Carlos Bianchi: the five-time top scorer in France who became one of PSG’s first icons

Carlos Bianchi: the five-time top scorer in France who became one of PSG’s first icons

In the face of adversity, any great footballer must prevail. Challenges arise on the complicated path to success, and for Carlos Bianchi, the route was no different. For some, tough periods of form dent the confidence; for others, long-term injuries can block the road to the top. Bianchi’s obstacle was unique, and more significantly, permanent: his eyesight.

Much is made nowadays of the requisite skillset that strikers of a high level must boast if they are to prosper, with an emphasis firmly placed upon instinct and cutting edge. Such was the hindrance with which Bianchi had no choice but to cope, these traits were essential. “I scored goals all my life without ever being able to see much,” he would later reflect. “I knew where the ball would go. I could smell it … striker’s instinct.”

Of course, the intangible nature of instinct played its part in Bianchi’s astounding exploits throughout his career, but a marvellous ball-striking technique coupled with an insatiable appetite to score goals were equally responsible for driving him into the history books of French football.

Once a salesman alongside his father in Argentina, Bianchi quickly rose to prominence before reaching his apex in the more glamorous backdrop of Paris. The duration of the forward’s career was shared between his homeland and France, where he truly made a name for himself because of his prolific goalscoring qualities, and yet he would only win a solitary league title as a player, which came in 1968 at Vélez Sarsfield, five years before his move to Europe.

Bianchi would become renowned for his unstoppable tenure as the talisman of Paris Saint-Germain during their nascent years but first came an equally impressive spell with Stade de Reims, who recruited the forward after growing enchanted by his technique and poise during a formative period at Vélez.

Bianchi arrived in the top flight of French football with the intention of elevating his career to the next level, and although he achieved such feats, he would never again pull on the infamous blue and white stripes of Argentina. By the age of 24, unbeknownst to the ever-developing striker, his international career had reached its premature conclusion upon confirmation of his big move to Reims. Still, from 14 appearances for La Albiceleste, he helped himself to seven goals, ensuring a more than respectable return during his fleeting spell as an Argentina international.

Nevertheless, an exciting new chapter awaited the forward, who took the plunge and departed home soil to test himself against the best teams in France. After scoring 121 goals in 165 appearances during his first term at Vélez, expectations were high as he embarked upon his journey with Reims.

What followed, however, would exceed any target that had been set of Bianchi, as he emerged as French football’s most lethal striker, mercilessly toying with defences as he displayed sublime movement, inimitable technical quality, and ruthless finishing, all while adjusting to his new surroundings and continuing to manage his short-sightedness.

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To suggest that Bianchi hit the ground running would be an understatement of seismic proportions. He found the back of the net on 30 occasions in the space of just 34 games to run away with the top scorer award in Ligue 1, marking his arrival on the European scene in magnificent fashion. After finishing eighth in 1972/73, Reims would find themselves sitting pretty in sixth after an exemplary first campaign from their new talisman up front.

However, the second season would not prove to be quite as productive for Bianchi, whose side slumped to 11th place. It would be the only campaign in which the Argentine didn’t finish at the summit of the goalscoring charts during his time in the top flight – a quite astonishing record given that he completed seven seasons – and this was a consequence of a long-term injury.

Bianchi played only 16 league games for Reims in 1974/75 after sustaining a tibia-fibula fracture in a friendly, ironically hosted at the Parc des Princes, against Barcelona. Still, he was able to score an excellent 15 goals from his limited game time as his compatriot Delio Onnis stole the crown of top goalscorer with his tally of 30 in a Monaco shirt.

Bianchi was unwilling to allow such disappointment to rear its ugly head again, though. Fully fit and determined to reclaim his title as France’s most prolific goalscorer, the Reims attacker tormented his opponents and drove the club back up to fifth in the table. This time, he struck on 34 occasions – this accounted for over half of his side’s league goals – from 38 appearances in a successful 1975/76 campaign.

