Beto Alonso, River Plate 1984.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / El Gráfico
Widely known as "Beto" Alonso, rather than Norberto, he’s one of River Plate’s most iconic footballers, having enjoyed fourteen seasons during three different spells at El Monumental from the early 1970s to the mid 1980s. Whilst not as well known outside of Argentina as some of his countrymen, Alonso was one of the finest number 10s in Argentina in the 1970s and 1980s and for the vast majority of River Plate fans who grew up supporting the club in that period, Beto Alonso will have been their idol.
An attacking midfielder, Alonso not only had an eye for a killer-pass, but also possessed great feet, capable of outrageous moments of skill and invention. But it wasn't just his creativity and assists for his team-mates that made Beto Alonso special, his goalscoring rate was tremendous for a number 10, his 158 goals for River Plate places him at fifth on the all-time scorers list for Los Millonarios. Admittedly, many of these were from dead-ball situations as Alonso had a tremendous record from penalties and free-kicks, scoring 47 from the 12 yard mark and 30 from free-kicks, putting him right up there with the likes of Daniel Passarella and Carlos Babington as one of the Argentine leagues most successful dead-ball specialists.
Alonso would go onto to win seven league titles in total with River Plate, but probably the most important would be his first. Along with the likes of Daniel Passarella and Roberto Perfumo, he was one of the key players as River Plate ended an agonising eighteen year wait for an Argentinian league title in 1975, winning both the Metropolitano and Nacional titles. His performances that year were rewarded with second place in the South American Footballer of the Year award, the great Chilean sweeper Elías Figueroa pipping him to the title.
Alonso's impressive form with River Plate would lead to a transfer to France in 1976, aged 23. Argentinian players were enjoying remarkable success in the French league at the time with Carlos Bianchi, Delio Onnis and Hugo Curioni topping the goalscoring charts with Stade de Reims, Monaco and Metz respectively, so Olympique Marseille, seeking to return to the glory days of the early 70s that had seen them win the league twice, thought it was worth a punt making a move for the in-form youngster. However, his time at the Stade Vélodrome didn't go as well as both parties had hoped, and just seventeen appearances and three goals later, Alonso would be back at River Plate.
At international level, Alonso had made his debut for La Albiceleste in 1972, and whilst he was never an automatic choice for national coaches Omar Sívori (1972-74) or César Luis Menotti (1974-82), Alonso would pick up a World Cup winner’s medal in 1978 after Argentina's victory on home soil, although his game time was limited to three substitute appearances as head coach César Luis Menotti gave Mario Kempes the nod in the attacking midfielder berth.
In 1981 Alonso fell out with the legendary Alfredo Di Stéfano, who'd replaced Ángel Labruna as River Plate's manager for the 1981-82 season. Di Stéfano was favouring the 21 year old Carlos Tapia in the attacking midfielder role and after several disagreements Alonso found himself being transferred to Vélez Sarsfield. Despite the onset of troublesome injury problems, Alonso would also enjoy some good times at El Fortín, forging a fine partnership with the club's own legend, striker Carlos Bianchi, that saw Vélez make a great start to the 1982 Metropolitano Championship. If Alonso wasn't idolised enough by River Plate fans already, then his actions at El Monumental on the 17th of August 1982 would only endear him even more to their hearts - scoring a goal in a famous 3:2 victory against his old club, Alonso didn't celebrate the goal, one of the first recorded examples in Argentina of an act that has become commonplace in recent years.
After a couple of seasons with Vélez Sársfield, El Beto returned to River Plate for the third and final time in 1983 and would enjoy a great finale to his career. In one of the best seasons of his career, River Plate beat Colombian side América de Cali to win the 1986 Copa Libertadores, Alonso scoring in the first leg as they won 3:1 on aggregate, before picking up a winners medal six weeks later in the Intercontinental Cup as they beat European Cup winners Steaua Bucarest 1:0 in Tokyo. It was a fitting way to end a great career as Alonso would then retire in 1987.
Here's four minutes of clips of Beto Alonso doing his stuff. Some of the clips may be a bit grainy, but you get the picture of what he was about...