"He's the greatest player, I've ever seen" - John Helm.
You would have never guessed a top commentator in footballing circles would say that about a player who couldn't get a call into the first team at Swansea City(then known as Swansea Town) who were playing in the Third Division during his spell as a teenager there. But that is how the journey began for John Charles, who'd go on to become one of the greatest and most respected footballers of all-time, began.
Equally adapt at Centre Forward or Centre Half, a very young John Charles was given the task of marking a striker who was in top form Billy Houliston in his debut for Leeds United by then manager Major Frank Buckley. Houliston who had destroyed The English National Team's defence just days earlier was shut out completely by a 17-year old Charles, whom after the game Houliston called as the greatest centre-half he had ever played against.
He was such an excellent all-round player, that in a game against Portsmouth in the early 50s playing at home, he is believed to have scored a header from 30 yards. Yes, you read that right : 30 yards. He is probably the only player in history, who people would select in two positions while sitting down and making a all-time World XI. His team-mate at Leeds and World Cup winner Jack Charlton remarks about Charles' time at Leeds saying, "John was 90% of the team. He scored the goals, he defended the goals. He was a star." In a single week, Nat Lafthouse called him the best centre-half he had played against and Billy Wright called him the greatest centre-forward he had ever seen. Such was his legend.
In 1957, John Charles moved to cash-rich Juventus for a then British Record Transfer Fee of £65,000. There, he went on to form one of the greatest attacking trios in history with Giampiero Boniperti and Omar Sivori. During his time at Juventus, he was admired and worshipped by the Juventus faithful. John Charles was also voted as the Greatest Foreign Import in Serie A history in 1997, ahead of some true greats of the game like Diego Maradona, Omar Sivori, Jose Altafini, Lothar Matthaus, Michel Platini, Marco van Basten and Zinedine Zidane.
John Charles( back centre) with Boniperti on his right and Sivori on his left.
John Charles, apart from his wonderful club career also had a very credible International Record playing for the Welsh National Football Team. He led Wales to their only World Cup appearance in 1958. In the quarter-final, Wales played Brazil in the absence of John Charles, who suffered an injury in the previous game against Hungary. Brazil won the game 1-0, took home the World Cup for the first time in history and we got to see a 17-year old wonderkid called Pele score his first goal in a World Cup game. Senior football journalist Brian Glanville remarks to this date, that if Charles had played that game against Brazil, the result would have been different.
Apart from being a world-class footballer, he was also one of the most respected footballers on and off of the pitch, which led to his Italian Fans calling him 'Il Gigante Buono' meaning 'The Gentle Giant'. He was never cautioned nor was he was sent off in his stellar career, which is quite a feat considering he played as a centre-back for a considerable number of games. While playing in Italy, Charles faced many hard-tackling Italian defences. Being one of the top players in the league, he was attacked with robust tackles in several games. He never reacted to any tackle or provocation, he would instead ask Boniperti to take care of the situation as he couldn't never imagined himself every arguing with or hurting opposition players.
William John Charles OBE - Loved and adored in Three Different European Nations(Wales, England and Italy), The Original King of British Football, a GOD in Italy and The Most Complete Footballer EVER.