Although he scored eight fewer goals in the subsequent season, netting a still-exceptional total of 28 in Ligue 1, Reims fell short and dropped down to 11th place again. The team struggled to develop consistency throughout the campaign despite the efforts of Bianchi at the top of the pitch, and financial troubles left them with an unwanted decision to make on their talisman’s future in the summer. Reluctantly, they would bid farewell to the country’s most devastating forward player in 1977 after he had scored 107 goals across four years at the club.

Pastures new awaited Bianchi and a transfer to the capital was on the horizon. Although his productivity and efficient goalscoring undeniably placed him directly in the limelight during his stay at the Stade Auguste-Delaune, it was at the Parc des Princes that his reputation skyrocketed, and he is fondly remembered to this day as one of Paris Saint-Germain’s first true greats.

Officials at the club had taken a liking to Bianchi, as most had in France after his four outstanding seasons at Reims, and few were as mesmerised by the Argentine as PSG chief Daniel Hechter. The club president made no bones about his admiration of the striker when the pair spoke in Saint-Tropez, where Bianchi had taken his family on holiday in the summer of 1977.

Hechter informed his top target that he was desperate for him to spearhead the rise of his club, formed only seven years prior to his hopeful conversation with the country’s most coveted attacker, and the former Vélez hero’s interest was piqued.

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Hechter had been aware of Reims’ need to raise funds and, in turn, offload key figures after the 1976/77 season, but PSG were forced to buy out the remaining two years of Bianchi’s contract at the club. It proved to be a complex transfer to complete for the Parisian outfit, with Hechter appealing for donations to help finance his side’s dealings ahead of the upcoming campaign, but eventually, Bianchi arrived at the club for a fee believed to have been worth 1.5m francs.

It was, however, Hechter’s final signing as PSG president. The French Football Federation relieved him of his duties and banned him for life in January 1978 because of his involvement in a corrupt operation related to ticket sales at the Parc des Princes. At his final match he was given a heartfelt send-off by the club’s supporters, who watched on as their team demolished Marseille 5–1. “The way he got kicked out of the club …it was not normal,” Bianchi reflected. “This person loved football, and without him, Paris Saint-Germain would not exist.”

The capture of the forward was, without doubt, a marquee signing and a colossal statement of intent. However, it came as little surprise to see the club display such desperation to clinch Bianchi’s signature after he had pulverised them in previous fixtures against Reims. Upon his first meeting with his future employers, a friendly match at a time during which PSG played their football in the second tier, Bianchi was irresistible. Reims dismantled their counterparts 7–2, and the striker helped himself to six goals.

Later in the same season, as fate would have it, PSG were pitted against Les Rouge et Blanc once more, this time in the 1973/74 Coupe de France. Les Parisiens had reached the quarter-finals of the competition, eliminating top-flight opposition en route to the final eight, and hoped to mark their progress with a surprise result against their Ligue 1 counterparts after their shortcomings in the friendly months before. Bianchi had other ideas. Reims won 5–0 in front of a packed-out Parc des Princes, with the Argentine this time scoring a hat-trick.

Another significant meeting came in the following campaign, with PSG now battling at the top level following their promotion. After kicking off their season well with a 1–0 win away at Sochaux, they were promptly brought back down to earth by Reims in a 6–1 defeat, inspired by Bianchi who again fired home all six, unapologetically condemning the newly-promoted club to a humiliating reality check.

With Bianchi’s arrival confirmed and the 1977/78 season fast approaching, optimism was high as Jean-Michel Larqué prepared to take charge of the club as player-manager. However, PSG fell dramatically short of their ambitions to succeed and finished 11th on the Ligue 1 table, two places lower than in the preceding campaign.

No portion of blame laid at their new forward’s feet, however, as he enjoyed his most productive campaign on French soil to date. Bianchi was tremendous, recording a scarcely believable total of 37 goals from 38 appearances despite his team’s uninspiring performance.

The striker began life in Paris in blistering form, but his new side displayed the deficiencies that would see them suffer throughout his stay in the capital. Bianchi scored three goals in the first two games of the season, firstly in a humbling 4–1 defeat at the hands of Nancy before his two goals inside the first 17 minutes against former club Reims would be deemed insufficient as PSG collapsed to a 2–2 draw.

