"Whenever I look at him, it is as though the Messiah has returned". That's how Jimmy Murphy, manager of Wales's 1958 World Cup side, described John Charles. In Italy, where Charles played for Juventus and Roma, he was known as Il Gigante Buono - the Gentle Giant - because of his placid temperament. In a playing career of 21 years, he was never booked. One of the greatest footballers Britain has ever produced, Charles left his native Swansea at 16 to join Leeds United, where he was switched from defence to attack. The Yorkshire club reached the First Division for the first time in its history thanks to Charles's phenomenal strike ratio of a goal every other game. His goal-scoring exploits at Elland Road attracted the attention of Italian club Juventus, who paid a British record of #65,000 to take him to Turin in 1957. Despite coming up against the world's most ruthless defences, the Wales international striker scored an incredible 105 goals in 178 appearances for I Bianconeri - the Black and Whites - and helped them to win three Serie A titles in five years. In contrast to his humble upbringing in South Wales, he enjoyed a glamorous lifestyle in Italy.
He opened a restaurant in Turin, recorded songs and mixed with the likes of Sophia Loren. However, it was not all glory. He returned to Leeds United in 1962 but the move was a disaster and after just 91 days he went back to Italy to join Roma where he struggled to recapture his past form. The man who was treated as a god in Turin wound down his playing career with Cardiff City before turning to management with Southern League clubs Hereford United and Merthyr Tydfil. This detailed biography contains candid interviews with former teammates and family members and follows Charles's life after football, detailing his failed business ventures and his brave fight against cancer.
Mario Risoli is a journalist and writer. His first book, When PELE BROKE OUR HEARTS, made the Sunday Times top-ten bestseller list and his last title ARRIVEDERCI SWANSEA-THE GIORGIO CHINAGLIA STORY, also received critical acclaim. He lives and works in Wales.