatest ever strikers.
Words by Lee Alves – @probsLeeAlves
Graphics by Sam Ingram – @SamIngram_/Credit: Masahide Tomikoshi(@tphoto2005) & Sporting Lisbon