Italians  in  Spain  (Part 1)  –  The  First Arrivals:  Calligaris,  Del  Pinto and Bollano

From left to right: Aridex Calligaris, Sergio Del Pinto & Angelo Bollano

The name Aridex Calligaris will not mean much to most football fans. In fact, there is very little known about the Tricesimo-born defender who inadvertently became a football pioneer back in 1949. But what is known about the former Saint Etienne player is that he became the very first Italian national to play football in Spain.

Despite being born in Italy, Calligaris never played football in his country of origin. His family settled in France during the 1930s and it was in his adopted nation that he spent most of his career. In 1943, after a brief spell at Olympique Lyonnais, the 21-year-old player signed for AS Saint-Etienne where he enjoyed four successful years. During his time at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, he helped the club to achieve a then highest second-place finish in the French first division.

It was during this period that he caught the attention of scouts at newly-promoted Spanish La Liga side Real Sociedad. A deal was agreed and the player moved southwest across the border to play for the Basque Country team. Unfortunately, his move to Spain was not a successful one and after just one season and just two appearances for La Real, he returned to Saint Etienne to play out the remainder of his career.

The following year, two more Italian footballers arrived in the Spanish top flight. The first was former Lazio player Sergio Del Pinto, who joined newly-promoted UD Lleida from Italian Serie C side US Avellino; the second was Cornigliano-born attacker Angelo Bollano, who joined Murcia from French club Marseilles.

Midfielder Del Pinto – whose wealthy family made their fortune in the meat industry – was criticised during his time at Lazio for lacking the competitive spirit and streetwise attitude required to succeed at the highest level. As a result, the spoilt rich kid was sent on loan to SS Alba in Serie C in the hope that he would toughen up and find the confidence to complement his undoubted skill.

As it happened, it was not Serie C that added steel to the midfielder’s personality but a spell in a German internment camp. During the Second World War, between 1943 and 1945, top level Italian football was suspended and Del Pinto was one of many who were rounded up and given the option to either fight as an ally of Germany or remain incarcerated. The footballer, along with 90% of his fellow detainees, chose the latter.

When he finally did return to Lazio at the start of the 1945-46 season, the early signs were good – he was physically tougher and played with a much greater level of confidence. A run in the first team followed before the self-esteem issues returned once again. The arrival of Romulus Alzani meant more competition in the defensive midfield area and he soon found himself playing second fiddle to a man who would go on to be a club legend.

After a brief spell back in the third tier, Del Pinto eventually left for Spain to join La Liga new boys UD Lleida. He fared slightly better than Aridex Calligaris and made a total of six appearances during his first season on the peninsula, scoring a single goal against Racing Santander. Unfortunately the club could not avoid relegation and Del Pinto spent his second season in Spain playing in the second division. He made a further 20 appearances for the club before moving to Portugal where he made a couple of appearances for FC Porto during the 1953-54 Liga Sagres campaign. He finished his career in the 1950s as Coach of the Somalia national team.

Angelo Bollano arrived in Spain in 1950, around the same time as his compatriot Del Pinto. The striker was 32 years of age and had established himself as a reliable striker during spells at clubs in Italy and France.

Bollano started his career in Genoa playing for the youth and senior teams of Serie A outfit Sampierdarenese. During his time in Liguria, he became affectionately known as “U-head” due to his unusual physical features. The name stuck and followed him throughout his career. In 1937, Sampierdarenese were dissolved and reformed as AC Liguria but Bollano remained for another four years scoring 39 goals in 113 appearances – enough to earn him a big move to AC Milan.

After an unremarkable year in Milan, during which he returned a total of eight goals, the front man was lured by an offer from Fiorentina. Bollano’s five-year spell in Florence was disrupted by the war and in 1943 he returned to Liguria for a year to play in Serie B. In 1945, he spent another year away as player-coach of Ausonia before returning to La Viola in 1946 for the official resumption of Serie A. After scoring a total of 18 goals in 75 appearances in the purple shirt, the man with the U-shaped head was offered the chance to play in France for Olympique de Marseilles.

By now his career was winding down but the Italian still managed 12 goals in 25 games for the French club, which was enough to prompt Spanish club Real Murcia to enquire about his services. The team from the southeast of Spain had just been promoted to the Primera Division and were looking for an experienced player to lead their front line.

Angelo Bollano made a total of 13 starts for the Spanish club during the 1950-51 campaign, scoring just 2 goals in the process. The team finished in 14th-place and were duly relegated back to the second tier of Spanish football. Bollano took the decision to end his playing career but continued in football as a coach in the Portuguese lower leagues.

It has to be said that the first trio of Italian exports did not make a great impact in the Spanish league. In fact, it took another 45 years for a Spanish club to take a chance on an Italian player. After which, they began to arrive in abundance.

Read Italians in Spain Part 2 here

Part 3 here

Part 4 here

Words by Neil Morris: @nmorris01