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His most memorable performance in the iconic navy blue of Les Parisiens came shortly after, however, as his team conducted a glorious symphony of attacking football and clinical finishing in an 8–2 victory against Troyes. PSG’s relentless onslaughts proved overwhelming for their opponents, who succumbed not only to the brilliance of the capital club’s creative forces but, more specifically, their cold-blooded forward.

Bianchi scored four goals, one of which was an uncharacteristically thunderous strike from long-range, silencing the minority of critics who had voiced their displeasure following the forward’s penalty miss in a disastrous 3–0 loss at the hands of Nice a fortnight before.

Bianchi scored some quite sumptuous goals throughout his time in the game, but he was not synonymous with powerful forward play nor net-bursting efforts. Vélez would pay tribute to their legendary player by aptly summarising his qualities, labelling him a combination of ‘intuition, mischief, concentration and a fundamental ability to capitalise on errors by the opponents’, only serving to enforce how the striker called upon his intelligence and nous to thrive despite his poor eyesight. “I was very aggressive and precise,” Bianchi said of his playing style. “I always looked to place the ball.”

Placement over power was a method that certainly bore fruit on numerous occasions for the front-man in Paris. Bianchi scored three more hat-tricks in his maiden campaign at the Parc des Princes, with trebles coming against Rouen, Nîmes and Sochaux, as he seamlessly adapted to the new task at hand.

First seasons at new clubs tend to be associated with lengthy periods of adjustment for footballers, but Bianchi needed no time to settle and simply picked up at PSG where he left off at Reims, firing his way to another top-scorer award in Ligue 1. With 37 goals to his name, the Argentine was regularly stealing the show, but he was benefitted by the presence of his new club’s plethora of attacking talent, with whom Bianchi would enjoy several strong understandings.

The striker thrived alongside fellow forward players like Philippe Redon and François M’Pelé, but Bianchi developed an almost telepathic relationship with Mustapha Dahleb. “We didn’t need to talk,” he said of his partnership with the Algerian, who operated on the left during the Argentine’s two-year stint in Paris. “There was no need. He knew exactly what I was going to do and I knew what he was going to do.”

Bianchi has always spoken fondly of the service his teammates provided him, and humbly apportions much of his goalscoring success to their selfless work in creating chances. “My secret, I will tell you,” the forward later insisted, “is my teammates, who always found me on the field.” Of course, their jobs were made that much easier by having such a ruthless finisher to supply.

Having achieved remarkable feats in the 1977/78 campaign in France, it seems somewhat inconceivable to note that Bianchi wasn’t included in Argentina’s squad for their triumphant World Cup campaign on home soil. César Luis Menotti did, however, focus his selection on players who were representing Argentine clubs at the time as he aimed to create the perfect chemistry amongst his squad, which saw the PSG forward miss out.

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“Now when people ask me why Menotti didn’t pick me for the World Cup,” Bianchi joked. “I say that I scored too many goals!” Argentina excelled and lifted the illustrious trophy, but perhaps they would have boasted an even more fearsome frontline with the most proficient player in France within their ranks.

Bianchi turned his attention towards the 1978/79 season and, yet again, he retained his crown as the leading goalscorer in France. He netted 27 goals in 36 games, including late winners against Nancy and Marseille, as well as a hat-trick in a 3–0 win over Monaco. Despite the striker’s best efforts, however, PSG’s defence anchored them down once again as they shipped 66 goals for the second consecutive campaign and dropped to 13th place.

Understandably, Bianchi had grown disgruntled by the team’s shortcomings at the back after he had continued to flourish at the other end of the pitch. He also cited a lack of professionalism and structure within the club as a fundamental reason for his decision to pursue an exit in 1979, calling time on a short-lived but masterful tenure in Paris. It was somewhat poetic that Bianchi’s final game in a PSG shirt came against his former club Reims, which resulted in a 3–2 victory for the Argentine and his men.

