When Calcio Ruled the World: Pasquale “O’Animale” Bruno

The use of the nickname ‘the animal’ is not uncommon in football. It is a moniker often awarded to players of a tough and combative style, or with especially questionable discipline. But whether a player is truly deserving of such an unrefined title is debatable. Often the term lends itself to hyperbole. However, in Pasquale Bruno’s case, it was a fitting nickname.

Bruno’s formative years in the game were spent at his home-town club Lecce. Having been a product of the Lecce youth system, the defender made his debut in 1979 and went on to make over 100 appearances for the Serie B side before moving to Como in 1983.

At Como, a young Pasquale would play for the first time in Serie A, making his debut against a Juventus side who were reigning Serie-A Champions. The match itself may not have been memorable, but the debutant made his own headlines after being sent off.

It seems somewhat apt that Bruno received his first Serie A red-card on his first Serie A appearance. However, somewhat surprisingly for a player nicknamed ‘O Animale‘, this dismissal was one of only nine during a Serie A career that would span 20 years and included over 200 games. Especially when one takes into account that he chalked up more than 100 yellow cards during this time period.

Bruno now works as a television pundit and his words are as fierce as his tackles once were. Following a Juventus – Torino match a few seasons back, he fumed at Juve centre-half Leonardo Bonucci for his antics:

I’d love the chance to play today, in a Juventus-Torino against Bonucci. Seeing him so excited, euphoric, ready to protest all the time, made me imagine Pasquale Bruno in the tunnel punching Bonucci in the face, splitting his lip with five stitches and that way he can’t talk for five months.

Bruno’s words carry weight in Turin. The Lecce born defender played for both Juve and Torino following his departure from Como. It was Juventus who brought the defender north in 1987. Rino Marchesi’s side were in something of a transitional period after being dethroned by Maradona’s Napoli the previous season and the side struggled in Bruno’s first campaign.

Arguably, the two biggest games of that season came against Juve’s city rivals. Torino ended la Vecchia Signora’s Coppa Italia run in the semi-final before Juventus got their revenge by beating ‘la Granata’ in a play-off for a UEFA Cup place.

There were signs of improvement the following season as Dino Zoff took the reigns and led Juve to a fourth paced finish. But it wasn’t until Bruno’s third and ultimately final season in the famous black and white stripes that he won the first major silverware in his career.

The goals of Pierluigi Casiraghi and Salvatore Schillaci helped fire Juve to a cup double of the Coppa Italia and the UEFA Cup. It was a fitting end to Pasquale’s career with the Bianconeri, during which he had cemented a fearsome reputation within Serie A. His uncompromising approach and aggression on the pitch didn’t win him many fans amongst opposition players. The legendary Roberto Baggio is just one player known to have taken exception to Bruno’s overly physical style of play and looking back at the treatment he dished out, it’s no surprise.

Any awkwardness was avoided the following season as Pasquale left for cross-town adversaries Torino whilst Juve brought in Baggio. Certain supporters of ‘la Granata’ were not overly happy at the prospect of one the most hated figures in their rivals’ team arriving at the club.

baggio juve fiorentina

The transfer that sparked a riot: Baggio to Juventus (1990)

But Bruno soon dispelled any concerns. If there was one match that typified Bruno as a player it was the meeting between Torino and Juventus in 1991. ‘O animale’ lined up against some of his former team-mates and what transpired was one of the most bad-tempered games you are likely to watch. And Bruno was right at the heart of it all.

The game was barely minutes old when Bruno thundered into the back of Juve striker Pierluigi Casiraghi. The Italian international front-man wasn’t to be intimidated though and he lunged into a tackle with Bruno moments later. ‘O animale’ once again replied in kind, this time with a high and dangerous sliding challenge on Casiraghi for which he only received a yellow card. In today’s game, the tackle would undoubtedly see the defender sent-off, but Bruno was given a reprieve. This didn’t last long.

As a long free-kick drifted high towards the Torino penalty box, Casiraghi made a move towards the ball. Bruno saw him coming and blocked him off using a combination of arm and leg. The referee showed the Torino defender a second yellow which initially didn’t appear to register with Bruno. When it did, however, ‘the animal’ lost his temper and had to be restrained whilst he attempted to accost the match official. Gianluigi Lentini was thrown around like a rag-doll as he tried to prevent his team-mate from making the situation worse. One can only imagine what would have happened if the defender had got to the cowering referee.

The incident was pretty much symptomatic of Bruno’s career in that poor discipline, excessive force and controversy overshadowed what actually mattered on the field.

A second Coppa Italia title arrived in the Bruno trophy cabinet before his time at Torino came to an end. Spells with Fiorentina and Lecce were then followed by a move as unpredictable as his temperament. Edinburgh would be the new home of ‘the animal’ as he spent the following two seasons with Hearts of Midlothian.

The fiery temperament seemed to have eased slightly by the time Bruno arrived in Scotland as he played in a Hearts side which reached two domestic cup finals. He did still manage a red card along the way in a match against Rangers, which Hearts ended with seven men on the field. Perhaps this was the result of the Italian’s influence on his Scottish colleagues.

But whilst his volatile temperament may have calmed with age, Bruno still possessed the steely glare. Indeed, his face was always a picture of intensity, although his expression never truly betrayed the violent thoughts that ran through his mind. They say still waters run deep. In that case, there was always a tsunami brewing within Pasquale as he took to the field.

Bruno retired following one-match stays at both Wigan and Cowdenbeath and is one of few players that can lay claim to the curious honour of having represented both Juventus and the ‘Blue Brazil’ of Cowdenbeath.

When ‘Calcio Ruled the World’ many a tough-tackling defender took the field across Italian stadia. Pasquale Bruno was surely the toughest of the lot. As hard in the tackle as he was in appearance, the word uncompromising seems too gentle a term. Perhaps the best description of the defender was simply his nickname, ‘O Animale’.

Words by Mark Gordon: @TheMarkGordon