Type the words ‘Paolo Montero’ into the search bar on YouTube and you’ll be met with the invariable string of suggested words to finish your search term. When seeking highlights of a footballer’s career on the video streaming site, such suggestions are often a clue as to the most common features of a player’s attributes and qualities. ‘Fight’, ‘Red Cards’ and ‘Fouls’ are three of the possible choices recommended when Montero is typed in, giving a more-than-subtle indication of the style of play of the Uruguayan defender. 

An immediate picture of a no-nonsense, physical and sometimes excessively aggressive stopper is conjured up in the mind’s eye and, while perhaps not unjustified, could be an unfair interpretation of a player many believe to be one of the greatest in his country’s history.

Many attacking players are labelled ‘YouTube players’. It is intended as a derogatory term that indicates such players can exhibit enough skill to create a good highlight reel on video, leading to an exaggeration of their actual ability. They can appear highly skillful in a short two-minute clip without displaying any actual capacity to positively affect a real game situation.  Perhaps, in the case of Montero, a similar fate has been suffered but, instead of his good points being highlighted, the negative aspects of his play are showcased.  There is a danger then that, since his retirement in 2007 and with the subsequent growth of the ‘YouTube generation’, the memory of Montero has become unjustly caricaturized, disguising a much more skilled and accomplished footballer than he is sometimes credited as being.  Yes, he remains the all-time red card record holder in Serie A, with 16 to his name in 9 years at Juventus. It’s hard to believe, though, that aggression and brute force were the only attributes of note Montero possessed. How else would he have remained at the top of the game in world football for as long as he did, with such substantial measures of success?

Embed from Getty Images

Rónald Paolo Montero Iglesias was born on 3rd September 1971 in the Uruguayan capital of Montevideo. The son of former Uruguay international defender Julio Cesar Montero Castillo, Paolo would go on to be a second-generation footballer when he made his debut for Peñarol in 1990. Though he would move to Europe two years later with no silverware to speak of, the then 21-year-old left his homeland having established himself in the first team of one of the country’s biggest clubs. More than that, he would begin to make an impact on the international stage.  As part of La Celeste’s Under 20 side, he would appear at the U20 World Championships in Portugal in 1991. It would not prove a successful endeavor for Montero and his compatriots, however. They would come bottom of their group behind Spain, Syria and England, their heaviest defeat coming at the hands of the Spaniards. Losing 6-0 in the second of three group games, the loss would seal Uruguay’s fate and cause them to exit the tournament, having followed a humiliating 1-0 defeat to Syria in the opening match.

No such falter would be incurred in Montero’s early club career, however. A move to Italy and Bergamo-based Atalanta would come in 1992.  There, Montero would join an exciting young team including the prodigious talents of players such as Sergio Porrini, Alessio Tacchinardi and Maurizio Ganz. Under the tutelage of the legendary Marcelo Lippi, Montero would establish himself in the first-team almost instantly, helping guide the team to a more than respectable eighth-place finish in his first season.

Montero would spend four years with La Dea, making over 100 appearances. Despite being part of a side that suffered relegation to Serie B in that time, the Uruguayan had cemented himself as one of the hottest defensive properties in world football.

Embed from Getty Images

Combative, tenacious, aggressive. They were all words that could be applied to Montero’s playing style. These attributes were perhaps inherited from his father, who was a member of the infamously physical Uruguay side that appeared at the 1970 World Cup. But, In the case of Montero Jr, there was so much more to his game. A key element of any great defender’s game is timing – an ability to be in the right place at exactly the right moment. This is an attribute Montero displayed in abundance, whether it was with his exquisite tackles or his powerful and well-coordinated headed clearances. On top of that, Montero could distribute well from defence, allowing the team to build moves, often as a direct result of his considerable passing ability.

It was no surprise, then, that Montero would move on to bigger and better things. In 1996, he made the move to Turin to join Italian and European heavyweights Juventus. In a move that echoed his move from South America to Europe four years earlier, Montero would join former teammates Tacchinardi and Porrini at the Bianconeri. They would again be led by Lippi but there’s no doubt that the pressure was on Montero. He was, after all, joining the reigning European champions. Juve had secured the second European Cup in their history only months earlier, defeating the famous Louis Van Gaal Ajax side of the 1990s in a tensely fought penalty shootout win at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

Little did anyone know, the defender would not need to worry. In nearly a decade in Turin, the versatile defender would make an incredible 186 appearances in all competitions. It would be in the famous black and white stripes he would add the first and only silverware of his career too but once it started, the floodgates were truly opened.

Four Serie A titles, three Supercoppa Italianas, along with a UEFA Super Cup, Intertoto Cup and an Intercontinental Cup would make Montero one of the most decorated foreigners in the history of the Italian game. The Champions League would surprisingly elude him, as it has the Turin outfit for over two decades now, an agony made all-the-more pronounced for Montero given that he appeared in no less than three finals.

Embed from Getty Images

Similar agony would befall Montero on the international stage. The highlight of his 60 caps for Las Charruas would be a semi-final appearance at the 2004 Copá America. A heartbreaking defeat in a playoff against Australia that saw Montero and his compatriots fail to qualify for the 2006 World Cup proved too much for him to bear. He retired immediately after the match, stating “What happened today was such a pity as this group of players deserved to be at the World Cup finals.”

Paolo Montero’s career, then, has been a contradiction in terms. Great success on the pitch and in the trophy room has been contrasted with great controversy too. His undoubted talent has always been somewhat tainted by an aggressive style of play that, while loved by those who followed the teams he played for, he was equally loathed by those he played against. It is an aspect of his career that Montero has openly admitted he regrets to some extent, but he does justify his actions too, saying “Sometimes you have to do anything to win and this is my nature”. Winning was most certainly in Paolo Montero’s nature. That is a fact that cannot be denied and perhaps defines what the lasting impression of the man will be on the game he loves.  Above everything, he was just that – a winner.

This article is written by football blogger Laura Bradburn

Find her on Twitter (Laura Bradburn) and check out her blog, The Counter Press!