At 30-years-old and with only one domestic title to his name, Bianchi sought silverware in France and chased such success at Strasbourg, who had triumphed in the preceding season and lifted the Ligue 1 trophy. However, he would last only one campaign with the reigning champions as his incredible time in the top flight waned to an uninspiring finale. Bianchi scored a respectable eight goals in 22 league games for Strasbourg but endured a difficult relationship with Gilbert Gress, with the manager unfathomably preferring to deploy the striker away from his natural position.

Bianchi returned to his beloved Vélez for five seasons after he struggled to shine at Strasbourg before hanging up his boots at Reims in 1985, scoring eight times in 18 games during his final campaign at the club, this time in the second tier of France. The forward was left to rue his failure to lift a trophy in Europe, but his legacy remains in high esteem to this day. Bianchi netted 179 goals in the top flight of French football, a record that still stands proudly as the joint ninth-best in the competition’s history.

After largely falling short of silverware during his playing career, though, Bianchi would encounter no such troubles as a manager. Renowned as one of the greatest tactical minds that South America has produced, the former Argentina international won four Copa Libertadores titles among numerous other trophies during glorious tenures at both Vélez and Boca Juniors.

Bianchi did, in fact, come close to taking charge at PSG on two separate occasions. In 1988, president Francis Borelli attempted to prise him away from Reims, with whom the legendary striker had returned as manager. Bianchi verbally agreed to leave his post at the Stade Auguste-Delaune for the bright lights of Paris once again but was left bemused as it emerged the following day that Tomislav Ivić would be the new boss at the Parc des Princes.

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Twelve years later, PSG came calling again after Philippe Bergeroo’s departure. Bianchi, who had just led Boca to a surprise victory over Real Madrid to secure the Intercontinental Cup in 2000, was approached by the French heavyweights but declined the chance to move.

Although Bianchi’s love affair with the Parc des Princes faithful was not rekindled from the managerial hot seat, his contributions to the club’s uprising have not been forgotten. With 71 goals and nine assists from 80 official appearances for PSG – the absurd consistency with which the forward performed saw him contribute with a goal involvement, on average, in each game he played for the Parisian outfit – he remains adored by the supporters.

Bianchi’s record of 37 goals in a top-flight season in 1977/78 was not broken until Zlatan Ibrahimović scored 38 to drive PSG towards the Ligue 1 title in 2015/16 with ruthless efficiency, and despite the club’s expenditure on incredible attacking talent in the past decade, the Argentine is still their 11th-highest goalscorer in history, one behind the legendary Brazilian Raí, and a goal ahead of the mercurial Neymar.

He achieved all this despite spending just two seasons in Paris, notably when the club had not yet risen to the prominent status of being France’s footballing juggernaut, but when they were middling amongst their counterparts in Ligue 1.

The PSG supporters adored Bianchi and the feeling was mutual. The striker often recalled how he and his teammates used to leave the Parc des Princes pitch, which he would affectionately describe as his “garden”, worse for wear in what was a far less luxurious arena than the setting in which the current generation of Les Parisiens perform.

Still, Bianchi’s breathtaking technique would conquer, and his goalscoring touch withstood any challenging conditions to send Parisian heart rates soaring. “I got them out of their seats a fair bit,” he admitted in 2019 as he reminisced upon his prolific spell in the capital.

Bianchi’s time at PSG was a roaring success individually, irrespective of the club’s shortage of progress in Ligue 1. Despite netting 71 times for Les Parisiens, however, the Argentine does not look back at his time at the Parc des Princes as a source of particular satisfaction. “The period at Reims was better,” he said. “In fact, I see my visit to Paris Saint-Germain as a mess. We had good players, but we lacked continuity in the results. In my two seasons there we finished 11th then 13th. And yet, I still managed to finish top scorer twice.”

With five top-scorer awards to his name – three at Reims and two at PSG – playing within the restrictions of largely middling clubs, all while coping with imperfect eyesight, the legendary striker is one of the finest footballing talents to have hailed from Argentina. Though celebrated as one of the great South American managers of his time, Carlos Bianchi was a world-class forward, and his contributions to laying the foundations of attacking brilliance at the Parc des Princes are still correctly appreciated as the club continue to chase European dominance.

By Luke Osman @lukeosman_

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